New Delhi: India and the US finally signed the long-pending Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation Tuesday, the last of the three key foundational agreements between the two countries.
The military agreement was signed during the third round of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue, and paves the way for a full-fledged and close partnership between India and the US.
BECA enables supply of high-end equipment as well as real-time intelligence and information, which will allow India to piggyback on American geo-spatial information to hit enemy targets with pinpoint accuracy.
The agreement had been pending for over a decade-and-a-half after the earlier United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government did not sign it because Left parties, which were part of the coalition, were strongly opposed to close ties with the US.
The signing of these agreements is mandatory, under American law, for the US to enter military alliances related to the export of sensitive equipment.
After the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power, the first of the three agreements, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), was signed in 2016. This was followed by the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was signed in 2018.
LEMOA, the first foundational agreement signed
The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a tweaked India-specific version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), was the first ‘foundational agreement’ to be signed by India and the US.
By the end of 2014, New Delhi had asked Pentagon for a ‘non paper’ on the foundational agreements but things accelerated only after then defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s visit to the US in December 2015.
A high-level legal team from the US had also come down to New Delhi to answer the concerns of the Indian authorities. The deal was then signed during the sixth round of meeting between Parrikar and then US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter on 29 August 2016.
The LSA, which was signed as LEMOA, can be seen as more of an accounting mechanism, which allows both countries to replenish from each others designated military facilities.
This includes food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oil, lubricants, clothing, medical services, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, training services, and other logistical items and services.
A big benefactor of this agreement has been the Navy since it requires replenishment more often than the Air Force and the Army.
While India had, in the past, provided logistical support on an ad hoc basis to American ships, LEMOA formalised the process and made payment easier since it can be carried forward and crossed off against future replenishment.
Initially fears had emerged that signing of the LEMOA would turn India into another military base for the US, but Parrikar had said at the signing ceremony: “It (LEMOA) doesn’t have anything to do with the setting up of base.”
Incidentally, the US Navy’s long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft, P-8 Poseidon, carried out its maiden refuelling from India’s strategic base in Andaman and Nicobar Islands earlier this month.
COMCASA allows secure communication channels
The LEMOA was followed by the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was signed on 6 September 2018 during the maiden 2+2 ministerial meeting between India and the US.
Originally known as the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), the nomenclature was changed to COMCASA to make it India-specific, just like the LEMOA.
An earlier and rudimentary variant of COMCASA, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), had been signed in 2002. However, it did not cover many sensitive technologies that the COMCASA paved the way for.
As the name suggests, COMCASA deals with secure military communication.
Since India had not signed the agreement earlier, the Indian military had bought US platforms without US proprietary communications equipment, such as the C-130 Hercules special operations planes and the Globemaster C-17 strategic airlifters.
COMCASA is in advanced stages of being fully operational even though Indian and American systems now talk to each other through secure and encrypted communication during joint exercises, increasing the inter-operability between the two forces.
This also increases the ability to communicate safely with all US-made equipment used by foreign military, such as in Japan and Australia.
A top Indian official, who has now retired, had then said COMCASA was India-specific and does not commit us to buying US systems.
“We have ensured we have full access to systems without any disruptions. It is platform-specific. It is an enabling instrument. It will enable us to derive optimal use of US platforms,” he had said.
Data acquired through COMCASA cannot be disclosed or transferred to any person or entity without India’s consent.
What is BECA?
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) is an agreement between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defense and India’s Ministry of Defence.
It allows both countries to share all kinds of military information such as geomagnetic and gravity data, maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery.
While most information shared will be unclassified, there are provisions for sharing classified information like sensitive satellite and sensor data, with safeguards to prevent it from being shared with any third party.
This means access to such information will enhance the accuracy of Indian missiles and armed drones that need such data.