A former Indian Air Force officer says that with limited funds, the Indian Armed Forces have more urgent procurement needs, such as fighter aircraft, smart weapons and S-400 IADS. He is of the opinion that the US wants India to purchase its Predator drones in exchange "major defence partner" status

New Delhi — The US has offered to supply long endurance, high-altitude surveillance armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), capable of hunting and destroying targets across seas and over land borders with India. The offer comes a year after the US manufacturer refused to sell the armed UAV's and instead offered the non-combat version of the Predator drones to the Indian Armed Forces.

"The Pentagon's decision to supply Predator-B drones to Indian military has been conveyed through official channels and that it is now up to the Narendra Modi government to take the final call based on the overall cost of India's drone program," the Hindustan Times reported.

A former officer of the Indian Air Force told Sputnik that the Indian government may be initiating discussions on the deal simply because it is under pressure from the US.

"President Trump's decision to allow sales of armed drones is aimed at boosting profits of aerospace giants such as General Atomics, not at mitigating the threat posed to India by China and Pakistan. Conceivably, the US is pressurising India to buy the drones as a quid-pro-quo for awarding India the status of a major defence partner," Vijainder K. Thakur, defence analyst and former Indian Air Force squadron leader told Sputnik.

Thakur is of the opinion that the Indian government should instead pursue the local unmanned fighter aircraft project that would give the air force the same advantages.

"Looking ahead, India needs to vigorously pursue the Ghatak project which aims to develop an autonomous low observable (LO) unmanned fighter aircraft capable of operating in the heavily contested airspace. The Ghatak would be able to strike targets in Pakistan without putting the aircrew at risk," Thakur said.

Last November, India's defence ministry expressed interest in procuring at least 22 Predator B Sea Guardian drones at a cost of approximately $2 billion. But the deal was stuck in an impasse with the US manufacturer offering only the non-combat version and that too without transfer of technology.

Now with the Trump administration easing the norms for the sale of combat drones, the Indian government will be discussing the technicalities of the procurement with the US team of defence officials and technicians that arrived in New Delhi on Thursday. However, a final deal can only materialise if a consensus is struck between the two sides on the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) which India needs to sign before operating highly advanced US defence platforms requiring secured communication and spatial equipment.