Context: The India-U.S. Military Cooperation Group (MCG) dialogue to be held in the U.S. this time, has been cancelled due to COVID-19, and the proposed trip of the U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper is also in question.
Matters to be discussed:
India is considering a U.S. request for posting liaison officers at the
- U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and the
- U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)
- The liaison officer at the USINDOPACOM is likely to be a Navy officer, while the one at the USSOCOM will probably be an Army officer.
A liaison officer a person who is employed to form a working relationship between two organizations to their mutual benefit.
- India has already posted a liaison officer at the U.S. Navy Central Command in Bahrain and a U.S. liaison officer, in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, has joined the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region at Gurugram.
- This is an outcome of the agreement reached at the last 2+2 dialogue last year.
United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) is a unified combatant command of the United States Armed Forces responsible for the Indo-Pacific region.
- It is the oldest and largest of the unified combatant commands.
- Its commander, the senior U.S. military officer in the Pacific, is responsible for military operations in an area which encompasses more than 100 million square miles, or roughly 52 percent of the Earth's surface.
- It stretches from the waters off the West Coast of the United States to the west coast of India, and from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
- The U.S. command is also responsible for protecting against an invasion of the United States through the state of Hawaii.
United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) is the unified combatant command charged with overseeing the various special operations component commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force of the United States Armed Forces.
- The command is part of the Department of Defense and is the only unified combatant command created by an Act of Congress.
- USSOCOM is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
About MCG dialogue:
- The MCG is a forum to review the progress of defence cooperation between India’s Integrated Defence Staff and the USINDOPACOM at the strategic and operational levels.
- The Integrated Defence Staff was responsible for coordination among the armed forces before the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff.
- The MCG was to have reviewed the decisions taken at the 2+2 dialogue and the recent visit of President Donald Trump to India.
- Further, it was to follow up on the visit and fast-track the decisions, including that on 24 MH-60R multi-role helicopters.
- The two sides are also moving fast to operationalise the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, one of the four foundational agreements that the U.S. signs with allies and partners to facilitate interoperability between armed forces and sale of high-end technology.
- The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), the last foundational agreement, is still a work in progress.
Foundational agreements between India and US
The foundational agreements are those which the U.S. signs with countries with which it has close military ties. The four agreements are:
- General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)
- Logistics Support Agreement (LSA)
- Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and
- Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA)
Benefits of these agreements:
- Promote interoperability: They are meant to build basic ground work and promote interoperability between militaries by creating common standards and systems.
- Technology transfer: They also guide sale and transfer of high-end technologies.
Foundational military agreements between USA and India:
General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)
- It was signed in 2002 between India and USA.
- GSOMIA paved the way for greater technology cooperation in the military sector.
- It allows the sharing of classified information from the U.S. government and American companies with the Government of India and Defense Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) but not with Indian private companies.
Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)
- This is a logistics support agreement signed in 2016.
- It gives both the nations access to each other’s military facilities. But it does not make it automatic or obligatory.
- It is a tweaked India-specific version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) which the U.S. has with several countries it has close military to military cooperation.
- The agreement will primarily cover four areas - port calls, joint exercises, training and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.
- Any other requirement has to be agreed upon by both sides on a case-by-case basis.
Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)
- It is the most recent agreement signed in 2018.
- COMCASA is an India-specific version of the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).
- It comes into force immediately and is valid for a period of 10 years.
- It would facilitate access to advanced defense systems and enable India to optimally utilize its existing U.S.-origin platforms.
- COMCASA allows India to procure transfer specialized equipment for encrypted communications for US origin military platforms like the C-17, C-130 and P-8Is.
Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA):
- BECA is last of the four foundational agreements. It is yet to be signed between the two nations.
- It facilitates exchange of geospatial information.
- It would set a framework through which the US could share sensitive data to aid targeting and navigation with India.
- These agreements can bring military advantage to India though they have been politically contentious. Also, it is feared that they may undermine India’s military autonomy.