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US vice president Mike Pence with Vivek Lall
US vice president Mike Pence with Vivek Lall

The US commitment to sell Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems to India under the ‘major defence partner’ status is being seen as proof of growing defence ties between the two nations.

According to the joint statement released after the Modi-Trump meeting, “The United States and India look forward to working together on advanced defence equipment and technology at a level commensurate with that of the closest allies and partners of the United States. Reflecting the partnership, the United States has offered for India’s consideration the sale of Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems, which would enhance India’s capabilities and promote shared security interests.”

Said chief executive, US and international strategic development, General Atomics (the makers of the platform), Dr Vivek Lall, “We are extremely pleased that President Trump and Prime Minister Modi have had excellent deliberations and that the path forward for a game changer in US-India defence relations has been charted. Given the Sea Guardian’s capabilities, such a US offer demonstrates a major change in US policy because this type of aircraft capability is only exported to a very select few of America’s closest defence partners. Such an offer represents tangible implementation of United States Congress’ designation of India as a ‘major defence partner’.”

The Sea Guardian is the naval version of the Predator B armed drones. While India had asked for the armed version, given the technology sensitivity, the US has, for the time being, agreed to give the unarmed version. The Sea Guardian is listed under Category-I of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) list since it’s capable of delivering nuclear weapons. It was only after India joined the MTCR club that this sale was made possible.

According to senior sources in the Indian defence ministry, two things are not ruled out in the future. One, if India were to sign the held-up three fundamental agreements, it would be able to fully exploit the capabilities of the Sea Guardian platform. However, given the overall relationship between the two nations which has slipped from strategic to transactional, this may not happen anytime soon. And two, the US could agree in the near future to sell armed Avenger drones to India, which have been sought by the Indian Air Force. Considering that India and Israel are negotiating the sale of the Heron TP — armed drones with multi-mission payload, the US too could sell its Avengers to India.


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