With eye on neighbouring China and Pakistan, India plans to equip its armed forces with more unmanned technologies. After acquiring surveillance drones from Israel to monitor its mountainous northern part, India has decided to purchase ‘Predator’ drones from the US for its Navy. A senior Indian Defence Ministry official has said that the American surveillance drones will help the Navy properly monitor the Chinese and Pakistani activities in the Indian Ocean.

The ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, said over the weekend that New Delhi is in talks with Washington for purchasing at least 40 Predator surveillance drones. He informed the press that the acquisition would make it easier for the Indian Navy to gather intelligence, apart from strengthening its firepower along the country’s vast coastal areas. The Army, too, can use Predator drones along Indian borders with Pakistan and China.

The US, which considers India as a counterweight to China in Asia, has agreed to supply unmanned planes manufactured by privately-run General Atomics. Chief Executive (US and International Strategic Development) at San Diego-based General Atomics Vivek Lall has confirmed the news, saying: “We are aware of Predator interest from the Indian Navy. However, it is a government-to-government discussion.” Lall told the media that the US government allowed General Atomics to market the unarmed ‘Predator XP’ in India last year. However, governments of the two countries are yet to finalise the delivery date.

Indian defence experts have welcomed the Narendra Modi government’s decision to purchase Predator drones, which can remain airborne for 35 hours at a stretch in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is strategically very important for the South Asian country because of its geographical location. As India’s national and economic interests are inseparably linked up with IOR, New Delhi is trying hard to keep the Indian Ocean free from superpower rivalry. To attain its foreign policy and strategic goals, India has already increased co-operation with littoral countries in the region. New Delhi is well aware of the fact that the Chinese Navy is expanding ship and submarine patrols in IOR in an attempt to corner India in its own backyard. China’s move prompts India to enhance its defence capabilities by acquiring Predator drones (or the pilot-less aircraft) from the US.

According to sources close to the Indian government, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will soon make an announcement in this regard after holding talks with US Defence Secretary Ash Carter. Carter, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday for a three-day visit, hinted that India might receive around 100 armed Predator C Avenger aircraft soon. He told the Indian media that the American forces used Predator C Avenger aircraft to carry out strikes against Islamist militants in north-western part of Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan in the past. Meanwhile, Carter made clear that Washington could supply the lethal Predators to New Delhi only after getting clearance from 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime group and also from the US Congress.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]