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US looking to ramp up arms sales to India: Report

The MQ-1 Predator drone. A file photo

WASHINGTON (PTI): The US is looking to ramp up arms sales to India, including those of armed drones that can carry over 1,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, said a media report, noting the "new push" comes following the violent clashes in June between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh.

Twenty Indian army personnel were killed during the clashes with Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh's Galwan Valley on June 15. The Chinese side also suffered casualties in the clashes but it is yet to give out details.

The number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35, according to a US intelligence report.

"The Trump administration is looking to ramp up arms sales to India in the wake of the country's deadly border clashes with China, opening a new front of tensions between Washington and Beijing," the Foreign Policy magazine reported based on interviews with US officials and Congressional aides.

Quoting the officials, the magazine said the US in recent months has laid the groundwork for new arms sales to India that "go above and beyond what previous administrations considered, including longer-term weapon systems with higher levels of technology and sophistication, such as armed drones".

President Donald Trump has officially amended rules that restrict the sale of military-grade drones to foreign partners like India, it said, adding that prominent among them being the recent announcement by the Trump administration changing its interpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

This will allow the US to consider the sale of armed drones, which had previously been restricted because of their speeds and payloads, to allow them to be considered alongside surveillance drones, the news report said.

"They are going to want to provide India with armed [category-1] Predators," a Congressional aide familiar with the matter told Foreign Policy, while referring to MQ-1 Predator drones that can carry more than 1,000 pounds of bombs and missiles.

The aide, according to the magazine, said the State and Defense Departments had been pushing for a transaction.

"Part of the calculation behind the policy change was to free themselves up from the international and multilateral constraints so they could increase the sales pitch to India on [drones]," the aide told the magazine.

Simultaneously, a legislative move has been made to bring India at par with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies when it comes to sale of arms by the US, it reported.

Friends of India in the Congress hope that their efforts go through the National Defense Authorization Act this year. One of them being by senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner, who are co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, according to Foreign Policy.

US' defence sales to India has jumped from near zero in 2008 to over US$ 20 billion this year. Some of the recent and significant prior defence sales are to include the MH-60R Seahawk helicopters (US$ 2.8 billion), the Apache helicopters (US$ 796 million), and the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (US$ 189 million).

India was the first non-treaty partner to be offered a Missile Technology Control Regime Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System, the Sea Guardian UAS, manufactured by General Atomics.

The US is advocating for the Lockheed Martin's F-21 and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15EX Eagle as part of India's future fighter aircraft acquisitions.

The potential selection of any of these platforms would enhance India's military capabilities, increase US-India military interoperability, and protect shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Since 2015, the US also authorised India over US$ 3 billion in defense articles via the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) processes, which licenses the export of the defence equipment, services, and related manufacturing technologies controlled under the 21 categories of the US Munitions List (USML).

The top DCS categories to India during this period were military electronics (USML category XI); fire control, laser, imaging, and guidance equipment (category XII); and aircraft and related articles, it stated.

In 2016, the US designated India as a Major Defense Partner.

Commensurating with this designation, in 2018, India was elevated to Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status, which allows it to receive licence-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the Department of Commerce, a top Pentagon official had earlier said.


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