Coming a Full ‘Circle of Empowerment’
Sub Title : The three foundational agreements and the pros and cons thereof
Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 5 Nov – Dec 2020
Author : Lt Gen VK Saxena, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)
Page No. : 57
Category : Military Affairs
: December 4, 2020
India US relations have warmed up over the course of the last decade and a half with the changing geopolitics of the region also helping in the convergence of interests. It is in the light of this that the three foundational agreements between the two countries viz LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA need to be seen. The article details the three agreements and analyses the pros and cons thereof
The media is abuzz with the news of the recently concluded 2+2 Indo-US dialogue. The shouting headlines are trying to tell one and all, how historic and how important it has been to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with US during the current edition of 2+2.
It is the sense of the author that BECA should not be seen in isolation. It should be seen as a part of a trio of three agreements which the two countries have signed over a period of last four years. Taken together, these mark the coming of a ‘full circle of empowerment’ for India and an unprecedented high in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
In corroboration of the above statement, this article visits the three agreements in the sequence these happened, flagging the importance of each agreement and highlighting the specific zone of empowerment brought about by each. In the larger perspective, it then presents a viewpoint on the flipside of these agreements bringing out the points to be guarded against.
LEMOA stands for Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement. This is first of the series of three agreements under discussion in this article. LEMOA actually happened in Aug 2016, prior to the 2+2 mechanism. It probably has its origin in the Bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue launched between India and US in Apr 2016 which called for a deeper maritime cooperation between the two countries in the Asia pacific region.
LEMOA can be grouped in the category of a typical Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) which in its generic sense is mutual agreement to facilitate each other’s militaries by permitting the use of its logistic facilities on a reciprocal basis.
Such a facilitation can take many forms such as routine port calls, rest, refuel, repair, maintenance, spare, support, billeting for each other’s maritime forces. It may also manifest as comprehensive logistic support to ground forces engaged in joint exercises on each other’s soil, facilitation during the UN peacekeeping operations or during the conduct of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations etc.
In an implied and an indirect sense, LSAs end up in increasing the range and reach of a country’s naval vessels in international waters. With range and reach, also increases the surveillance and strike capability of warships. This results in enhancing the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the areas of interest. Also, the joint capability to address shared maritime threats from potential adversary (ies) also increases under the LEMOA arrangement.
Besides US, India has actually signed LSAs (albeit with different names) with several other countries, namely France, Japan, Australia, Singapore. A similar agreement with Russia called Agreement on Reciprocal Logistic Support (ARLS) is slated to be signed next month during the Indo-Russia Bilateral Summit. By doing that, the facilitation as described above is available to India from Pacific to Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
Specific to LEMOA, following is stated:-
♦ Keeping in mind the fact that the US naval bases are spread right across the globe, the paradigm enhancement of the Indian maritime footprint is achieved accordingly.
♦ Besides LEMOA, since India has LSA with the other two members of the Quad ( Japan, Australia), it gives a sense of a joint front of like- minded nations having come together to address the shared maritime threats (the reference is to the growing assertiveness of China in the Indo Pacific region).
♦ As stated, LEMOA sits with similar LSAs with five other countries each having their own unique purport and their own sense of enablement with reference to their geographical locations from Atlantic to Pacific.
♦ The fallouts of LEMOA are not only restricted to port-centric facilitation, the agreement includes the provision for addition of any other clause that is mutually agreeable to both the nations and is in accordance with the rules and laws of the respective country.
♦ As an indirect takeaway from LEMOA, Reliance Defence and Engineering Ltd ( RDEL) bagged a huge contract of providing repair and alteration services to some 100 vessels of the US 7th Fleet at their Pipavav Shipyard. This is a huge contract that amounts to a whopping 10,000 Crs in revenue.
♦ Duly empowered by LEMOA and LSAs with every other nation of the Quad, India will enter Malabar 2020 with a newfound sense of comfort, jointness and a comprehensive support base.
COMCASA is an acronym that stands for Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Understanding. This is agreement that enables the US authorities to transfer such high-end defence equipment to India that features encrypted communication network. Following points are stated as to this agreement:-
♦ As the NO GO period of the procurement of US equipment and high end technology slowly faded into the sunset with the emergence of DTTI and Make-in-India, a lot of US equipment started to make inroads into India ( C 130, C-17, AH 64, P 81, MH 60R, Sea guardian drones, M777 etc.).
♦ Most of the above platforms use high-end security systems, sensors and surveillance equipment which use encrypted networks for their operations. Without COMCASA India did not have access to the same and hence could not exploit the full potential of these niche equipment. As the inventory of equipment kept on growing so did the felt need to have a full and unhindered access to their capabilities. COMCASA became a necessity.
♦ The facilitation of COMCASA is not only restricted to the imported inventory of equipment, the greater use of COMCASA will be felt in the interoperability domain. In that, when engaged in joint operations/exercises etc., our platforms will be able to seamlessly use the surveillance, communication and intelligence inputs generated on multiple equipment of US on the COMCASA thread. For instance, the early warning input about a Chinese submarine about to enter the IOR as picked up by a US vessel in Pacific could flow in real- time to our systems on the COMCASA bridge.
♦ COMCASA also provides larger domain connectivity through an enterprise information exchange system based on an expansive wide area network (WAN). This system, which goes by the name US Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) connects a huge number of entities on one common WAN platform on which the information can be shared seamlessly. With COMCASA done, our platforms can access and utilize the information on the CENTRIX domain.
♦ Another COMCASA enabled facilitation which is now possible is through the Link 16 communication network. This network allows seamless and real-time exchange of data across militaries operating on the NATO grid.
♦ US really put things in order for its own interests. In that, to promote the business interests of its defence manufacturers who would be all too keen to sell more and more defence equipment to India post COMCASA, another, less talked about agreement also got signed with COMCASA, it is called License Exception Strategic Trade Authorisation Tier 1
(STA-1). STA puts India in the top tier countries in terms of defence licensing and exports.
The recently signed BECA stands for Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement. BECA permits sharing of geospatial intelligence based on maps and satellite images. This agreement between the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) will make it possible for US to share geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data, map-based information, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other non-classified imagery with India.
There is also a provision to share classified information and sensitive satellite and sensor inputs with due safeguards that this will not be shared with any third party.
The information as stated above, will provide our military platforms (land systems, aircrafts, ships, submarines etc.) with high quality GPS and other real-time advanced products to navigate to their designated targets precisely. Besides it will permit close watch of maritime activity in the IOR.
Nothing comes without a price… and the same applies to the three agreements discussed above. Here is viewpoint that spans both sides of the fence:-
♦ There is no doubt the successful signing of three agreements over a span of four years from 2016 to 2020 marks a steady convergence of interests between India and the US.
♦ Any number of reasons can be ascribed to this end-state. Basically a win-win for the two nations in the face of an expansionist and belligerent China, where one sees it at an effective counterweight and a firm base in the Indo-Pacific while the other perceives it as a force multiplier in meeting security and maritime threats.
♦ The naysayers are active on two verticals:-
▪ The first vertical has such arguments as pitfalls of falling in the US camp, throwing the hereto sacrosanct strategic autonomy to the winds, distancing from the most trusted support base (Russia) that has stood with us through thick and thin. For BECA, there are voices decrying the disregard of the basic diplomatic convention of avoiding major bilateral agreements at a time when the other partner is bracing for a national level event (election) that may well involve a change of guard.
▪ The second vertical relates to loss of confidentiality (read security) of information that is unavoidable post the agreements (it cuts both ways).
♦ On the apprehensions of falling in the US camp following points are made:-
▪ Mr Vivek Katju, has noted in the Indian Express, quote, ‘a close embrace of another country is always problematic,’ unquote. While agreeing with the former diplomat, the need for India is to take these agreements more in the spirit of ‘partnership’ than in the spirit of ‘alliance’.
▪ The belief that such is the sense that prevails in New Delhi is borne out of the fact that the agreements have survived outside opposition. The reference is to the much talked about ire of the US through the CATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) instrument on our decision to buy S 400 from Russia.
▪ The fact that we stayed the course despite all the talk of US pressure gave credence to the belief that it is possible to follow a path that suits our national interest without being impacted with anything negative on the agreement front.
▪ It also pointed to the reality of ‘India 2020’, which both the poles realise and wish to connect with for their own national interests.
▪ In this context, it is indeed reassuring to state (as mentioned earlier) that in the forthcoming India Russia Bilateral Summit in Nov 2020, an agreement similar to LEMOA, called the Agreement on Reciprocal Logistic Support (ARLS) is likely to be signed.
▪ That LEMOA and ARLS will coexist, that DTTI and IRIGC (Indo-Russia Inter Govermental Commission) will co-exist and flourish together is the new norm.
▪ Falling in the US camp apprehension can therefore be rested with due respect to the fact that the partnerships will remain very dynamic and hopefully capable of adjusting to a possibly changed perception of China (read geopolitical realities) should there be a change of guard at the Capitol Hill.
♦ That said, the apprehensions on the inevitable loss of confidentiality are indeed well placed. In this context, following points are stated in relation to COMCASA and BECA:-
▪ In the the sense of the author, both the agreements are certainly ‘intrusive’ in nature. For instance, while we receive a host of real-time intelligence over COMCASA protected US equipment, it also allows the other party to get an access to the intelligence gained by our equipment threaded into the COMCASA grid.
▪ Same is also likely to be true for geospatial information sharing under the BECA arrangement.
▪ The other big issue is likely to be of compatibility with a host of Eastern bloc platforms that populate our combat inventory. In this context, there were reports that in some previous joint exercises, the sensor on board the Russian equipment had to be switched off.
▪ Can we avoid an ‘unsolicited US snoop’ on our systems? That is the question. The short answer is – we must find the ways and means to do so.
In Sep 2018 when COMCASA happened and Link 16 operability became a possibility, Times of India captioned its report,’ quote, India ‘joins NATO – well almost’ unquote. That the above remains only a fancy of the concerned reporter is the hope of the author.