India and the United States are likely to finalise two critical agreements, the Industrial Security Annexure (ISA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) – the second is a so-called foundational military agreement — in the coming bilateral Defence Planning Group (DPG) dialogue in Washington this week.
Defence secretary Sanjay Mitra is leading India’s delegation, a senior official aware of the details said on condition of anonymity. He will be meeting the US undersecretary of defence for policy John Rood. The DPG has been revived after a gap of four years. The decision to revive it was taken at the last 2+2 dialogue between India and the US last year in which their defence and foreign ministers participated.
BECA will allow India to use US geospatial maps to achieve pinpoint military accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons such as cruise and ballistic missiles, even drones. India is considering buying 30 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones from the United States. BECA is an important enabler of unmanned aerial vehicles from the US, such as the Predator-B, that use spatial data for accurate strikes on enemy targets.
The other agreement, ISA, is an annexure to the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and will enable the US government and US defence companies to share classified information with Indian private defence manufacturers. India and the US signed the GSOMIA 17 years ago. It allowed the sharing of classified information from the US government and American defence manufacturers with the Indian government and government-owned defence firms. Once the ISA is signed, the US will be able to share technology with Indian private companies.
The United States has already shared the draft agreements of both ISA and BECA with India. Although India initially had reservations on geospatial mapping on grounds of national security, the Narendra Modi government has made up its mind to sign BECA, provided its concerns are addressed.
India is already a signatory to the remaining two foundational military agreements, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The former allows the US to transfer communication equipment to India that facilitate secure transmission of data and real-time information between the armed forces of the two countries. It was finalised during last year’s 2 + 2 talks in Washington.
India and the US singed LEMOA – it allows Indian and American defence forces to use each other’s facilities and establishes procedures of easier access to supplies and services required by them – in 2016. While India and US forces have always used each other’s facilities on a case-by-case basis, LEMOA gives blanket approval for use of facilities and also makes the accounting easier for both countries.
In the DPG, the two sides are likely to decide on the “future roadmap” for “joint advanced exercises” between India and the US, a second senior official who did not want to be named said. In addition, the DPG will also look at the prospect of technological cooperation in building military hardware under Make in India, the second official added. “Exercises between the two sides will become complicated in scale and scope with the militaries preparing for future scenarios.”
Experts said the two pacts are crucial for the defence cooperation between the two countries. “Sealing ISA and BECA is very significant. ISA will mean that the last hurdle to sharing critical technology with the private sector will go. It will be much easier to achieve Make in India,” said admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd), who advises the government on issues of security policy. “Similarly, BECA is also critical for more cooperation between US and India. I had expected these would be signed much earlier. With these two agreements in place the private sector is likely to play a bigger role in defence manufacturing and that will free up much needed resources for the government to concentrate on issues like health, water, etc,” he added.