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'US considering Indian request of armed drones for air force'

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WASHINGTON (PTI): The Trump Administration is "considering" India's request for armed drones for its air force, weeks after approving the sale of high-tech unarmed Guardian drones to India.

"Yes, yes," a senior administration official told PTI when asked about India's pending request about the purchase of armed drones as part of its armed forces' modernisation drive.

The armed drones, the Indian Air Force (IAF) believes, would help it strengthen its defence capabilities.

Early this year, the IAF had requested the US Government for General Atomics Predator C Avenger aircraft. It is understood that IAF would need 80 to 100 units making it approximately a whopping US$ 8 billion deal.

The Trump Administration's consideration in this regard comes months after a successful meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump at the White House on June 26, during which the US announced to sell 22 unarmed Guardian drones to India, which would add the Indian Navy’s surveillance capabilities in the strategic Indian Ocean region.

"We are at ways to, in terms of Foreign military sales, but really also in defence cooperation broadly how to strengthen our relationship and cooperation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official was responding to questions on defence relationship and India's quest for high-tech defence equipment and technologies from the US as part of its long overdue armed forces' modernisation drive running into several hundred billions of dollars over the next decade.

Previous Obama Administration had designated India as major defence partner and the Trump Administration has accelerated the process of considering Indian requests.

"The US Navy and the Indian Navy have been cooperating for many years on counter piracy efforts, on ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf," the official said.

"I think that (defence) cooperation is only going to increase based on the need for it to increase and the kind of trust that we are building through personal relationships and through a fundamental understanding that our interests aligned so clearly," the official 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.

He did not mention about armed drones. He, however, said "the proposals the US has put forward, including for Guardian UAVs, aircraft carrier technologies, the Future Vertical Lift program, and F-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft, are all potential game changers for our commercial and defence cooperation."

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