The United States has offered India the armed version of Guardian drones that were originally authorized for sale as unarmed for surveillance purposes, a senior US official and an industry source told Reuters.
If the deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time Washington has sold a large armed drone to a country outside the Nato alliance.
It would also be the first high-tech unmanned aircraft in the region, where tensions between India and Pakistan run high.
In April, President Donald Trump's administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of US arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home. The plan included a new drone export policy that allowed lethal drones that can fire missiles, and surveillance drones of all sizes, to be more widely available to allies.
India has been in talks to buy 22 of the unarmed surveillance aircraft, MQ-9B Guardian, worth more than $2 billion to keep watch over the Indian Ocean. Besides potentially including the armed version of the drone, the sources said the number of aircraft had also changed.
An Indian defense source said the military wanted a drone not just for surveillance but also to be able to hunt down targets at land and sea. The military had argued the costs of acquisition did not justify buying unarmed drones.
The cost and integration of the weapons system are still issues, as well as Indian assent to the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement which Washington insists on as a condition for operating advanced defense systems. India, the defense source said, has shed its opposition to the agreement after an assurance from the US it would apply largely to US-procured weapons systems sand not to the large Russian-origin equipment with the Indian military.