Boost to India's bid to buy US armed drones

Killer drones. Image for representation. Source: Twitter/R2Drones.

With the US dropping some restrictions on the sale of armed drones on Thursday, New Delhi's bid to add them to the Indian armed forces' arsenal may soon be a reality.

The decision has been taken to reinforce the armies of the US's allies and compete with China on the world arms market.

The armed drones could boost New Delhi's efforts in tackling cross-border terrorism and even internal security threats.

At present, India's request to buy 22 Predator B 'Guardian' drones from the US is pending before the Congress. If the deal materialises, India would be the first non-NATO member to acquire US drones.

US President Donald Trump's chief trade advisor, Peter Navarro, said the move was designed to reverse former president Barack Obama's "myopic" decision to limit even US allies' access to drone technology.

Allowing US arms firms to directly market drones instead of forcing foreign customers to apply to the government would, Navarro said, allow them to compete against sales of Chinese "knock-offs."

Killer warplanes are on India's wishlist for decades. In 2015, the Centre decided to buy Heron TP armed drones from Israel, which can carry missiles, after the country's improved diplomatic relations with the West Asian nation.

"The administration's UAS export policy will level the playing field by enabling US firms to increase their direct sales to authorised allies and partners," Navarro said, referring to "Unmanned Aerial Systems".

But he said the market for drones alone could grow to $50 billion in a decade and that officials are "seeing Chinese replicas of American UAS technology deployed on the runways" in West Asia.

The United States pioneered the use of unmanned aircraft, some of them flown by pilots half-a-world away through satellite links to a ground station, for spotting missions and missile strikes.

They have been deployed both by the US military in support of overt deployments in the so-called war on terror and by the CIA for covert targeted strikes to kill suspected militants.

Critics of their deployment say that, because they can be used without putting American pilots in harm's way, they encourage commanders and presidents to resort more easily to lethal force.

Despite the accuracy of missiles guided by drone-mounted lasers, many hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians have been killed in US strikes in South Asia, West Asia and the Horn of Africa.

But US officials defend the technology, arguing that its proper use allows commanders to study targets more carefully and to carry out precision raids, minimising the threat to allies and civilians.

"We have been very, very focused... on trying to give our partners, our strategic partners overseas, the ability to avoid civilian casualties," senior US diplomat Tina Kaidanow said.

In publishing the new regulations, the White House did not identify any possible new clients for US drones.

But the announcement came shortly after a three-week US tour and arms buying spree by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose forces lead a coalition supporting Yemen's government against Iran-backed rebels.

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