Will India Be The First Country Outside NATO To Be Sold Armed Drones By The U.S.?
MQ-9 Guardian Drone (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The United States has offered India armed Guardian drones, which were originally to be sold weaponless for surveillance purposes.

If the deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time Washington has sold large armed drones to a country outside the NATO alliance. It would also be the first high-tech unmanned aircraft in the region, where tensions between India and Pakistan run high.

This announcement comes after President Donald Trump's administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of the U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies. The plan included a new drone export policy that allowed lethal drones that can fire missiles, and surveillance drones of all sizes, to be more widely available to allies.

The drones were on the agenda of the cancelled meeting between India’s defence minister Nirmala Seetharaman and her American counterpart, part of the larger 2 + 2 dialogue. The meeting has been rescheduled for September.

Last June, General Atomics said the U.S. government had approved the sale of a naval variant of the drone. India has been in talks to buy 22 of the unarmed surveillance aircraft, MQ-9B Guardian, worth more than $2 billion to keep watch over the Indian Ocean.

Besides potentially including the armed version of the drone, the sources said the number of aircraft had also changed.

Some, however, believe that the “cost” of this deal might be too high as the U.S. has been insisting that India sign a ‘prying’ communications framework - the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) - as a condition for operating advanced defense systems such as the armed drones.

And the doubt comes up because many see this deal as a threat to the large amount of Russian equipment being used by the Indian military already and, in an extension, to Indo-Russian ties. This agreement with the U.S. might also deter India’s Non-Alignment policy. However, after the U.S. assured that the agreement would apply largely to U.S.-procured weapons systems such as fighter planes and drones, India has agreed to move forward with it.