India is looking to conclude three Military Logistics Support Agreements (MLSA) by the year-end, which will further enhance the operational reach of the military in the region. India has already signed such agreements with a few countries beginning with the U.S. The Navy has been the biggest beneficiary of them.
“Agreements with Australia, Japan and Russia are in advanced stages and are likely to be concluded by the year-end,” a senior defence official told The Hindu. The MLSA with Japan is called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and with Russia, the Agreement on Reciprocal Logistics Support (ARLS).
The agreements with Australia and Russia will be broadly on the lines of the U.S. one, while the one with Japan is a broader defence cooperation agreement including logistics, a second official said.
India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA) with the U.S. in August 2016 after decade-long negotiations. Since then, it has concluded several such agreements with France, Oman, the Philippines and Singapore and gained access to the Sabang port in Indonesia.
Logistics agreements are administrative arrangements facilitating access to military facilities for exchange of fuel and provisions on mutual agreement, simplifying logistical support and increasing operational turnaround of the military away from India.
The ARLS with Russia is expected to be signed during the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in September on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in Russia. Last month, a delegation led by Additional Secretary Jiwesh Nandan visited Russia for finalising the agreement, the Defence Ministry said in its monthly report. Moscow had sent a draft agreement early last year and the MoD sent it to the Integrated Defence Staff and the three services for their comments in July.
Defence officials said the pact was long pending given the deep defence and strategic cooperation between the two countries for a long time. The Russian agreement gives India access to its facilities in the Arctic region which is seeing increased global activity as new shipping routes are opening up and resources are becoming available, a third official said.
Australia had submitted a draft MLSA soon after India signed the LEMOA, but New Delhi said at that time it would take up more logistics pacts after the first one was operationalised. In March, before the bilateral naval exercise AUSINDEX, Australian diplomatic sources made a strong pitch for a pact saying the argument for one is “compelling”. AUSINDEX saw participation of the largest Australian naval contingent to India with 1,000 personnel and assets.
“If we get the LSA it will go a long way in facilitating the future activity, the scale of the particular activity means that the paperwork involved is pretty huge,” diplomatic sources had said. Giving an instance of the limitations of not having such a pact, a diplomatic source had said that last year a ship-to-ship refuelling exercise between the two navies “ended out to be a dummy exercise as we couldn’t actually pass fuel as we did not have a logistics agreement”.
When contacted, a spokesperson from the Australian High Commission said last week, “Australia looks forward to achieving a MLSA with India which allows the Defence forces to use each other’s facilities and establishes easier procedures for access of supplies and services.”
India and Japan are moving fast on finalising the ACSA. A statement during the visit of Mr. Modi to Japan in October said the two leaders welcomed the joint exercise between each of the three services and “the commencement of negotiations on the ACSA, which will enhance the strategic depth of bilateral security and defence cooperation”.
Maritime cooperation has been a major focus area for the two countries and to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indo-Pacific region the two countries have already signed the implementing arrangement for deeper cooperation between the Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF).
The biggest beneficiary of the logistics pacts has been the Navy which interacts and exercises the most with foreign navies. When operating on the high seas, exercises or during humanitarian assistance missions fuel, food and other needs can be exchanged and settled through the established modalities later.
For instance, under LEMOA with the U.S., India has Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which includes designating the points of contact for the U.S. military to work with, and a common account for payments. The SOPs are applicable to all three services with each service has a designated LEMOA office.