Explained: Importance of the landmark Indo-US defence pact BECA
New Delhi, Oct 27: India is all set to step up defence cooperation with the United States.
India and the United State will sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on the sidelines of the 2+2 dialogue. This would enable exchange of geospatial information between the two countries. It would also enhance operational efficiency of the defence platforms of the United States that are being operated in India.
Sources tell OneIndia that both sides are discussing an agreement on the maritime domain awareness cooperation. This pact would institutionalise sharing of information bilaterally on the potential seaborne security threats. It is an important move as it would also help in keeping a close watch on the activities by the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy.
The BECA would also pave the way for sharing of maps, charts, imagery and other geospatial information and data. This would include geodetic, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data.
The first pact that India had signed with the US was the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The pact signed in 2016 made it obligatory for both India and the US to support each other's aircraft, ships, personnel with logistics, spares and fuel.
The BECA will be the last of the four foundational pacts. Washington had promised India that these would make it easier for India access advanced military technologies from the US. This had in fact paved the way for better defence partnerships between the two nations.
India and the US had also signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement in 2018. This facilitated India's access to advanced defence systems of the US. Due to this India was allowed optimally to use existing military hardware sourced from the US.
The Industrial Security Annexe was signed in 2019 to be added to the existing General Security of Military Information Agreement. The ISA provided a framework for exchange and protection of classified military information between India and the US.
According to officials, BECA, which is the last of four foundational agreements for boosting defence ties, will be signed during the third edition of the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries on Tuesday.
Ahead of the Tuesday''s dialogue, both Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held separate talks with their US counterparts.
In a tweet, Esper said the partnership of "our two great nations is vital to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."
On the meeting between Jaishankar and Pompeo, official sources said they discussed "shared concerns and interests" including stability and security in Asia as well as the situation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Both sides deliberated on the Afghan peace process, sources said, adding Jaishankar highlighted India's stakes and its continuing concern that decisions should be made by people in Afghanistan without use of force.
The Indian side also conveyed to the US that cross-border terrorism was completely unacceptable to New Delhi, they said.
On Singh-Esper talks, the officials said both the ministers explored ways to further deepen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, enhance military-to-military ties, and reviewed key regional security challenges including in India''s neighbourhood.
They said while deliberating on regional security challenges, the two sides briefly touched upon India''s border row with China in eastern Ladakh.
The issue of China''s aggressive military behaviour is expected to figure prominently during Tuesday''s talks, sources indicated.
In the last few months, the US has been strongly critical of China over a range of contentious issues including the border standoff with India, its military assertiveness in the South China Sea and the way Beijing handled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
About provisions of BECA, the officials said the agreement will give India access to classified geo-spatial data as well as critical information having significant military applications.
During Jaishankar-Pompeo meeting, the two sides also followed up on their Indo-Pacific engagement and the Quad deliberations, and discussed several key issues like maritime security, counter-terrorism cooperation, open connectivity and resilient supply chain.
According to US Principal Deputy Spokesperson Cale Brown, from addressing the shared challenges of COVID-19 and responding to regional security issues, to collaborating on vaccine development and economic prosperity, Pompeo and Jaishankar agreed that the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is critical to the security and prosperity of both countries, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world.
Describing his meeting as productive, Jaishankar tweeted "warm and productive meeting with Secretary Pompeo. Discussed key bilateral, regional and global issues. Reviewed progress in ties: grown substantially in every domain. Our foreign policy consultations and cooperation have expanded."
On his part, Pompeo tweeted that he was pleased to be back in New Delhi for constructive meetings.
After his delegation-level talks with Esper, Singh tweeted that the discussions will add new vigour to India-US defence relations.
"India is delighted to host the US Secretary of Defence, Dr Mark Esper. Our talks today were fruitful, aimed at further deepening defence cooperation in a wide range of areas.
Today''s discussions will add new vigour to India-US defence relations & mutual cooperation," he said in the tweet.
In its statement, the defence ministry said Singh and Esper reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning military-to-military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing and defence trade.
"Both the Ministers expressed satisfaction at the close engagements between the respective Armed Forces. They discussed potential new areas of cooperation, both at service to service level and at the joint level," it said.
The ministry said the two ministers also called for continuation of existing defence dialogue mechanisms during the pandemic, at all levels, particularly the Military Cooperation Group (MCG).
They also discussed requirements of expanding deployments of liaison officers in each other's facilities.
It said the US Secretary of Defence welcomed Australia's participation in the upcoming Malabar naval exercise.
Singh also highlighted recent reforms in the defence manufacturing sector and invited US companies to make best use of the liberalised policies and the favorable defence industry ecosystem in the country.
Apart from strengthening military-to-military cooperation and boosting partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, the issue of expeditious supply of contracted weapon systems by the US to India figured prominently in the deliberations.
Earlier, Singh received Esper at the lawns of the South Block in Raisina Hills, reflecting the importance India is attaching to the visit by the two top officials of the Trump administration. The US defence secretary was also accorded a tri-services guard of honour.
The Indian delegation at the talks between Singh and Esper included Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and DRDO Chairman G Satheesh Reddy.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla too held a separate meeting with US Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao who is part of the US delegation.
The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years. In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner" intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.
The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.
According to the US government, India maintains the largest fleet of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US, and as of 2020, Washington has authorised more than USD 20 billion in defence sales to India.
The first edition of the 2+2 dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump.
The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.
The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.
(With agency inputs)