Stage is set for India acquiring state-of-the-art predator drones with the US state department issuing the necessary licence for the export of 22 Guardian drones to India, days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump met at the White House for the first time.
The state department has "issued the DSP-5 Guardian export licence" for India, PTI quoted an official source as saying.
A DSP-5 category licence is issued for permanent export of military hardware as found in the US Munitions List which is defined by the International Traffic Arms Regulations, it added.
Designed by Abraham Karem and manufactured by General Atomics, the Guardian drone can remain in the air for over 27 hours and it can reach a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet.
The drone's maximum speed limit is 240 KTAS (True airspeed, in knots) and has a maximum payload carrying capacity of 1,746 kg.
India will be the first country to purchase such a drone by a non-NATO member.
Guardian drones can hunt targets and scan terrain by using multiple sensors that are equipped with thermographic cameras. Their onboard camera is so powerful that it can read a licence plate 3.2 km away.
While the drones are estimated to cost around $2 billion, the speed at which the Trump administration decided on India's request for the drones is reflective of the desire in White House to strengthen military ties with India, especially as a counter against China's aggressive diplomatic and military posture in Asia-Pacific.
The Guardian drones, being built by General Atomics, considered a pioneer in the unmanned aerial vehicles domain, will enhance India's maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean region.
"We are extremely pleased that President Trump and Prime Minister Modi have had excellent deliberations and the path forward for a game-changer in US-India defence relations has been charted," said Vivek Lall of General Atomics.
Lall, who was earlier with Boeing, is believed to have played a role in the sale of high-tech military hardware to India.
"Given the Sea Guardian's capabilities, such a response to the Indian Navy's request demonstrates a major change in US policy as this type of aircraft capability is only exported to a very select few of America's closest defence partners," he said.
"This represents tangible implementation of US Congress' designation of India as a 'Major Defence Partner'," said Lall.
On Tuesday, Lall met US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the annual US-India Business Council summit, when Pence endorsed the deal to provide India with Apache attack helicopters, C-17 transport aircraft, besides the drones, which could add billions to the $2 billion drone deal.