Three points remain to be negotiated, COMCASA will not be signed during 2+2 meeting on July 6th
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd June 18
A key defence agreement with the United States (US) that India once staunchly opposed, is now tantalizingly within reach.
After three days of intensive negotiations in New Delhi, from Monday to Wednesday, only three points of disagreement remain in finalizing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which will allow the US to transfer highly secure communications equipment to India.
Top defence ministry sources say negotiations were conducted with unusual purpose, with both sides hoping the agreement could be announced at the inaugural “two-plus-two” US-India dialogue on July 6, when Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will jointly meet their American counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis.
However, agreement on those three points remains elusive and at least one more round of negotiations would be required. A key part of the dispute relates to “sovereignty issues”, including visits by US inspectors to Indian bases where the COMCASA-safeguarded equipment is deployed.
Business Standard learns that the proposals India provided to break the deadlock are being taken back by the US legal negotiating team to Washington, for legal vetting.
Similar issues led to a decade of Indian resistance to signing the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) – as the agreement was earlier named.
Since India objected to signing a blanket agreement like CISMOA, which several other countries had signed, its name was changed to COMCASA to convey an India-specific nature.
For similar reasons, India also resisted two other agreements that the US regards as “foundational” for a viable defence partnership. Eventually, in August 2016, the US and India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which allows both countries’ militaries to replenish from the other’s bases and facilities, subject to permission. India has no similar agreement with any other country, not even Russia.
Negotiations on the third agreement, termed Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), will follow COMCASA, say defence ministry sources.
Without COMCASA, the US has been legally obliged to supply India weaponry equipped with commercially available communications systems in place of the more capable equipment safeguarded by COMCASA.
When the Indian Navy bought the P-8I maritime aircraft, Boeing supplied it without CISMOA-safeguarded voice and data channels --- called Data Link-11 and Link-16 --- through which the P-8I alerts friendly naval forces about enemy submarines. The absence of these links prevents the generation of a Common Tactical Picture with partner navies that operate over CISMOA-protected links.
The non-availability of Link-16 also prevents Indian fighter aircraft from generating a “common air picture” with friendly air forces. Non-signature of CISMOA also denies India precision Global Positioning System (GPS) gear, and state-of-the-art guidance for the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) that the air force is procuring for its fighter aircraft.
Finally, unless COMCASA is signed soon, the 15 Chinook CH-47F helicopters that Boeing is building for India in Philadelphia will have less sophisticated navigation and radio equipment than US Army Chinooks.