(Editor’s Note: Updated on Sep. 11 with additional background information throughout the report, filed originally on Sep. 10.)
By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: Already interoperable through the annual joint Malabar maritime exercise with Japan, India has expanded its strategic reach in the Indo-Pacific by signing a logistic support agreement that enables the two nations to operate in the region without worrying about replenishment. With this India now has logistics agreement with all other three Quad nations in the region.
The agreement has the potential to irritate China, which is currently engaged in a military conflict in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control with India, while is in a running feud with Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The agreement, concerning the Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between the armed forces of India and the Self-Defense Forces of Japan, were signed here Sep. 9.
India’s Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar and Ambassador of Japan to India Suzuki Satoshi put ink to paper to close the deal on behalf of each other’s nation. The two countries have been negotiating this agreement for two years now since Oct. 2018.
“This agreement establishes the enabling framework for closer cooperation between the armed forces of India and Japan in reciprocal provision of supplies and services, while engaged in bilateral training activities, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, Humanitarian International Relief and other mutually agreed activities,” a Ministry of Defence statement today said.
“The agreement will also enhance the interoperability between the armed force of India and Japan, thereby further increasing the bilateral defence engagements under the Special Strategic and Global Partnership between the two countries.”
India has signed similar logistics support agreements for defence forces with five other nations, including the United States, France, Australia, South Korea and Singapore. Such agreements help to extend and expand the Indian armed forces’ presence and operations, all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific region.
The logistics support agreement comes in handy when the militaries of these nations carry out joint training or patrols in the seas closer to India and vice versa, enabling payment-free supplies to warships and aircraft, including food, beverages and fuel.
The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US signed in 2016 gives India refueling facilities and replenishment access to American bases in Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay.
The agreement with France, signed in 2018, gives India access to French bases in the Reunion Islands in southwestern Indian Ocean Region and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. The mutual logistics support arrangement signed with Australia in June will help Indian warships in southern Indian Ocean Region and the western Pacific Ocean Region.
Two other similar agreements with Russia and the United Kingdom are in the offing. The pact with Russia is being readied for signing during the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in mid-October, Russian Federation‘s Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Russia in India Roman Babushkin said at a press conference on Sep. 7.
With the world’s largest naval fleet of over 350 warships and submarines, China has been expanding its strategic presence in the Indian Ocean Region, first sending warships in 2007 on the pretext of anti-piracy operations, and 10 years later in Aug. 2017 setting up a naval facility in Djibouti. China already enjoys unfettered access to Karachi and Gwadar ports in Pakistan for its fleet turnaround.
The US Pentagon report of Sep. 1 has noted that China is already looking to set up military facilities for its army, navy and air force in Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola and Tajikistan.
China has previously protested India hosting a five-nation Malabar naval exercise off the coast of Chennai in 2007 when the bilateral Indian Navy–United States Navy exercise went multilateral with Australia, Singapore and Japan joining with their own warships and air assets.
India and US have in the recent years converted the bilateral annual exercise into a trilateral one by including Japan’s maritime forces permanently in the arrangement, hosted alternately by India and Japan.
On occasions, the Malabar construct is expanded to include Australia or Singapore or any of the nations friendly with India, US and Japan to make the exercise multilateral, gaining interoperability and sharing of best practices.