India may finally end up signing the second defence foundational pact with the US — the Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA) — which will enable Indian military to obtain critical, secure and encrypted defence technologies from the other country.
Being a ‘Major Defence Partner’ of the US, it is imperative for India to sign the mandatory three foundational pacts which allows greater interoperability between critical technologies and smooth facilitation of classified information.
So far, India has signed only one of the foundational agreements, called the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). It had signed the pact with the US in 2016 after decades of negotiation.
The LEMOA is a modified version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) focused on India that will enable access to each other’s military facilities for purposes of refuelling and replenishment.
However, efforts to conclude the remaining two pacts got a major push during the visit of Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra to the US earlier this month, sources told BusinessLine .
“The COMCASA is almost ready, with both sides brainstorming all the aspects. It just needs the political will to sign on the dotted lines,” said a top official involved in the talks.
Gokhale and Mitra visited the US to pave the way for the proposed ‘2+2 Ministerial’ meet that was to be held in Washington in April-end, which now will be postponed due to the sacking of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while his successor Mike Pompeo’s name is yet to be finalised by the Senate, sources said.
Finalising COMCASA was also discussed extensively during a meeting between Navy Chief Sunil Lanba and US Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson that was held last week in the US.
Discussions to sign the three foundational pacts began during the previous UPA regime but talks could not progress much due to apprehensions that this will indirectly make India an ally of America in its war strategies, sources said.
However, it was under former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that LEMOA got signed. And now it is Defence Minister Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who is making an all-out effort to get COMCASA off the ground.
“COMCASA creates the conditions for the Indian military to receive modern secure and net-enabled weapons systems such as precision armament, air-to-air missiles, space systems and navigation systems that are critical components in platforms like fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial systems. Hitherto India has had to purchase more expensive commercial communications equipment, raising the overall acquisition price of a platform,” said Ben Schwartz, Senior Director (Defence and Aerospace), USIBC.
COMCASA and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) are the two remaining pacts that were not signed due to severe criticism from within the government. It was feared that signing these agreements would mean compromising India’s age-old military ties with Russia and access to their weaponry systems.
There is opposition to signing the pacts even now within the Defence Ministry as some officials feel that despite these pacts weapons sales from the US will remain subjected to various export control regimes.