Amidst China bashing, Covid-19 discussions, welcoming Australia’s participation in the upcoming Malabar exercise, US and India signed five agreements which included Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (Beca) the last of the foundational agreements, which enables exchange of geo-spatial information between the two countries.
Former Defence Attache to USA, retired Maj General Ashok K Dhingra says: “The agreement has been reached after several rounds of talks and addressed our security concerns. Our GIS systems will be refined with accuracy and regular updates. The timing may lead us to believe that the elephant in the room i.e. China or the US impending election are good reasons, but that is far from the truth.”
In a vocal rebuke of post-Covid China, pointing fingers at the Chinese Communist Party, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated his denunciation of Beijing calling it a threat to security and freedom, echoing much of what he said in Tokyo earlier this month. Secretary Pompeo opened by saying: “We have a lot to discuss today, from cooperating on defeating the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, to confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom, to promoting peace and stability throughout the region.”
Secretary Pompeo’s China accusations began at the second Quad ministerial in Tokyo, where he reiterated: “It is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion. We’ve seen it in the south, in the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Straits.”
As India and China near the seventh month of their border standoff at the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in Ladakh, the third Indo-US 2+2 comes at an interesting time, a week prior to the US Presidential elections.
Explaining the timing External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar replied, “There has been a growth in this relationship. The 2+2 has been held around the same time in the past few years and these meets are decided in advance.”
In a snub to China, the Ministers welcomed the growing understanding on the Indo-Pacific among like-minded countries. They reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. They also emphasized that the, “Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law.”
The signing of Beca along with other enabling agreements opens doors for high end technology to flow into India, which was not possible till now. Dhingra adds: “The foundational agreements give impetus to our own organizational reforms, tri-services synergy and multi domain operations.”
DTTI (Defence Technology and Trade Initiative) a Government agency set up by the US in 2012 to act as a one-stop window for defence deals with India identified a handful of pathfinder projects which were not to the comfort of the Indian defence lobby as they felt that the US was only proposing those projects which were expendable and were not necessarily about equal partnership. The US could not go further as these foundational agreements were not signed.
To explain this, William Blair, the India Head of the American aerospace major-Lockheed Martin, cites the example of Javelin ATGM (Anti Tank Guided Missile) with a 50-50 partnership between Lockheed and Raytheon. “The Javelin has been on offer for the past 7-8 years. It’s a fire & forget three km range missile. The transfer of technology issue was discussed with DRDO, but the project could not move ahead,” says Blair.
But today, acknowledging India’s contributions to the global supply chain of major defence platforms and commitment to defence innovation, the Ministers reiterated the importance of DTTI and stated their intention to fast track projects under DTTI. A DTTI standard operating procedure and a letter of intent for identification and development of joint projects has already been signed.
Beca would also ensure enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between the two navies. The two sides affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defence information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.
With agreements like the End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA), Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), India moves into the category of countries like Japan, Australia, Singapore, South Korea etc, whereby exchange of encrypted communication, satellite imagery, high-end sophisticated technologies among other things would be possible.
LEMOA has been progressing satisfactorily and COMCASA too has elicited desired results like the expansion of secure communications capabilities to include secure video teleconference facilities between the respective navies, armies and air forces as well as between the foreign and defence ministries of these countries.