US State Department approves sale of armed drones to India

Foolish Productions / Shutterstock.com

The US State Department has approved the potential sale of 31 armed MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones, related missiles and equipment to India for nearly $4 billion, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

India has long expressed interest in buying large, armed drones from the United States, but bureaucratic stumbling blocks hampered a hoped-for deal.

Talks over an armed version for India date back to 2018, while discussions over unarmed versions date back even further.

Thursday's approval by the State Department does not mean the deal is a sure thing, but demonstrates progress as the US continues a campaign to coax India away from buying Russian military equipment.

The State Department nod signals that the deal likely has cleared one stumbling block - approval by leaders of US congressional committees.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had ended his "hold" on the agreement now that President Joe Biden's administration had agreed to fully investigate an Indian assassination plot on US soil.

"The (Biden) administration has demanded that there be investigation and accountability in regards to the plot here in the United States, and that there is accountability within India against these types of activities," Cardin told reporters.

Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to Washington last June, before the plot was uncovered, the Biden administration had pushed New Delhi to cut through its own red tape and advance a deal.

Currently, India is leasing a few MQ-9Bs as part of an intelligence-gathering operation.

The deal includes sophisticated communications and surveillance equipment, 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and 310 Laser Small Diameter Bombs, a precision glide bomb.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems will be the principal contractor, the Pentagon said. The Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale on Thursday.

More from International

  • Two charged with murder over Super Bowl parade shooting

    Two men have been charged with murder for a gunfight on the fringe of a Super Bowl victory rally in Kansas City, Missouri, that killed one person and wounded more than 20 others, including the suspects, in a quarrel over eye contact, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

  • Beijing shuts highways after heavy snowfall

    Authorities in Beijing shut some highways on Wednesday after heavier-than-expected snowfall hit the Chinese capital, part of a cold spell sweeping many parts of the country this week.

  • Police fire tear gas at Indian farmers marching on capital

    Indian police fired tear gas on Wednesday to scatter protesting farmers as they resumed a march to the capital, equipped with cranes and excavators after talks with the government on guaranteed prices for their produce failed to break a deadlock.

  • Pakistan's largest parties strike coalition deal

    Two major Pakistan political parties said on Tuesday that they had reached a formal agreement to form a coalition government, ending ten days of intense negotiations after an inconclusive national election did not return a clear majority.

  • UN food agency pauses deliveries to northern Gaza

    The World Food Programme said on Tuesday it was pausing deliveries of food aid to northern Gaza until conditions in the Palestinian enclave allow for safe distribution.