New Delhi: India and US have further cemented defence cooperation with the Biden administration sending the final letter of acceptance (LOA) to the Defence Ministry for acquisition of 31 MQ-9B Predator drones from General Atomics through the government to government route. The US sent the classified LOA for the nearly $4 Billion acquisition to India this week.

According to officials based in Washington and Delhi, the final LOA, with the negotiated price of 31 armed drones by US with the manufacturer, was sent to the Defence Ministry on March 11, belying reports that the deal was held up by the Biden Administration after the alleged plot to assassinate Khalistani radical G S Pannun.

The US State Department notified the drone deal on February 1, but the draft LOA was kept open for possible objections from US lawmakers for a mandatory 30 days. The final LOA was sent to India after there were no vetoes from the lawmakers to the US deal with India.

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Now that the LOA has been received the deal will be studied by the Indian Navy, the lead player in the acquisition, and then forwarded to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval via the Defence Minister if the price is found to be satisfactory. The Indian Navy will get 16 MQ 9B drones, and the Indian Army and Indian Air Force will get eight each as per the agreement between the armed forces. India has decided to purchase 31 drones with 171 Hell-fire AGM 114 R missiles, laser guided bombs, missile launchers, ground stations, anti-submarine sonobuoys and the full encryption as well as surveillance complement package for the state of the art platform.

The letter of acceptance is a response to India sending a letter of intent to purchase 31 drones to the US government. Under the G-to-G route, it is the supplying government that negotiates with the manufacturer on price.

The acquisition of the 31 Predator drones by India came at a time when the lease of two Sky Guardian drones (unarmed Predators) by the Indian Navy was on the verge of expiring in January . This was first extended till March, and then a contract for further extension for four years was signed this month at a cost of $ 220-230 million.

Analysts say the India-US MQ9B deal will be a game changer in the Indo-Pacific, serving as an effective counter to the Chinese Wing Loong II armed drones, which have also been sold by Beijing to its client state Pakistan.

(With Agency Inputs)