As a result of increasing Chinese influence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been taking steps to boost its capabilities in the Indian Ocean, reflected by initiatives such as the Guardian drone purchase.
All that comes amid Beijing’s use of underwater drones in the South China Sea, a separate body of water where President Xi Jinping’s administration is trying to enforce a tremendous, 1.4-million square mile claim despite losing a legal case on that claim last year.
“Unmanned vehicles, like those whose sale has been proposed by the United States, would allow India to monitor activities in the region much better … Clearly, there are concerns about the militarization of the Indian Ocean, including the increased presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy,” explained Dhruva Jaishankar, foreign policy fellow at Brookings India.
Those worries are shared by the White House, which remains wary of China’s intentions in the Asian region. Speaking on Wednesday, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a security relationship with New Delhi was critical to ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean.
China was the main factor behind Washington’s approval of the Guardian drone sale, noted Pant of the Observer Research Foundation.
India’s air force has also requested for 90 armed Avenger Predator drones, also produced by General Atomics, that many believe could be used for cross-border strikes on Pakistani militants in the Kashmir conflict.
However, the sale of armed drones is subject to approval by U.S. Congress members who retain concerns about intellectual property and the danger of misuse by third parties, Jaishankar warned.