India is set to buy 30 armed drones from the US in order to strengthen its surveillance of the country’s long border with China and the Indian Ocean, the Times of India has reported.
The deal will surpass $3 billion, according to The Quint, which said the drones would enable India to monitor China’s military activity near their 3,487km (2,167-mile) border and keep a watch on warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean.
“It’s no secret we are going through a very difficult phase (with China),” said India’s Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar on a visit to South America this week.
“We have agreements that prohibits them from bringing troops into our border area,” he said, “[but] they have disregarded that”.
Jaishankar noted a series of physical clashes that broke out between Chinese and Indian soldiers on the high-altitude Ladakh border in mid-2020 that caused casualties for both sides.
India will buy MQ-9B drones, which can carry up to four Hellfire missiles, the Quint report said. They have the capacity to undertake long endurance missions, soaring up to 40,000 feet, while flying at speeds of up to 388 kmh.
The drones have been extensively used by the US Air Force in the Middle East since 2007, the Times of India said. One was used last month to kill the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the Afghan capital Kabul.
The India-China border dispute is yet to be resolved, Jaishankar said, adding that the issue “is clearly casting a shadow”.
- by Alfie Habershon