US team of experts in Delhi to discuss key military agreement

AS PART of preparations for the 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defense ministers of India and the US in Washington next month, a team of specialists from the Pentagon will be meeting their counterparts on the Indian side in Delhi from Monday to negotiate the text of a “foundational” military communications agreement.

Official sources told The Indian Express that the US team, which will include lawyers, and policy and technical experts, is scheduled to meet the Indian experts from Monday to Wednesday. They said that the US officials will try and address Indian observations on the draft Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) submitted earlier.

The resumption of talks on COMCASA signals a breakthrough in the Indian stance. After signing a military logistics agreement with the US in 2016, the Indian government was not keen on signing the two other “foundational” agreements — COMCASA and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA).

COMCASA essentially provides a legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that would facilitate “interoperability” between Indian and US forces — and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secure data links. It was called the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) before the name was changed to reflect its India-specific nature.

Official sources said they did not expect the finalization of the COMCASA text or its signing during the inaugural 2+2 dialogue. But an intention to sign the COMCASA in the near future could figure in the joint statement to be issued by both sides in Washington.

American officials contend that COMCASA is meant to facilitate the use of high-end secured communication equipment to be installed on military platforms being sold to India and fully exploit their potential. India’s military, they argue, is currently dependent on commercially available and less secure communication systems on high-end American platforms like C-130Js and the P8I maritime surveillance aircraft.

But the need for signing COMCASA becomes mandatory if India is to get the armed version of the Sea Guardian drones from Washington. New Delhi has been intimated by the US officials that there is no possibility of India using the high-end drones, which is dependent on a secure data and communication system link, without signing the COMCASA.

The US had granted India the status of a ‘Major Defence Partner’ in 2016 but no tangible benefits on military technology front have come to New Delhi so far. Issues of defense cooperation between the two countries will figure during the visit of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Washington next month for the 2+2 dialogue.

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