India-US defence deals
#GS2 #BilateralRelations #Defence #Security
India and the US are preparing for the third 2+2 ministerial meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T Esper in New Delhi on October 26-27. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun visited India last week to lay the groundwork for the high-level visits 2+2 in 2018.
- One of the items on the agenda will be the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) — a pact with deep military implications.
- In the last two meetings, agreements known as LEMOA and COMCASA were signed; now, with BECA, these have been dubbed the troika of foundational pacts — essentially laying the foundation for deeper military cooperation.
What is BECA?
- The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement largely pertains to geospatial intelligence, and sharing information on maps and satellite images for defence. According to officials, anyone who sails a ship, flies an aircraft, fights wars, locates targets, responds to natural disasters, or even navigates with a cellphone relies on geospatial intelligence.
- Signing BECA will allow India to use the US’s advanced geospatial intelligence and enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. It will give access to topographical and aeronautical data and products that will aid navigation and targeting.
- To use an everyday example, just like an Uber cab needs a good GPS to reach its destination quickly and efficiently, BECA will provide Indian military systems with a high-quality GPS to navigate and missiles with real-time intelligence to precisely target the adversary.
- This could be key for Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation. India and the US have stepped up efforts to sign the pact during the upcoming 2+2. This flows from the commitment in the joint statement during US President Donald Trump’s visit in February this year, when the two sides had said they looked forward to an “early conclusion” of BECA.
What are the other two agreements about?
- The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement was signed between India and the US in August 2016. It allows the military of each country to replenish from the other’s bases: access supplies, spare parts and services from the other country’s land facilities, air bases, and ports, which can then be reimbursed. This is extremely useful for Navy-to-Navy cooperation, since the US and India are cooperating closely in the Indo-Pacific.
- Again, to put this simply, it is like going to a friend’s garage and workshop to refuel one’s car and getting repairs done. But, by doing this, one is also exposing one’s car and technology to the friend, and that requires trust. In military terms, one’s Naval ships are strategic assets and use of another country’s base would expose one’s military asset to the host.
- If signing LEMOA needed trust, its application enhances the trust. It took almost a decade to negotiate LEMOA. This, in a sense, has bridged the trust deficit and paved the way for the remaining “foundational pacts”.
- Former diplomats say that while India had provided logistics support ad hoc in the past — refuelling of American aircraft in Bombay during the first Gulf War in 1991, visits by US ships to Indian ports during the war against terrorism after 9/11— the signing of LEMOA has made it a smoother process.
- The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement was signed in September 2018, after the first 2+2 dialogue in which then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met visiting US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and then Secretary of Defence James Mattis. It allows the US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems so that Indian and US military commanders, aircraft and ships can communicate through secure networks in peace and war.
- To explain in lay terms again, it is like WhatsApp or Telegram for the two militaries, which is safe and real-time communication is possible hassle-free.
- COMCASA paved the way for transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India to facilitate “interoperability” between their forces — and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secure data links.
What do these three pacts put together mean?
- While LEMOA means one partner trusts the other enough to expose its valuable assets, COMCASA means one is confident that it can rely on encrypted systems to connect the two militaries, and BECA means it can share highly classified information in real time without fear of being compromised.
- All this signals the level of trust that has developed between the two countries and their militaries, faced with an increasingly aggressive China.