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US pushing India to seal big armed drone deal during Modi’s visit: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The file photo shows US President Joe Biden meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, on September 24, 2021. (Photo via Twitter)

US President Joe Biden's administration is reportedly pushing India to overcome its bureaucratic hurdles in order to progress a deal for buying a dozen American-made armed drones, as it seeks to deepen military ties between the two countries in a bid to “weaken” Russia and China.

The push aimed at securing the purchase of MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones comes as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to visit Washington on June 22, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

The sources went on to say that since the date for Modi's visit is fixed, the US has urged India to be able to "show" progress on the deal to purchase MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones that could be worth $2 billion to $3 billion for years.

During the visit, Modi and Biden are also expected to discuss the co-production of munitions and ground vehicles, like armored personnel carriers, the sources added.

India has long expressed interest in buying MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, from the United States.

However, New Delhi has to generate an "Acceptance of Necessity" internal document, an Indian precursor to a formal "Letter of Request", which kicks off the foreign military sale process, the sources said.

As of Tuesday, the sources did not know whether New Delhi had generated the necessary internal document.

A senior Biden administration official said Washington thinks it would be good for New Delhi to go through with the purchase of MQ-9s, this is a decision the government of India needs to make.

Currently, India is leasing MQ-9Bs as part of an intelligence-gathering operation.

The latest development comes as Biden has made deepening military ties with India a cornerstone of his policy to counter Russia and China's growing influence.

The US president has placed special attention this year on collaboration between the two countries on advanced military technologies, despite their lack of a formal security alliance.

Earlier this week, the two governments concluded a defense "road map" during US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's two-day visit to New Delhi.

That could mean faster approvals for New Delhi as it tries to acquire hi-tech weaponry from Washington while opening up the possibility of the joint production of defense equipment.

Analysts say these agreements might be Washington’s way to slowly wean India off its reliance on Russia for military hardware and spare parts, and is part of a broader Western push to sell arms to New Delhi.

It would also make New Delhi strong enough to be part of a strategy to “balance and deter” China, they added.

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