India, US to take forward talks for key military pact
India and the US are planning to revive the Defence Policy Group (DPG) between the two countries after a four-year gap, with a discussion on the text of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) one of the key items on the agenda, according to senior officials familiar with the matter.
BECA will allow India to use US geospatial maps to get pinpoint military accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons such as cruise and ballistic missiles. Along with Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), BECA is one of the foundational military communication agreements between the two countries.
LEMOA, which allows the Indian and American defence forces to use each other’s facilities and establishes procedures of easier access of supplies and services required by them, was signed in 2016.
COMCASA, which allows the US to transfer communication equipment to India that allow secure transmission of data and real-time information between the armed forces of the two countries, was sealed during last year’s Two-Plus-Two talks in Washington.
BECA is an important precursor to India acquiring armed unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator-B from the US. The Pentagon in 2018 was ready to supply Predator-B, which uses spatial data for accurate strikes on enemy targets, to India.
After speaking to officials in New Delhi and Washington, the Pentagon proposed to hold the DPG meeting this month, but a final decision is awaited by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The last DPG, co-chaired by India’s defence secretary and US Under-secretary of defence for policy, was held in 2015.
The decision to revive the DPG was taken in the Two-PlusTwo meeting between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries last September.
If the DPG meeting is held in April, defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, who was involved in inking COMCASA, will be meeting US undersecretary of defence for policy John Rood.
According to officials in South Block, DPG will review the reports of existing sub-groups — Military Cooperation Group, Joint Technology Group, Senior Security Technology Group and the Defence Procurement and Production Group. However, the key item on agenda will be the BECA text. Although India initially had reservations to geospatial mapping on the grounds of national security, the Modi government has made up its mind to sign BECA provided its concerns are addressed.
DPG will also only lay the future roadmap for joint advanced exercises between two countries, and look at the prospect of technological cooperation in building military hardware under Make in India, the officials added.
India is looking to purchase from the US naval helicopters and multi-role fighters to make up for the depletion of combat jets ibn the Indian Air Force. The acquisition of aerial platforms is a key priority for India with China and Pakistan preparing to add more teeth to their military capabilities.