Business Standard, 13th April 16
Starting his three-day visit to India in Goa on Monday, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter declared that his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, is “one of the most important defence ministers in the world for me to interact with.”
The reason for this was illustrated on Tuesday, when the two announced a breakthrough logistics agreement; new, high-level maritime dialogue; cooperation on submarines and tracking commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean, and a significant expansion of high-technology defence cooperation.
After delegation talks in New Delhi, Carter and Parrikar announced a breakthrough in negotiating three “foundational agreements” that Washington has long pressed for to facilitate operational and technological cooperation.
They announced an “in principle agreement to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), and to continue working toward other facilitating agreements to enhance military cooperation and technology transfer.”
The India-specific LEMOA, will allow American and Indian military units to use facilities in each others’ bases, subject to mutual agreement in each instance.
As Business Standard has reported, another agreement --- Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) --- is close to finalisation. This would allow the US to supply India with highly secure radio equipment. Some work remains on a third agreement, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Information and Services Cooperation (BECA), which relates to digital mapping.
In a strategic signal that will be noted in Bejing, the two ministers reaffirmed support for “freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea”. Indicating the growing regional consensus against China’s aggressive moves to control these waters, they “emphasized their commitment to working together and with other nations to ensure the security and stability that have been beneficial to the Asia-Pacific for decades.”
Such intent had also been signaled in the “India-US Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed in January 2015, Carter and Parrikar added teeth to that by announcing a bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue, which would involve both sides’ defence and foreign ministries.
For the first time, the US --- a global leader in submarine warfare --- agreed to work with India in this field. The joint statement “agreed to commence navy-to-navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare.”
Intriguingly, given the navy’s control over Indian Ocean shipping lanes, and over the strategic choke points at Hormuz and Malacca, the two sides “reaffirmed their desire to expeditiously conclude a ‘white shipping’ technical arrangement to improve data sharing on commercial shipping traffic. This would enhance India’s ability to monitor vessels in these waters.
The two sides also expanded the scope of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), by announcing joint development of two projects in addition to the six projects already under way.
The two sides “agreed to initiate two new DTTI pathfinder projects on Digital Helmet Mounted Displays and the Joint Biological Tactical Detection System.”
Deepening high-technology cooperation, Carter and Parrikar also announced four “government-to-government science projects” on: high energy lasers, cognitive tools for target detection, small intelligent unmanned aerial systems, and the management of blast and blunt traumatic brain injuries.
They also agreed to deepen cooperation on two major DTTI projects already under way: one on jet engine technology (which India hopes to use in its Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft), and another on aircraft carrier design (for India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal). An “information exchange annex (IEA) was announced, which would allow the sharing of data about aircraft carriers.
In a measure that will go down well with the American public, India has begun assisting the Pentagon in locating the remains of US pilots who crashed in the Eastern Himalayas during World War II, whilst airlifting supplies from Assam to Chinese armies that were fighting the Japanese. After years of reluctance to allow US servicemen into sensitive Arunachal Pradesh, Parrikar has committed India’s assistance.
In Delhi, Carter also presided over the repatriation ceremony of an American pilot’s remains from India to the US. He also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.