WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is looking forward to completing the nearly USD 2 billion deal for selling 22 unarmed Sea Guardian drones to India, a senior US official has said.
The major decision to sell unarmed Sea Guardian drones was announced during the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump on June 26.
The US "looks forward to completing the deal for transferring Sea Guardian unmanned drones," the official said.
The addition of 22 state-of-the-art unarmed drones to India would add to its Navy's surveillance capabilities in the strategic Indian Ocean region.
As part of India being designated as major defence partner, the Trump administration is taking additional steps to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks and accelerate the process of sale of high-tech defence equipment to India.
A special focus is on strengthening Indian maritime capabilities.
The defence cooperation is only going to increase, the senior administration official said, adding that this is based on fundamental understanding that interests of the two countries are now aligned.
This was the first major defence deal announced after India was designated as a major defence partner.
Vivek Lall, chief executive of US and international strategic development at General Atomics, said sale of Sea Guardian drones is a significant step in cementing the US- India bilateral defence relationship.
To be sold at an estimated cost of USD 2 billion, this would help create some 2,000 jobs in the US, he said.
The Sea Guardian is a variant of the tested MQ-9 platform which allows for greater interoperability with US and allied forces, Lall said adding that its use by the Indian Navy will also develop the country's credible capabilities, which is significant for Indian maritime security and naval power projection.
However there have been no talks between the two countries on New Delhi's request for General Atomics Predator C Avenger armed drones.
It is understood that this was not raised by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her meeting with her US counterpart Jim Mattis during his visit to India last month.
The two are scheduled to meet again this week in the Philippines.
According to an industry source, this "case is being actively considered" by the White House as a next step after the Guardian deal.
"As military aviation transforms globally to autonomous systems, US and India have a great opportunity to collaborate at the highest levels of technology and innovation," the industry source said.
Last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said that in keeping with India's status as a major defence partner and their mutual interest in expanding maritime cooperation, the Trump administration has offered a menu of defence options for India's consideration, including the Guardian UAV.
"We value the role India can play in global security and stability and are prepared to ensure they have even greater capabilities," Tillerson had said ahead of his visit to India.
"The proposals the US has put forward, including for Guardian UAVs, aircraft carrier technologies, the Future Vertical Lift programme, and F-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft, are all potential game changers for our commercial and defence cooperation," Tillerson said.