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Seven months on, India-US logistics pact suffering from bottlenecks

Highlights
  • The pact will allow both to access to each other’s military bases for refuelling, repair and maintenance of warships and aircraft
  • The pact was inked on August 29, last year
  • One handicap is the absence of a unified command over Army, Navy and IAF in India

The much-ballyhooed logistics pact between India and the US, which will allow reciprocal access to each other's military bases for refuelling, repair and maintenance of warships and aircraft, is yet to enter into force despite being inked seven months ago.

Slow decision-making, bureaucratic bottlenecks and complex accounting procedures, much more from the Indian side than the US one, have held up the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) from becoming operational till now.

Sources, however, say the Indian defence ministry is "now close to finalising the intricate accounting procedures" under which the two militaries will provide each other with logistical support on "equal-value exchange and reimbursable basis".

It was much easier for the US, which has similar pacts with its allies and others as well as unified theatre commands to handle different parts of the globe, to work out the operational details and submit its "points of contact" list to India.

But India, with separate budgets and accounting procedures for the Army, Navy and IAF in the absence of unified commands, has found the going tough since the LEMOA was inked on August 29 last year. "The complex arrangement on how India would pay had to be worked out. But it should now be finalised and approved in a month or so," said a source.

The LEMOA, of course, represents yet another major milestone in the ever-tightening bilateral strategic clinch, which has seen the US bag arms deals worth $15 billion from India as well as the two militaries conduct a flurry of combat exercises over the last decade.
But the Modi government, wary of being accused of compromising India's traditional strategic autonomy, has taken pains to repeatedly stress LEMOA will not entail any basing rights or permanent stationing of US troops on Indian soil.

India is also in no tearing hurry to ink the other two "foundational agreements", in addition to LEMOA, which are being pushed by the US for over 15 years now. These are the Communications Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA), earlier called the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA), and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA).

"India is keen on further building interoperability between the two forces but it has to follow capacity-building. COMCASA and BECA will take time," said an official. Some military officers, on their part, assert one effective way of balancing the long-term threat from China, which has increasingly become assertive in the entire Asia-Pacific, is to militarily work closer with the US.

But critics contend the "foundational pacts" will only lead to a formal military alliance with the US in the years ahead, while adversely impacting the close strategic partnership with Russia as well as needlessly antagonising China. "A pact like COMCASA also has the potential to compromise our operational security by allowing the US military to snoop on our warships and aircraft," said another officer.


A) US largest arms supplier to India over last 5 years, with deals worth $15 billion since 2007
* Several joint military exercises held every year, from naval Malabar to counter-terror Vajra Prahar & Yudh Abhyas
* Inked Defence Technology & Trade Initiative (2012), 10-year Framework for India-US Defence Relationship (2015), Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific & Indian Ocean Region (2015), LEMOA (2016) etc


B) Foundational Agreements
1) Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)
* Logistic support, refuelling & berthing facilities for each other's warships & aircraft on equal-value exchange basis
* Will not involve stationing of US troops on Indian soil. Nor will India extend support if US goes to war with "a friendly country"
* Useful for US forces re-balancing to Asia Pacific. Access to US bases like Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay helpful for India

2) Communications Compatibility & Security Arrangement (COMCASA)
* Technology enabler to help transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication & electronic systems to India
* US says COMCASA will boost "interoperability" as well as ensure secrecy of its C4ISR systems
* But US will be able to track & snoop on Indian warships/aircraft equipped with such systems. Could compromise India's tactical operational security

3) Basic Exchange & Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA)
* US says BECA will allow it to share advanced satellite & topographical data for long-range navigation & missile-targeting
* But India has its own satellite imaging capabilities. BECA will involve US digital sensors to be positioned on Indian soil


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