NEW DELHI: In a bid to counter China's growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, the Indian Navy is mulling to buy at least 22 Sea Guardian remotely-piloted vehicles from the United States.
Reports said on Monday that the sale of Guardian Drones to India is also the top priority of the US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, who will be arriving here on Monday.
The USD 2-billion deal for the sale of Guardian Drones, if sealed, could see the Indian Navy acquire the world's most advanced maritime reconnaissance drone.
Senior officials close to the deal have reportedly said that the sale of Sea Guardian is one of the top priorities of visiting US Secretary Mattis since "maritime security is of common interest due to Chinese aggression with submarines in the Indian ocean.''
The United States administration led by President Donald Trump had in August approved the sale of 22 Guardian drones to India, as per reports.
New Delhi's request to buy these unarmed drones was seen as a key test of ties with the US under the new Trump administration.
The Obama administration had earlier declared India a “major defence partner”, giving it the same status for co-development and co-production of defence equipment as close allies, and this has been endorsed by Trump administration officials.
The deal had the support of Congress and the White House and the concerns expressed by the State Department were sorted out, according to reports.
The remotely-piloted drones which India is keen on buying are fully weapons-capable and come with seven external stations for carriage of payloads.
The Sea Guardian Multi-Mission Maritime Patrol Aircraft can fly non-stop for 27 hours at an altitude of 50,000 feet. It can be remotely piloted or operate fully autonomous missions. Equipped with a multi-mode maritime radar, the Sea Guardian can observe the movement of Chinese warships and submarines when they surface.
The deal holds strategic importance for India as China has, in past few years, deployed nuclear attack submarines in the Indian Ocean region along with fleet support ships and warships, apparently to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The Indian Navy believes that the Chinese presence in these waters has less to do with the fight against lightly armed Somali pirates and more to do with Beijing's elaborate plans to strategically encircle India by establishing ports and military facilities in the Indian Ocean region such as its new logistics hub in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.