New Delhi: India is ready to sign a key geospatial cooperation agreement with the United States later this month that will firmly set their strategic relationship in the Indo-Pacific region, where both are threatened by a common rival in China.
India is likely to put a seal of approval on the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation, or simply BECA, during the ‘2+2’ dialogue with the US on Oct. 26 and 27, at least three leading Indian newspapers reported today.
BECA signing will come just ahead of the MALABAR naval exercise in the Indian Ocean Region, to be held in two phases from Nov. 3 to 6 in the Bay of Bengal near Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and again from Nov. 17 to 20 in the Arabian Sea, a report in the Hindustan Times said.
Australia, the fourth member of the QUAD, will join the naval exercise with other three members India, US and Japan, indicating that the otherwise diplomacy grouping is turning military, to counter China’s aggressive expansionism in the Indo-Pacific.
BECA, the fourth and final bilateral foundational military agreement, will enable the US to share with India advanced satellite and topographical data for long-range navigation and missile-targeting, according to a Times of India report.
During the ‘2+2’ dialogue between the world’s two largest democracies, India will “very likely” sign the BECA, it said. India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar will join their American counterparts Dr Mark T. Esper and Michael R. Pompeo in the ‘2+2’ dialogue between the two nations.
The fast-tracking of work on BECA and the decision of the four QUAD countries to participate in the MALABAR Exercise are perceived to be a strategic signal to an aggressive China, which Jaishankar described last week as a “critical security challenge” at the border, the Indian Express said.
The US had submitted a draft BECA pact, and India had sought more details on the extent of information needed to be shared under this arrangement, it said.
India has previously inked the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with the US in 2002, followed by the generic End-User Monitoring Agreement in 2009, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) in 2018.
Despite constant prodding from the US, the previous United Progressive Alliance regime in India under Dr Manmohan Singh had not agreed to ink LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA during its 10-year tenure that ended in 2014 on the ground that it would compromise India’s “strategic autonomy”.
But the present National Democratic Alliance government under Narendra Modi has pushed ahead with them, stressing that there are “enough India-specific safeguards” built into these agreements, and the current geopolitical scenario — in which Communist China’s expansionism is threatening world peace — makes it necessary for democracies to forge stronger relationship and an adequate response to the threat.
LEMOA provides for reciprocal logistics support like refueling and berthing facilities for each other’s warships and aircraft, while the COMCASA has paved the way for India to get greater access to advanced military technologies with encrypted and secure communications and data links like the American firm General Atomics Aeronautical‘s armed Predator-B or Sea Guardian drones.
The BECA deal will enable India to eventually use its ballistic and cruise missiles, drones and other weapons, with much better accuracy. There are, however, some concerns about India inking BECA when it has its own considerable satellite imaging capabilities, the Times of India report said.
The decision to expedite BECA was taken during US President Donald J. Trump‘s visit to India in Feb. this year. The visit had also seen the inking of two deals worth $3 billion for 24 MH-60 Romeo naval helicopters from Lockheed Martin Corp. and six AH-64E Apache attack choppers from Boeing Co.
These deals, which has taken the total value of lucrative Indian defence deals bagged by American defence companies to over $21 billion since 2007, makes the US compete for the top slot as India’s defence supplier along with traditional partners Russia, Israel and France.