'India, US to ink landmark defence pact today'

India, US to ink landmark defence pact on October 27: Officials

The issue of China's aggressive military behaviour is expected to figure prominently during Tuesday's talks, sources indicated

During the talks, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his US counterpart Mark T Esper explored ways to further deepen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, enhance military-to-military ties, and reviewed key regional security challenges including in India's neighbourhood, officials said. Credit: Twitter (@rajnathsingh)

With its army still engaged in a stand-off with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh, India is set to step up defence cooperation with the United States, by institutionalising sharing of maritime and geospatial intelligence.

India and the US will sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on the sidelines of the bilateral 2+2 dialogue on Tuesday.

The agreement will enable exchange of geo-spatial information between the two countries, enhancing the operational efficiency of the US defence platforms being operated by India.

The two sides, according to the sources, are also discussing an agreement on maritime domain awareness cooperation -- a pact, which will institutionalise sharing of information bilaterally on potential sea-borne security threats and thus will help keep watch on the activities of the Chinese PLA Navy.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his US counterpart Mark T Esper had a meeting in New Delhi on Monday, ahead of the 2+2 dialogue.

They reviewed bilateral defence cooperation, spanning military-to-military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues and discussed ways to take bilateral cooperation forward, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Defence after the meeting. “They discussed potential new areas of cooperation, both at service-to-service level and at the joint level.”

Esper and the US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo arrived in New Delhi earlier on Monday. Pompeo and his counterpart External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also had a meeting in the evening and they discussed ways to build on India-US strategic convergence in the Indo-Pacific region and countering the hegemonic moves by China, sources told DH.

Read: Mike Pompeo in India for talks on China 'threats'

Separately, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, focussing on a broad spectrum of issues of mutual interests.

Jaishankar and Singh will hold the third India-US 2+2 dialogue with Pompeo and Esper on Tuesday. This is going to be the last engagement between New Delhi and Donald Trump’s administration in Washington DC before the final day of voting for the US presidential elections on November 3.

"India is delighted to host the US Secretary of Defence, Dr Mark Esper. Our talks today were fruitful, aimed at further deepening defence cooperation in a wide range of areas. Today’s discussions will add new vigour to India-US defence relations & mutual cooperation," he said in the tweet.

In its statement, the defence ministry said Singh and Esper reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning military-to-military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing and defence trade.

Also Read: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper arrive in Delhi for India-US 2+2 dialogue

"Both the Ministers expressed satisfaction at the close engagements between the respective Armed Forces. They discussed potential new areas of cooperation, both at service to service level and at the joint level," it said.

What is likely to add to the significance of the India-US high-level talks is that it is being held amid growing belligerence of China -- not only along its disputed boundary with India, but also in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the region.

That the BECA will be signed on Tuesday was confirmed after the meeting between Singh and Esper. The proposed agreement between the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defence and the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India will pave the way for sharing of maps, charts, imagery and other geospatial information and data, including geodetic, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data.

The BECA is going to be last of the four “foundational pacts”, which Washington DC has since long been nudging New Delhi to sign, promising that they would make it easier for India to access advanced military technologies from the US, thus paving the way for further strengthening defence partnership between the two nations.

The first such pact India signed with the US was the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement or the LEMOA. It was inked in 2016 and made it obligatory for both India and the US to support each other’s aircraft, ships and personnel with logistics, fuel and spares.

The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed on the side-line of the first India-US 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi in September 2018. It facilitated India’s access to advanced defence systems of the US. It also enabled India to optimally utilise its existing military hardware sourced from the US.

The Industrial Security Annex (ISA) was signed during the second 2+2 dialogue in December 2019 to be added to the already existing General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

The ISA provided a framework for exchange and protection of classified military information between the US and Indian industries in order to elevate the defence relations from the seller-buyer level to the level of joint research and development and joint production.

Malabar naval exercise

It said the US Secretary of Defence welcomed Australia’s participation in the upcoming Malabar naval exercise.

Singh also highlighted recent reforms in the defence manufacturing sector and invited US companies to make best use of the liberalised policies and the favorable defence industry ecosystem in the country.

Apart from strengthening military-to-military cooperation and boosting partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, the issue of expeditious supply of contracted weapon systems by the US to India figured prominently in the deliberations.

India-China dispute

The issue of China's aggressive military behaviour is expected to figure prominently during Tuesday's talks, sources indicated.

In the last few months, the US has been strongly critical of China over a range of contentious issues including the border standoff with India, its military assertiveness in the South China Sea and the way Beijing handled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

India: 'Major Defence Partner' of US

The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years. In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner" intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.

The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.

The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.

According to the US government, India maintains the largest fleet of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US, and as of 2020, Washington has authorised more than USD 20 billion in defence sales to India.

The first edition of the 2+2 dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump.

The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.

The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries. 

 

(With inputs from PTI)