Congressional review over, US sale of MQ-9B drones to India ready for next steps

IANS Photo

Washington, March 3 (IANS) The decks are clear now for India to take the next steps in acquiring 31 MQ-9B SkyGuardian armed drones with ammunition with the lapse on Friday of the 30-day period for Congressional review of the deal.

These armed drones are meant for intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance and for land, air and sea warfare. India has two of these drones -- MQ-9A -- company-lease-and-operation basis from the manufacturers, General Atomics.

The entire package of drones with ammunition that India has sought will cost an estimated $3.99 billion.

The drones will come with 161 embedded global positioning and inertial navigation systems; 35 L3 Rio Grande Communications Intelligence Sensor Suites; 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles; 16 M36E9 Hellfire Captive Air Training Missiles; 310 GBU-39B/B Laser Small Diameter Bombs; and eight GBU-39B/B LSDB Guided Test Vehicles with live fuzes.

The proposed sale of these drones were announced by US President Joe Biden during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington D.C. in June 2023. The administration notified Congress of the deal, as it must for all military exports of a certain value, on February 1, giving lawmakers 30 days to raise objections to the proposed deal, which will be deemed cleared of no there is opposition to it.

"The Congressional review period will conclude at the end of the 30th calendar day after notification and the posting of the media announcement," said a US official.

The announcement came on February 1.

"After that it's up to the parties to conclude and sign a Letter of Offer and Acceptance."

A wrinkle in the deal had emerged before the notification period when Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is a key Congressional body for clearing foreign military sales, linked his support for the the deal to assurance from the Biden administration that India would cooperate in the murder-for-hire case involving the alleged to murder a Khalistani activist. He subsequently announced his support for the deal shortly after Congress was notified.

General Atomics says that the SkyGuardian "is designed to fly over the horizon via satellite for up to 40-plus hours in all types of weather and safely integrate into civil airspace, enabling joint forces and civil authorities to deliver real-time situational awareness anywhere in the world--day or night". And apart from his combat capabilities, "it can be used for humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement and border enforcement".