Defence Minister Rajnath Singh engaged in comprehensive discussions with his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, in New Delhi on Friday, covering a spectrum of defence and strategic matters. An imminent development suggests that India may soon acquire American 'MQ-9B' combat drones, as Secretary Austin affirmed the continuous efforts of the US government in this direction.
Experts in defence underscore that American drones possess the capability to reach altitudes of up to 40,000 feet. Beyond their high-flying abilities, these drones are armed with weaponry and serve multiple purposes, including intelligence gathering and surveillance. Their applications encompass early warning, electronic warfare, anti-surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare. Notably, these drones exhibit an impressive endurance, capable of flying for 30 to 40 consecutive hours, irrespective of weather conditions.
Austin shared insights into their discussions, stating, "During the meeting, we discussed the security challenges and the threat posed. However, the entire conversation did not focus solely on these issues." Regarding the MQ-9B drone acquisition, he added, "Today, I do not have any new announcement on this subject. We will announce it at the right time. We are doing everything so that India gets this capability."
In addition to the potential MQ-9B drone acquisition, India and the US are set to collaborate on co-producing an armored vehicle. A formal request has been made by India to purchase 31 MQ-9B armed Hunter Killer drones from the US, with the aim to finalize the contract in the current fiscal year.
Reportedly, out of the 31 drones slated for purchase, 15 could be allocated to the Indian Navy, eight to the Army, and the remaining eight to the Air Force. The bilateral talks also delved into avenues for advancing defence technology cooperation through joint research in critical areas.
The ministers assessed the progress of the India-US Defence Industrial Ecosystem, INDUS-X, launched in June, designed to enhance the strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation between India and the US across government, business, and academic sectors.
Secretary Austin applauded India's decision to ascend to full membership in the Combined Maritime Forces, a multilateral construct headquartered in Bahrain. In a symbolic gesture, Defence Minister Singh handed over recovered items from Assam to Secretary Austin as part of the US Defence POW MIA Accounting Agency Mission, including parachute parts, a uniform, and an airplane from the World War II-era. Before concluding their meeting, the ministers outlined an agenda for future collaborative efforts between their respective teams.
(With Agency Inputs)