India seeking to tie up drone deal with US before Obama goes

India is trying to hasten a deal with the United States to buy Predator drone aircraft for military surveillance before President Barack Obama leaves office, according to news agency Reuters, which cited unnamed government sources in Delhi.

India's request for 22 Predator Guardian drones made in June is in an advanced stage of negotiations, the agency said.

"It is progressing well. The aim is to complete the main process in the next few months," said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built close personal ties with President Obama and the United States has dislodged Russia as the top arms supplier to India.

"The administration is eager to get as much done as is humanly possible. They believe the conditions and the personnel in both capitals are uniquely favourable at the moment, and are eager to consolidate and institutionalize the progress," said Jeff Smith, director of Asia Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's "America First" foreign policy statements have raised questions in India and other Asian nations about a US pullback from Asia.

Trump has said US allies, such as Japan and South Korea, should pay more towards their defence. He told The New York Times in an interview in March he could withdraw US troops from bases in Japan, and raised the idea of letting Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear arsenals.

Trump has sent contradictory messages to India, said Manoj Ladwa, a London-based political strategist who served as communications director for PM Modi's 2014 campaign. "On the one hand, he says he values business relations with India, but then mimics Indian call centre workers, and disregards the competitiveness that a partnership with India could provide the US," he said. "His unpredictability is worrisome in a world that requires steady and mature statesmanship."

The centrepiece of the ramped up military collaboration is the help the United States is giving India in developing its biggest aircraft carrier.

Washington has offered flight launch technology that is being inducted into its own carriers to fly heavier fighter planes off the deck, which could allow the Indian Navy to leapfrog a generation of technology.

In June, the United States reached agreement on exchanging confidential information on development of carriers with India - its only non-treaty ally with such an arrangement.

In August, the Modi government signed a logistics agreement giving each country access to the other's military bases, after 10 years of negotiations.