US clears potential drone sale to India amid murder plot claims
The US has cleared the sale of 31 drones and related equipment to India, worth almost $4 billion. The move comes just two days after media reports suggested the deal was stalled in Congress over New Delhi’s alleged connection to a murder plot against a Sikh activist based in New York.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said on Thursday that the State Department had approved a possible deal, which includes the sale of 31 MQ-9B Sky Guardian UAVs and other weapons and electronics, spare parts and accessories. The US Congress was formally notified on February 1, the statement noted. It also added that the sale would improve India’s capability to meet “current and future threats” by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in maritime operational zones.
The proposed transaction was announced during the state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US in June 2023; however, talks on the procurement date back to 2018. India has continually shown interest in procuring weaponized drones from the US, but the deal was delayed by various bureaucratic hurdles.
The State Department’s approval comes just two days after Indian media reported that the US Congress had held up the agreement due to the “anger” of certain members over a “brazen attempt” to assassinate the New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. He is the founder of Sikhs for Justice, a secessionist group banned in India, and is himself designated a “terrorist” by New Delhi.
Last year, US prosecutors linked an Indian government official to the murder plot, which was foiled by the FBI. An Indian national who allegedly tried to recruit a hitman was apprehended in the Czech Republic and is awaiting extradition to the US. While New Delhi has responded to allegations, stating that an assassination would be “contrary to government policy,” it has formed a high-level committee to probe the case.
A day before the official announcement of the potential deal being cleared, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller clarified that lawmakers play an important role in the US arms transfer process. “We routinely consult with members of Congress… on the foreign affairs committees before our formal notification… so we can address questions that they might have”, Miller said. He explained that the deal “offers significant potential” to advance the defense cooperation between the two countries.
The Indian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson stated on Thursday that the US has its “internal processes in place” and that New Delhi is “respectful of that.”