The United States has offered India the armed version of Guardian drones that were originally authorized for sale as unarmed for surveillance purposes, a senior U.S. official and an industry source told Reuters.
If the deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time Washington has sold a large armed drone to a country outside the NATO alliance.
It would also be the first high-tech unmanned aircraft in the region, where tensions between India and Pakistan run high.
In April, President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.
The plan included a new drone export policy that allowed lethal drones that can fire missiles, and surveillance drones of all sizes, to be more widely available to allies.
One administrative hurdle to the deal is that Washington is requiring India to sign up to a communications framework that some in New Delhi worry might be too intrusive, the U.S. official said.
The drones were on the agenda at a canceled meeting between Indian and the U.S. ministers of state and defense that was set for July, the sources said. The top level meeting is now expected to take place in September.
U.S. drone manufacturers, facing growing competition overseas, especially from Chinese and Israeli rivals which often sell under lighter restrictions, have lobbied hard for the changes in U.S export rules.
Among the changes will be a more lenient application by the U.S. government of an arms export principle known as “presumption of denial.” This has impeded many drone deals by automatically denying approval unless a compelling security reason is given together with strict buyer agreements to use the weapons in accordance with international law.
A second U.S. official said the new policy would “change our calculus” by easing those restrictions on whether to allow any given sale.
(The story was originally reported by Reuters)