Indo-US Defence Relations


USA is keen to establish military & political partnership with India and so is New Delhi, as India is aware of potential technology benefits in the relationship. Though, we have our own apprehensions but apparently USA understands these and slowly will come to our terms, if they want to retain the new status of being the India's biggest arms supplier.

US no doubt is making all efforts to establish a military and political partnership with India, after the “historic visit” by the US President to New Delhi in January 2015, vowing to take defence ties to a new level. Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter followed it by visiting India in June 2015 which resulted in the signing of a ten-year framework agreement on defence cooperation. Mr. Carter, widely regarded as a staunch friend of India visited India in Apr16, his third since assuming office in February 2015. This summer the Indian Air Force is taking a big contingent of aircraft to the US for the highly regarded Red Flag Exercise. It has also been reported that, a bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives entitled the “US-India Defense Technology and Partnership Act” and if passed by the US Congress, the Indo-defence relationship will become US law, formalising Indian status as “a major partner of the United States”.

Foundational Agreements

After years of dithering, India and USA are moving towards signing three "foundational agreements" that will facilitate cooperation and ease the transfer of US high-technology. These are:

Logistics Support Agreement (LSA)

This provides an accounting mechanism for the two militaries to replenish from each other's military facilities and bases. However, the apprehension was that LSA would force India to replenish US military units engaged in operations that India had reservations about. The present Government would like to ensure that the discretion remains with India and accordingly, on 12 Apr 16, Indian Defence Minister and US Defense Secretary  agreed in principle to sign an agreement on the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which will be tailored for India and will not be a general Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). LEMOA will take care of India's concerns. However, they have yet to finalize the draft of the agreement.

The agreement, when inked, will access supplies, spare parts and services from each other's land facilities, air bases and ports, which can then be reimbursed and it does not provide automatic access to the use of military bases. India has provided logistics assistance to the US in the past on a case-by-case basis, which included providing refueling facilities to American aircraft during the Gulf War in 2001.

Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA)

The CISMOA would enable India to get encrypted communications equipment and systems allowing military commanders to communicate with aircraft and ships through a secure network as the advanced radio needed for an aircraft to talk to the submerged submarine is protected by CISMOA. CISMOA-protected category of communications equipment has been denied to India so far, even in advanced aircraft bought from the US, and India chose to buy these without the original CISMOA-protected equipment and replaced them by commercially available radios of a lower order. The US insists on CISMOA as a condition for supplying this equipment because it is afraid its advanced technology may leak out to India's other defence partners, especially Russia.

Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)

The BECA would provide India with topographical and aeronautical data and products, which will aid geospatial intelligence, navigation and targeting. This also relates to digital mapping especially accurate targeting with long range missiles.

There has been no consensus so far on CISMOA and BECA as Indian defence forces have apprehension that it would provide the US with access to communications about Indian military operations. In any case, India's own satellite imaging capability is of a very high order and we only need integration at services level and hence US geographical information systems (GIS) may not be required.

However, a joint statement issued by the MoD said: "They (Ashton Carter and Manohar Parrikar) discussed the priorities for the coming year in defense ties, as well as specific steps both sides will take to pursue those priorities. These included expanding collaboration under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI); Make in India efforts of Government of India; new opportunities to deepen cooperation in maritime security and Maritime Domain Awareness; military-to-military relations; the knowledge partnership in the field of defence; and regional and international security matters of mutual interest."

Strategic Diplomacy

Interestingly, India, which lies within the area of responsibility of US Pacific Command (USPACOM), has asked the Pentagon for formal linkages with US Central Command (USCENTCOM), which is associated with areas to the west of India, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and West Asia. Last month, Admiral Harry Harris, the chief of USPACOM, visited India and advocated joint patrolling, which was denied by Indian side as the “coordinated patrols” with the navies of maritime neighbours, each one's ships and aircraft remaining on their respective sides of the International Maritime Boundary Line is in any case being carried out.

Indian policymakers are not very happy about the USA leaving out India in the peace process in Kabul, thereby denying us a significant role in Afghanistan and also that Washington tacitly supports the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the development of Gwadar Port.  Yet, India is pushing to militarily associate India with US Central Command, which is responsible for America's military interests in Af-Pak, Iran and West Asia (India and the Indian Ocean fall under US Pacific Command, with which New Delhi already works.) that has allowed the defence relationship to steam along nicely.

Defence Trade

Business was the key agenda with the US being the sixth largest investor in India, targeting a five-fold increase to 500 billion dollars in two-way trade by 2025. The US has gradually replaced Russia as India's largest arms supplier. Bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $61.64 billion in 2013-14. India has received $13.28 billion in FDI from the US between April 2000 and November 2014. However, "Make in India" was the key thrust for India with discussions on creating the right atmosphere for massive bilateral business cooperation, particularly in the light of the US being a major potential source of manufacturing investments. With India headed for modernisation of its defence forces running into several hundred billion dollars, US companies are targeting a major pie of that.

So far the US-India relationship, as far as the defence equipment is concerned has remained a buyer-seller one. India purchased arms worth $425 million during 2001-2004, which rose to over $3.4 billion during 2005-2008 and grew to $5.5 billion during 2009 to 2013. These purchases included the USS Trenton, an amphibious ship, twenty General Electric F-404 engines for the Tejas fighter, six C-130J Super Hercules special mission aircraft, eight Boeing P-8I maritime control aircraft, 500 CBU-97 sensor-fuzed weapons for Jaguar aircraft, 40 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, six additional C-130J Hercules and ten Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft.

American defence equipment is flowing in steadily and defence equipments worth $9 billion are in the pipeline and if all contracts go through the US would retain its new status as India's biggest arms supplier.

The role of DTTI in developing new areas of technology cooperation in the defence sector including through co-development and co-production assumes significance. Besides, India and the US are exploring “joint development” of aircraft carrier technologies and jet engines. FMS route does not involve other competitors but it also does not involve transfer of technology (ToT) or local assembly options that are otherwise essential in modern defence deals between the seller and the buyer. USA is sharing high technologies with its European allies, Israel and South Korea.  However the same are not made available to India or debarred for exports or collaborations by nonproliferation regimes such as Missile and Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

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