India and the US on Tuesday inched closer to finalising a defence agreement for providing logistics to each other’s fighter planes, warships and personnel under a pact proposed by Washington more than a decade ago.
In a joint press conference with US defence secretary Ashton Carter, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said the countries have agreed “in principle” to conclude the agreement soon. They, however, clarified that the pact – Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) – will not result in US troops being deployed on Indian soil.
The proposal was caught in limbo during the UPA regime, with the Left parties opposing any move to deepen military cooperation with the US.
The agreement involves providing each other’s militaries with logistic support covering fuel, spares and repairs on a reimbursable or barter basis.
“As our engagement deepens, we need to develop practical mechanisms to facilitate such exchanges. In this context, secretary Carter and I agreed in principle to conclude the LEMOA in the coming months,” Parrikar said after delegation-level talks between the two sides.
A defence ministry official, who did not wish to be named, said the agreement would have in-built safeguards to stop providing logistics support to the US military if it worked against India’s interests. He said the interests of countries friendly to India would also be factored in.
Nilotpal Basu, CPI (M) central committee member, said the agreement would be a “disastrous step” for India as it would rob the country of “strategic autonomy” to sustain sovereignty in the area of foreign policy.
Parrikar said the pact will be particularly useful for carrying out humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. He said during last year’s Nepal earthquake, the US was given special permission to use Indian facilities but with the agreement in place it would happen “automatically.”
Carter said the LEMOA would make it “more routine and automatic” for the two countries to work logistically.
India and the US also agreed to deepen naval cooperation to cover newer areas such as anti-submarine warfare and submarine safety. A joint statement said the two countries would launch a bilateral maritime security dialogue, co-chaired by joint secretary-ranked officers. Parrikar and Carter stressed the need to ensure freedom of navigation and over flight in the region including the South China Sea where Beijing is locked in maritime disputes with several countries.
The statement said the US had shared two proposals for making fighter planes in the country under the Make in India initiative – there are offers on the table to build either the F-16 or the F-18 warplanes locally.
India and the US have also agreed to co-production and co-development of two new systems under the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative - helmet mounted sights and biological tactical detection systems.
Carter defended the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, stressing that the warplanes were meant for counter-terrorism.