As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares for his visit to Washington DC starting June 21, several pending defence deals are expected to take center stage in discussions with US officials.
The co-production of defence equipment is a key theme underlying these discussions. By promoting local manufacturing and technology transfer, India aims to enhance its self-sufficiency in defence production, aligning with its long-term goals of self-reliance and indigenization. As both India and the US continue to deepen their defence cooperation, agreements and co-production initiatives have the potential to not only strengthen their bilateral ties but also contribute to regional security and stability.
Defence deals that could be discussed:
MQ-9B Predator Deal
Discussions related to the procurement of the MQ-9B Predator Drones are going on and sources have indicated that the US is keen that during PM Modi’s visit there is some clarity about the deal.
Financial Express Online has reported that the discussions are at an advanced stage and now the decision has to be taken regarding the numbers of drones required for the Indian Armed Forces. Initially the number was 30 drones, however, last year at a press conference, the Indian Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar had hinted that the numbers need to be rationalized.
It was first reported here that the Indian Army and the Air Force had expressed their interest in these drones.
In 2020, the Navy leased two High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones — MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics following the Galwan Valley. And the initial lease of one year has been extended as the navy has deployed these drones for land and maritime surveillance operations. These drones have played a significant role in the surveillance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and have operated alongside the P-8 and multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft from the US based Boeing Company.
Together they are keeping an eye on the growing presence of the Chinese boats in IOR. The deal for 30 drones is under US$ 3 billion and will be through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS). Since India is focusing more on self-reliance or `atmanirbhar bharat’ the US has offered Transfer of Technology to help build HALE drones locally in India.
Maritime Domain Awareness: With a long coastline and expanding maritime interests, India requires robust maritime domain awareness. Predator drones equipped with maritime surveillance capabilities can assist in monitoring coastal areas, detecting illegal activities like piracy, smuggling, and unauthorized maritime intrusions, and supporting maritime security operations.
By acquiring MQ-9 Predator drones, India can enhance its defence capabilities, strengthen its intelligence-gathering capabilities, and improve its overall situational awareness.
Upgrade of the M-777 Light Howitzer guns
These guns are already being used by the Indian Army and the US has proposed an upgrade. This upgrade will significantly increase the range of these guns, providing greater firepower and flexibility on the battlefield.
GE-F414 fighter jet engines
Another significant topic for discussion is the production of GE-F414 fighter jet engines in India under license. This initiative would support the indigenous production of engines for the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas’ Mk2 variant and future Indian Navy warships, bolstering India’s self-reliance in defence manufacturing.
Stryker armoured personnel carrier
Under the Make in India
F/A-18 Super Hornet
Lastly, talks regarding the potential procurement of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft for the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant by the Indian Navy will be on the agenda. While the US is keen to offer its F/A-18 Super Hornet, India’s preference for the French Rafale fighters, considering compatibility factors, adds an element of uncertainty to this particular deal. Next month Prime Minister Modi will be heading to France and the French Rafale fighter jets for the navy is expected to be on the agenda of talks.
All the above deals have already been discussed at various levels, and the outcome of the talks may be reached during the visit or carried forward for further deliberations when the US President visits India in September.