2+2 will revitalise Indo-US defence ties

Subimal Bhattacharjee | Updated on September 14, 2018

The signing of COMCASA, talks for an Industrial Security Annex, and furthering military exercises are major developments

India and the US concluded the inaugural 2+2 dialogue last week in New Delhi and took forward a decision taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump during their meeting in June 2017. The dialogue touched on many areas that have been of concern to India. These concerns have been repeatedly conveyed to the last three US administrations.

Ever since the US declared India a “Major Defence Partner”, the focus has been on finding avenues of technology that India needs to bolster its defence equipment and the overall ecosystem. The recent Memorandum of Intent concluded between the US Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organisation– Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX) was a a step in that direction.

However, a large number of defence-related acquisitions from the US in the last decade, totalling more than $15 billion, required wider agreements and arrangements that satisfied US export control laws related to defence technology theft and diversion. Much of the equipment purchased did not come with all the features. Thus, the already-in-service transport aircraft, the C-17 and C-130J, were not able to factor Link-16 and IFF, single channel ground airborne radio systems, digital transponders, secure voice terminals and SATCOM transcievers.

Likewise, the P-8I Poseidon long range maritime surveillance aircraft came without secure UHF voice, and Link-11/Link-16 preventing current and future generation fighters from participating in tactical networks essential in harmonising common picture of the aerial combat environment. Further, the GPS-guided munition and fire-and-forget smart weapons have not come to the Indian Army still due to missing legal bindings.

Now, the two major purchases on the table, the 24 numbers of MH-60R multi-role helicopters and the MQ-9 ‘Guardian’ High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones, would have also faced similar issues in the face of missing agreements.

A foundational pact

It is in this context that the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) during the 2+2 dialogue is a major development. COMCASA is one of the three foundational defence pacts that needs to be signed by a country to obtain hi-tech military hardware from the US.

Not that signing COMCASA happened overnight: it took more than 13 years of discussions and debates to move forward and the US has addressed most of India’s concerns. Contrary to many negative views being espoused, COMCASA does not restrict or curtail Indian sovereignty or provide the US unauthorised access to Indian military systems and networks, including navigational systems and deployments. India’s independence to pursue defence technology sourcing from multiple geographies remains firm.

The COMCASA will also help ensure greater cooperation between the defence industries in the two countries. Now with the announcement at the 2+2 dialogue of the readiness to begin negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex (ISA), there will be greater scope for Indian companies to get latest technologies. As part of the efforts of giving thrust to the ‘Make in India’ initiative, many of the entities in the just set up defence manufacturing corridors will be better supported in terms of critical mass and content by such co-operation.

Another major area of focus for more than a decade has been the growing cooperation in military exercises. The Yudh Abhas exercise involving the two armies since 2004 has been a major success story. Likewise, the naval exercises in Malabar, being held bilaterally since 1992, has expanded to include the the Japanese navy since 2014.

The announcement at the 2+2 dialogue of the creation of a new, tri-services exercise and to further increase personnel exchanges between the two militaries and defence organisations is a major development and is expected to happen next year. The decision to start exchanges between the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy will be another avenue for deepening the maritime cooperation in the western Indian Ocean. Clearly these exercises will also have the benefit of COMCASA in terms of enabling better interoperability.

Contentious issue

While most of the steps taken at the inaugural 2+2 dialogue look good, , some issues need to be addressed soon, especially the impact of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which definitely impacts India’s energy requirements being served from Iran for years.

Clearly, the Trump administration has to find the waiver for India to keep the flags of strategic cooperation flying high. Likewise, India’s decision to buy the S-400 Triumf missile system from Russia should be left out of the US sanctions and the Defence Minister has clearly stated India’s position on this.

The fact that much has been achieved in the bilateral strategic relationship ever since the signing by India of the End-User Monitoring Agreement way back in 2009, there is no reason why more mutually agreeable solutions and working relationships can be achieved on all contentious issues.

The writer is the former country head of General Dynamics.

Published on September 14, 2018

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