NEW DELHI, Oct 27: Boosting India’s security umbrella, India and the United States on Tuesday signed a landmark defence agreement that will allow sharing of high-end military technology, classified satellite data and critical information between the two countries and the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo offering his country’s full support to India while accusing China of “not being a friend of democracy or following the rule of law and transparency.”
India and the US inked the “Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement” (BECA) during the 2+2 ministerial dialogue which allows the two strategic partner countries to share sensitive information regarding satellite and sensor data and signals further boosting of bilateral defence and military ties in the backdrop of India’s tense border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.
The landmark defence pact was signed after discussions between defence minister Rajnath Singh and his visiting American counterpart Mark Esper.
After inking the pact, Singh talked about protecting territorial integrity and sovereignty. “We held a comprehensive discussion on a range of key issues. Inking of BECA with US is a significant move. Our military to military cooperation with the US moving forward very well. We identified projects for joint development of defence equipment. We reaffirmed our commitment to peace and security in Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
Esper, on the other hand, talked about increasing aggression and destabilising activities by China while Pompeo referred to the Galwan incident where 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
In a joint statement after the signing, Singh said, “We also agreed that upholding rules-based international order respecting rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international sea and uploading territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential,” Singh said.
Pompeo mentioned the killing of 20 Indian Army personnel in Galwan Valley after a clash with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China and said his country stands with India to deal with any threat. “The US and India are better aligned to protect our democracies and shared values,” Pompeo also said in the joint statement.
“Our leaders and citizens see with increasing clarity that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is no friend to democracy, rule of law and transparency,” Pompeo said taking shots at China. “I am glad to say India and US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats and not just those posed by CCP,” he added.
BECA is considered the last of the foundational agreements between India and the US. The agreement was proposed between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US department of defence and the defence ministry and allows India and the US to share military information which includes maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, geodetic, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data.
Most of the information that will be shared under the agreement will be that of the unclassified category but there is a provision of sharing classified information as well.
“We visited the National War Memorial to honour brave men and women of Indian armed forces who sacrificed for the world’s largest democracy, including 20 killed by PLA in Galwan Valley. The US will stand with India as they confront threats to their sovereignty, liberty,” Pompeo said
Cornering China, Pompeo said, “The US and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manner of threats and not just those posed by the Chinese Communist Party. Last year, we have expanded our cooperation on cyber issues, our navies have held joint exercises in the Indian Ocean.”
On Tuesday, a high-level dialogue began during which both sides highlighted the need to take forward shared objectives and build capabilities across all domains so as to ensure a safe, stable and rule-based regional and global security environment.
The signing of BECA allows India to use US geospatial intelligence and enhance accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. It gives access to topographical and aeronautical data and advanced products which will aid navigation and targeting. This could be key for Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation between India and the US. The cooperation also includes sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts, and data exchange on Chinese troops and weapons deployment along the 3,488-km India-China LAC.
Besides Singh, the two the top US administration officials also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ,external affairs minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Pompeo and Esper discussed with Doval challenges of strategic importance for the two countries. The two sides highlighted the need to take forward shared objectives and build capabilities across all domains, official sources said.
Pompeo along with Esper were in India for the fourth round of the two-plus-two dialogue. For Pompeo India was his first stop as part of his four-nation tour to drive the Trump administration’s anti-China message that will later take him to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. At all his meetings, according to reports in the US, Pompeo is expected to build support for countries to push back in Chinese assertiveness.
Indian officials said the two sides did also speak about India’s military stand-off with China’s PLA that has continued for 175 days and led to bloodshed as well in June.
Officials said NSA Doval, Pompeo and Esper extensively discussed ways to deepen the relationship between the two countries and beyond to ensure a safe, stable and rule based regional and global security environment, an oblique reference to China that has driven India, United States, Japan and Australia as part of QUAD, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
US President Donald Trump has, right from the beginning, worked closely with India over the last four years to deepen military ties between the two countries in an effort to isolate China. In February this year, the two countries had sealed defence deals with US $ 3 billion.
Pompeo and Esper had opened their India visit with talks with their counterparts. Jaishankar who met Pompeo last evening tweeted that relations between the emerging allies had “grown substantially in every domain.” They agreed that the US-India partnership was “critical to the security and prosperity for both the countries, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world,” according to a US statement.
Meanwhile, official sources said Indian army was expected to be reorganised under five theatre commands by 2022 with defined areas of operation and a seamless command structure for synchronised operations.
With the department of military affairs soon to have additional and joint secretaries after Cabinet clearance, the task of reorganisation of the three services under theatre commands has begun with a China specific Northern Command and Pakistan specific Western command being under serious consideration. India’s Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat has been given the mandate by the Narendra Modi government to create theatre commands much like the ones China and the US currently have.
According to military and national security planners, the northern command’s remit will begin from the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh and continue up to the last outpost Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh , with the military mandate of guarding the 3,488 kilometre of Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. The HQ of this command could be Lucknow.
The western command’s remit will be from Indira Col on Saltoro Ridge in the Siachen Glacier region to the tip of Gujarat with its HQ likely in Jaipur.
The third theatre command will be the Peninsular Command; the fourth, a full-fledged air defence command; and the fifth, a maritime command. The likely headquarter of the Peninsular command could be Thiruvananthapuram. The air defence command will not only spearhead the country’s aerial attack but also be responsible for defending Indian airspace through multi-role fighters with all anti-aircraft missiles under its control.
Currently, the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy all defend Indian airspace on separate communication frequencies and without synergy. The planners said there was an option of extending this to an aerospace command as per future requirements.
India will have only one maritime command with a possibility that the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Islands Command being merged with this . The task of the maritime command will be to protect the Indian Ocean and India’s Island territories as well as keep the sea lanes free and open from any outside pressure, the sources said.