Biden administration notifies Congress of sale of drones to India

Washington, Feb 1 (IANS) The Joe Biden administration notified the US Congress on Thursday of the proposed sale of 31 MQ-9B HALE armed drones, clearing a period of informal review that had raised concerns of the deal being in some kind of jeopardy.

Congress now has 30 days to either greenlight the deal by doing nothing, or reject it through a congressional vote. There is no attempt to put a “hold” on it yet, but as a person familiar with the development said, “The clock starts now.”

The notification by the US State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has come amidst reports that some lawmakers had tried to link the deal’s clearance to India’s wholehearted cooperation with a US investigation into allegations that an Indian businessman Nikhil Gupta, tried to arrange a murder-for-hire hit on a US-based Khalistani activist. Gupta is in custody of Czech authorities in Prague on an extradition request from the US.

The $3 billion deal was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden in June 2023 along with joint production of GE jet engines in India. There were a slew of other announcements, but these two were clearly the most significant. The Sea Guardian deal, especially, had been in the making for several years with talks starting during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Of the 31 MQ-9B UAVs, 15 Sea Guardians are meant for the Indian Navy, and eight each for the Indian Air Force and Indian Army. India is currently using two of these armed drones in a company-owned, company-operated lease agreement. These drones are being used by the US, the UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Japan.

India is buying these drones in a government-to-government deal through a process called Foreign Military Sale (FMS), which must be cleared by congress after a statutory period of 15, 30 or 45 days, as the case may be depending on the size of the sale and the purchasing country. In this instance, Congress has 30 days.



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