WASHINGTON: Pakistan is still negotiating a deal with the United States to acquire its own fleet of surveillance drones, and hopes to get six systems of the aircraft, diplomatic sources told Dawn.
The drone system that the two countries are negotiating about is known as Shadow-200 and is currently used by the US Navy and the Marine Corps. It is launched from a trailer-mounted pneumatic catapult and is recovered with the aid of arresting gear similar to jets on an aircraft carrier.
It is equipped with an infrared camera which relays real time videos to a ground control station. It is a surveillance aircraft and is not equipped with weapons attached to the drones the Americans use to target militants in Fata.
Pakistan originally wanted weapon-equipped drones but the Americans turned down the request, saying that so far they had not shared this technology with any other nation.
The sources who spoke to Dawn said that Pakistan was still demanding “regular drones with onboard weapons and longer surveillance range”.
The Shadow-200 system includes a ground station and four ‘birds’ commonly known as drones and costs about $40 million. It takes about 36 to 48 months to deliver a system.
The sources said Pakistan had reservations about both the quoted price and the time it took to deliver a system.
“By the time we receive them it will be too late to use them against the militants we need to subdue,” said one such source.
Pakistani negotiators, while complaining about the long delivery wait, said they realised that the procedures involved did not allow speedy delivery. “There’s need for congressional approvals, then there is a cumbersome contracting system and legal wrangles involved in the approval of funds,” said one diplomatic source.
The money will come from either the Pakistan Counter-Insurgency Fund or the Foreign Military Finances.
“We are still working out the details for purchasing about half a dozen Shadow-200 systems,” the source said.
The offer to sell Shadow-200 drones was made by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates during a trip to Islamabad in January 2010.
A US military official in Islamabad told Reuters news agency that Washington was still working with Pakistan to decide what pilotless drone system its army needed.
The Pakistani official said the United States quoted a price well above market value for the surveillance drones and was stipulating that it might take up to three years for delivery.