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India turns to armed drones in neighboring disputes with China and Pakistan

The drones are manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics. (General Atomics photo)

New Delhi: India intends to purchase 30 armed drones from the United States to bolster its naval and land defenses as tensions continue with its neighbors China and Pakistan, according to officials familiar with the matter.

The officials, who requested anonymity to the media, said the South Asian country will agree next month to purchase 30 MQ-9B Predator drones worth $ 3 billion made by San Diego-based General Atomics.

The deal will add to India’s military capabilities as the drones it now possesses can only be used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

India is emerging as a strategic defense partner of the United States, especially in countering Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean and some areas of Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is in the midst of a 10-year US $ 250 billion military modernization.

“Relations between the United States and India at the present time are the result of decades of dedicated efforts from both countries,” Vivek Lal, CEO of General Atomics, said in an email.

“The fact that defense cooperation remains at the top of the list of priorities for bilateral relations is a sign of our shared security goals.”

A spokesman for the Indian Ministry of Defense and Pentagon officials did not respond to requests for comment.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit India this month, according to local media, while President Joe Biden will soon join his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia in the first-ever meeting of the top leaders of the “quartet” bloc.

The leaders will meet virtually on March 12, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, which said they will discuss issues including supply chains, maritime security and climate change.

The MQ-9B UAV can fly 48 hours and carry a payload of about 1,700 kg.

It would give the Indian Navy the ability to better monitor Chinese warships in the southern Indian Ocean, and equip the army to engage targets along the disputed border between India and Pakistan in the Himalayas.

Last year, India leased two unarmed MQ-9 Predators as border tensions with China threaten to spiral into an all-out conflict.

In the end, they were not deployed after the Air Force expressed concerns about drones piloted by American personnel flying over the border.

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