NEW DELHI - Within days of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington this month, and India's entry into Missile Technology Control Regime backed by President Barack Obama, New Delhi has sought to buy Predator drones from US-based General Atomics through the Foreign Military Sales program.

The letter of Request (LoR) for purchase of 22 of the unmanned aircraft for the Indian Navy was sent to US June 17, an official of the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said.

The Indian Navy wants to use the Predator drone, which can fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet, for maritime surveillance over the Indian Ocean, said an Indian Navy official.

India has bought weapons worth $10 billion in the last ten years through the FMS route, but New Delhi wants to shift this defense relationship from simply purchasing weapons to co-developing and co-producing them.

To that end, India and the United States set up the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), a forum for identifying joint projects that could meet the "Make in India" requirements spelled out by the Indian government.

Two major programs being considered in that context include transfer of technology for the proposed Indian aircraft carrier and sharing of engine technology.
There are positive signs of an early conclusion on transfer of technology for the carrier, the MoD official said.

"The first phase of carrier cooperation has begun during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Washington," said the official, requesting anonymity to discuss the program. "The information exchange agreement that was concluded will allow now for consulting contracts relating to carrier design. So, carrier cooperation is well on its way. I am hopeful that the project on jet engine technology cooperation will be concluded this summer."

That would permit GE to both assemble the F414 engine in India while collaborating with Indian research and development institutions to design the upgraded variant with greater thrust for both the US Navy and the Indian Air Force," says Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

An official in the Ministry of External Affairs said defense programs meeting the Make in India mandate could take off sooner when based on co-development and information sharing.

In the Make in India track, India is currently considering the acquisition of a twin-engine fighter aircraft which will be in addition to the 36 Rafale fighters proposed to be bought from France.

Defense contractors, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin from the United States and Saab of Sweden, are aggressively pitching to co-produce a twin-engine fighter aircraft in the Make in India category.


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