India, US may sign security agreement during 2-plus-2 dialogue
The decks have been cleared for India and the US to sign the much-awaited Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (Comcasa) with the agreed text of the foundational military agreement (one of the three such the US signs with close partners) sent to the highest level of the Modi government for approval.
The agreed text of Comcasa agreement will, after it is vetted, be put up before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for clearance and will be signed during the 2-plus-2 dialogue on September 6 between the Indian and US foreign and defence ministers, Indian and US diplomats familiar with the matter said.
The diplomats, based in New Delhi and Washington DC, added that the agreed text was finalised after a senior Indian government official dashed to the Pentagon last week for final clarifications and additions.
The Comcasa agreement, which has been hanging for the past decade, allows India to operate on high-end secured communication equipment installed on American platforms acquired by Indian armed forces, such as C-130 J, C-17, P-8I aircraft, and Apache and Chinook helicopters.
In some cases, the use of such equipment is a prerequisite to acquiring these platforms, or in exploiting their full potential. It also facilitates interoperability or cooperation with other countries using the equipment.
The first deliveries of Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift choppers to India will be done in the second half of 2019. India’s original concern was that the use of such equipment could threaten its own operational independence. The final version is believed to have addressed all such concerns.
While the finalised text of Comcasa is currently being vetted by the national security planners of the Narendra Modi government, India and the US have also decided for the first time to conduct an advanced tri-service humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise off the coast of Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal later this year.
“Earlier, bilateral exercises were confined to individual services but it has now been decided that India and US will conduct a joint tri-service exercise. The possibility of holding a tri-service amphibious exercise and a counter-terrorism exercise are also in the pipeline,” said a South Block official who asked not to be identified. India participated in a tri-service human assistance and disaster relief exercise with Russia last year.
After the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared a $1 billion purchase of 24-multi-role Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin helicopters for the Indian Navy through the foreign military sales route, India is planning to send a request for information (RFI) to the US shortly and begin commercial negotiations.
India has also sent an RFI for acquiring National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II) from the US at a cost of around $1 billion, and which will make parts of New Delhi impregnable from aerial attacks.
While US secretary of defense James Mattis has dropped the idea of visiting Bengaluru on September 5 due to last-minute engagements, secretary of state Mike Pompeo will reach Delhi the same evening after a five-hour whistle-stop engagement with Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad.
Both secretaries will meet Prime Minister Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on the sidelines of the 2-plus-2 dialogue with Indo-Pacific maritime security architecture on top of the agenda.
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