Enhancing the Indo-US Defence Relations: Dissecting the Three ‘Foundational’ Agreements
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

The international environment remains in flux. Even though there is a belief that major wars are unlikely yet history has the uncanny knack of surprising us; it is therefore encumbent for nation states while abjuring conflict to remain prepared for the same. As Asia becomes economically the most dynamic region it is riddled with maximum trouble spots either on account of historical legacy or emerging balance of power equations.

China and India are the two leading engines of growth in Asia. Though China’s stated policy is peaceful development yet its rise is viewed with apprehension and concern not only by its neighbours but also by others. India has been at the receiving end of China’s assertive policies, over the last few years. Whether it is the question of issuance of stapled visas to Indian citizens from Kashmir, objecting to approval of Asian Development Bank’s funds for projects in Arunachal Pradesh or transgressions across the Actual Line of Control, China has generally disregarded India’s core interests while continually expanding its own list of interests. Largely, all nations have been following hedging strategies vis a vis China, that is, engaging while taking adequate precautions to balance a possible negative outcome of its growing power.

It is in the above context that the evolving Indo-US strategic relationship becomes an important element in the stability of the Asian region in particular and at the global stage in general. President Obama’s visit to India was aimed at enhancing the strategic partnership between the two largest democracies. With the signing of India-US Civil Nuclear deal and many other associated and understandings agreements, India-US ties have reached a certain degree of maturation. A solid foundation to the Indo-US defence cooperation has been provided by Framework Agreement on Defence Cooperation and ensuing engagement and strengthening of bilateral ties signified by over 50 joint combat exercises that have been conducted between the militaries of both the nations in the last seven years.

Further, as part of Indian armament procurement diversification programme particularly in high tech areas induction of the state-of-the-art weapon systems and platforms from the U.S. is also acquiring momentum. Despite above forward movement in the bilateral defence relations the Americans believe that a lack on understanding about Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for geo-spatial cooperation (BECA) may hinder the further progression in this relationship. India is resistant to signing of these agreements in part because of historic psychological apprehensions that they could imperil its foreign policy autonomy and in part because it is afraid that such moves could negatively impact our efforts at building an indigenous defence industrial and technological base.

It needs to be noted that as per our Defence Procurement Policy we have to obtain defence offsets and also insist on Transfer of Technology with the aim of imparting impetus to our defence industrial complex. While it would take considerable length of time to become self-reliant in defence production the strategic risks likely to arise during the intervening period would have to be perforce covered by imports. Definitely, a certain percentage of the equipment of the armed forces needs to be the state of the art systems conforming to the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs. Therefore import of cutting edge technologies from the U.S and elsewhere provide a tremendous force multiplication factor against our potential adversaries.

Three Agreements: Indo – US Perspectives
The three proposed agreements LSA, CISMOA and BECA which the U.S. needs India to conclude as part of burgeoning defence cooperation have also been described as ‘foundational agreements’. It also needs to be noted that an End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) in respect of the American defence equipment was concluded last year after years of protracted negotiations. Earlier EUMA was incorporated in Letter of Acceptance, for instance in the case of acquisition of USS Trenton/INS Jalashva bought by India in 2007. The provisions of EUMA are for more stringent even though the pact does address many of the apprehensions and concerns pointed out by the Indian armed forces particularly in terms of inspection and other regimes.

Clearly, there is a need to assess the pros and cons of the three agreements in the context of challenges we are likely to encounter in the mid-term to long term period. Such agreements have been concluded by the U.S. with a large number of countries that are not part of any military alliance with the U.S. While the experience of other countries would be a useful guide there is a considerable scope to modify provisions of the agreements to suit own interests.

Logistic Support Agreement
In so far as LSA is concerned -U.S. has concluded this with over 65 countries in the world. And there is no reason why an LSA between the US and India cannot be arrived at after building in caveats and exceptions into the agreement. For instance, the U.S.-Philippines LSA contains the clause that ‘each party shall exert its best efforts, consistent with national priorities, to satisfy requests from the other Party under this agreement for logistic support, supplies and services’. The basic issue to be determined is that whether India is comfortable with the Agreement and what our core concerns are. If the determination is that such a provision is important in building mutual defence cooperation then provisions should be adequately worked out to take care that our core national interests are not compromised under various contingencies. Within the agreement there is also a provision for amendments to the agreement and only non-lethal logistic support and services are to be provided. There is no question of including munitions in the transfer or even providing place for ammunition dumps or stockpiling of lethal stores etc on Indian Territory as feared by some of the analysts.

Admittedly, the U.S may stand to gain more since in most of the cases it would be the U.S. that would need logistic support from India due to the global nature of its military operations and the central location of India in the Indian Ocean. Yet, there could be many contingencies where India could benefit from reciprocal arrangements. Indian Air Force has been spending about Rupees 100 crores every time there is a joint air exercise e.g. Red Flag in a U.S. location. Had LSA been in place savings could have been made by offering cross-servicing arrangements to the U.S military by India.

Further, the factor that by signing such an agreement India would seem to have allied itself with the U.S. has largely been overplayed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India would pursue an independent foreign policy determined by our own perceptions of our enlightened national interests. Pursuing pragmatic policies based on national interests to enhance the capabilities of our armed forces have become mandatory to meet the challenges arising out of an era of strategic uncertainty. A mere logistic agreement cannot be construed to undermine our enlightened self interest. For instance, if there is a U.S. offensive launched against Iran or somewhere else in the middle-east India would be well within its rights to refuse to provide logistics support for such operations that are contrary to its national interests.

Similarly, CISMOA and BECA need to be viewed through a different prism than the pronouncements already made by the three services Chiefs that they could do without such agreements. Though they are right to the extent that Indian military has long been attuned to mixing and matching weapon and communication systems on diverse variety of platforms and succeeding to an acceptable degree in the long run as a form of defence ‘Jugad’. It however needs to be underscored that by and large new weapons system imports have not been affected by mix and match approach. Such an approach has been adopted only in case of equipment upgradation or where we reach an agreement with Original Equipment Manufacturer at the time of procurement per se e.g. Israeli avionics in SU 30 Mk I.

It needs to be underscored that that hesitancy in conforming to the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) means that it would preclude the U.S. transferring advanced avionics and communication equipment and satellite navigational aids aboard the eight Boeing P8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA) and six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft configured for Special Forces costing over $3 billion. Under the U.S. law, both pacts need bilateral confirmation to ensure client compliance with sensitive technology control transfers. The fact that the air force and the Navy, are planning repeat orders for at least six additional C-130Js and four more P 8Is together with BSF and even the Meteorological Department too having expressed interest in acquiring C-130Js in varied configurations, underscores the need for holistic appraisal with regard to these pacts. Interestingly even in the case three Boeing Business Jets for the IAF's VVIP squadron only one is believed to be equipped with missile deflecting security suites provided courtesy then US President George Bush. 

Important issue is that if for some reasons it is felt that we should resort to alternative avionics and communication solutions then the best bet is to attempt integration at manufacturing stage itself and not later as reverse engineering. In any case there is a need to take a holistic look including evaluation of pros and cons from a long term perspective as these are not one on deals.
Yet, the questions that need to be asked are whether such solutions would be timely and optimal? Will they or will they not reduce the expected efficiency or output of a particular weapon system or platform? Would they be cost effective without the accompanying advanced electronic, communication and navigation gadgetry? Would the installation of ad hoc/ in lieu systems not interfere with the guarantees and warrantees of the Original Equipment Manufacturer? Indeed one can very justifiably take pride in the Indian culture of innovation or ‘jugad’ (which was amply visible during the recently concluded Commonwealth Games and acquired a negative resonance) but is it to be practiced every time?

For the VVIP aircraft purchased from Boeing a special CISMOA and End User Agreement was reached between the two countries. The experienced gained through the above transaction could be handy for embarking further on this path. Further, it can also be said that CISMOA in some form or the other is already in place as our three services have been carrying joint military exercise with the U.S and a degree of interoperability has been achieved. Indian and U.S. militaries have claimed success in these exercises but the degree and extent of success achieved in this area is not in the open domain. As has been noted by an expert “In the 21st century, communications equipment aren’t just some solid state radios where each side only needs to know a particular frequency to communicate on. Communications equipment is highly complex pieces of computerized hardware running equally complex software and encryption products. Sometimes it’s difficult to get the same equipment with the same country to work properly much less trying to conduct joint operations with different countries using different equipment”. Thus, while retrofitting a new communication equipment there may be delays of many years before harmony and stability can be reached through the replacement route.

Evidently, there are apprehensions about the location devices and command and control logic devices/ switches that could either send out sensitive data or interfere with own freedom of action. But then these could be discussed and some via media arrived at. Of course, the acid test for signing such agreements would be as to how far they would contribute to our capabilities in addressing emerging challenges in the field of maritime security, cyber security and regional contingencies in particular and global security in general.

Thus there is a case for having a de novo look at the three ‘foundational agreements’ for taking the Indo-U.S. defence relationship to a new level. For a comprehensive appraisal there is a need to appoint a technical group which can take a critical look at the implications arising out of the three agreements and recommend a way forward.

Published Date : November 12, 2010

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