- A US military negotiating team was in Delhi to respond to Indian objections and formulate a mutually acceptable text for the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement.
About Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement
- It is part of a set of three military agreements that the US considers foundational for a functional military relationship.
- The general agreement signed by the US is called the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) but the name was changed to COMCASA to reflect its India-specific nature.
- The COMCASA will enable Indian military to obtain critical, secure and encrypted defence technologies from the other country.
- COMCASA is meant to provide a legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that would facilitate interoperability between their forces and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secured data links.
- The agreements are a key requirement by Washington for sharing h-tech military hardware, especially armed drones which the U.S. is willing to supply to India.
Other two foundational Defence agreements of U.S
In August 2016, India had signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)and negotiations on the third agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), have not yet begun.
- Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) formerly known as the Logistic Support Agreement (LSA):
- LEMOA is an agreement for the exchange of logistics support and supplies that are generally required during combined exercises, port calls and cooperative efforts in unforeseen exigencies like in an HADR situation.
- The agreement is not expected to serve as a mutual defence treaty.
- Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA):
- Itprovides for sharing and data gathering of geospatial information.
- It is expected to provide access to unclassified geospatial data that improves navigation planning for exercises and geospatial training for coproducing geospatial products; this is an area where India has limited technical/technological expertise.
- India has for long been interested in acquiring armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like MQ-9 Reaper or Predator-B drones, which fly like fighter jets to fire missiles on enemy targets and then return to their bases to re-arm for next mission, from the US.
- But the two countries so far have held formal discussions only on the possible sale of 22 unarmed Sea Guardians, which are high-altitude, long-endurance drones capable of flying non-stop for over 27 hours for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, at an estimated cost of $2 billion.
- The US recently announced its new policy on export of armed/unarmed drones to friendly countries, with end-use monitoring and additional security conditions.
- In such conditions, if India at all decides to acquire such expensive drones, then they obviously should be the armed ones rather than ones used just for reconnaissance.
- Hence, India started renegotiating for COMCASA with USA.
- The two sides could, make an announcement of the intention to sign the COMCASA during the inaugural 2+2 meeting between their Defence and Foreign Ministers in Washington on July 6.
The US Stand
- The US says that India’s armed forces are currently dependent on less secure, commercially available communication systems on high-end American platforms like C-130Js and the P8I maritime surveillance aircraft.
- These platforms are, therefore, unable to share data in real time with other friendly militaries using American platforms, besides creating problems of interoperability during training exercises and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
- It contends that COMCASA will facilitate the use of high-end secured communication equipment to be installed on military platforms being sold to India, and fully exploit their potential.
- However, teething issues will need to be resolved before India signs.
- Benefits to India
- The signing of COMCASA becomes imperative if India is to get the armed version of the Sea Guardian drones from the US.
- The US granted India the status of Major Defence Partner to facilitate transfer of high-end defence technology.
- Signing the foundational agreements would underline that status, besides making the transfer of American defence technology possible to India.
- India’s concerns
- It is about intrusive American access to Indian military communication systems, and about the violation of Indian sovereignty due to visits by US inspectors to Indian bases to inspect the COMCASA-safeguarded equipment.
- There is also a fear that a lot of Russian-origin and indigenous Indian military platforms may not be compatible with COMCASA.
- It is also a politically sensitive issue in India, as the signing of LEMOA had already earned a lot of criticism for the BJP government from the opposition parties.
- India had concerns on some of the clauses and the language of COMCASA, hence both sides should attempt to address such issues in the discussions going on and India should take the decision based on its net benefit to India rather than on political ground.