Military relations are the best bellwether for bilateral relations
– Fu Mengzi
Thursday, this week, India and the US strengthened their military and security cooperation by signing a landmark, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). The agreement was signed towards the end of first ever “2+2 Dialogue” in the afternoon where External Affairs Minister Ms.Sushma Swaraj and Defence minister Ms.Nirmala Sitharaman met with their U.S counterparts. The summit was a dialogue between the two countries to discuss maritime freedom and International Laws in India Pacific region. The pact is a crucial step towards intensifying the bilateral relationship between India and the US and strengthening the bonds between the two major economies.
The 2+2 Dialogue
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis attended the inaugural session of long-awaited “2+2 dialogue” along with their Indian counterparts at New Delhi on 6th September 2018. The format of this dialogue was decided by Prime Minister Modi and President Trump at their first meeting in Washington DC in June 2017.
One of the most important facets of the dialogue was the initiation of close private defense industry collaboration that will allow Indian defense manufacturers to join the U.S military supply chain. The ministers also agreed to work together to secure India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at the earliest.
Further talks on curbing the cross-border terrorism were held where the two nations discussed the mechanisms to promote cooperation in countering terrorism and homeland security. The U.S has agreed to help India tracking down Mumbai serial blast mastermind and Don Dawood Ibrahim and JuD ( Jama’at-ud-Da’wah ) chief Hafiz Saeed who are believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Also, our honorable foreign minister requested the U.S. counterparts to protect the interests of Indians while taking the decision on H1B Visa issue, such that the policy is non-discriminatory and predictable. Regional issues were also brought up. This dialogue is supposed to be stepping stone in enhancing the strategic partnership of the countries as both are supposed to be on the same lines.
What is COMCASA?
As discussed earlier, COMCASA is Communications compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). There are three pacts that need to be signed by a country to obtain high tech military hardware from the US, India has yet signed only one of those which is LEMAO (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement ) in 2016. With COMCASA being the second, India is yet to sign BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). The act will provide a legal framework through which India will get access to function on high-end secured and encrypted communication equipment installed on American platforms obtained by Indian Armed Forces. Encrypted communication security equipment will now be transferred to India by this agreement. The agreement had been pending for around 10 years because of fear on India compromising on its operational independence.
Why India needs COMCASA?
As per the current scenario, India relies on less secure, commercially available and locally sourced communication systems, installed on high-end American platforms like C-130J Super Hercules, C-17 Globemaster-III and the P8I maritime surveillance aircraft. These platforms thus are not able to share data in real time with other friendly militaries using American platforms. Also, they tend to create the problem of inoperability during training exercises, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief operations.
This agreement will enable the transfer of niche technology to India for communications in defense and will be a solution to all such problems currently encountered. It permits and ensures the usage of high end secured and encrypted communication equipment by India which is installed on the aforementioned US platforms. This system is expected to be safer and more dependable than what is presently used. The equipment that will be transferred to India for the same is better called “COMSEC”.
Further, COMCASA ensures high precision GPS or latest guidance packages for latest US air to air missiles being made available to India. Hence with such a technology, India is expected to have an edge and a stronger footing in case of any warlike situation or a standoff. For instance, if a situation like Doklam happens again, India will just not be restricted to the strategic location of the enemy forces but will also get information about their support links inside their territory. India will get an edge over its neighbors China and Pakistan by means of this agreement.
COMCASA is also expected to provide India with a better picture of the Indian Ocean Region, which is seeing a growing disruption from China.
The agreement further promises to facilitate the transfer of drones from the US which use “Hellfire” missiles and “smart bombs” to track and destroy enemy targets. India is in talks with the US for 22 such drones being made available, where Sea Guardian is one of them which has COMCASA protected equipment like Global Positioning System (GPS) and Identification Friend or FOE receiver, which cannot be fooled by enemies.
This agreement is one of the most important pacts in the Indian defense as it will not only bring along with it, an assured security but also be an imperative in technological advancement. Further, it will equip India with methodologies that will help in drafting effective strategies in warfare kind of situations.
The Road Ahead
Though India has signed the agreement in its bilateral talks, there are still some issues that India is believed to be pondering upon which can pose a threat in near future. These include concern of the pact leading to an increased intrusion of America into Indian Communication System. It may even result in the violation of Indian sovereignty because of visits by US inspectors to Indian bases to inspect COMCASA safeguarded equipment. Another problem that may arise is the incompatibility of Indian and Russian defense platforms with COMCASA technology.
With India being allied with Russia for purchasing equipment for defense purposes for a long time, the country may get offended by India’s move to establish ties with the US for military cooperation. There are many factors which have to be taken into consideration in planning the further course of talks to ensure a win-win solution for both countries involved in bilateral ties. However, the “2+2 Dialogue” is a good milestone, to begin with.
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