NEW DELHI: India’s inking of the bilateral military pact called COMCASA with the US will allow it greater access to cutting-edge military technologies and platforms with encrypted and secure communications and data links like the armed Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones.
The Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement + (COMCASA), which comes into force with immediate effect for 10 years, will also ensure the two militaries can further boost their “interoperability” as well as share operational intelligence in real-time in the years ahead. “If a US warship or aircraft detects a Chinese submarine in the Indian Ocean, for instance, it can tell us through COMCASA-protected equipment in real-time, and vice-versa,” said a source.
As for armed drones, which can track enemy targets and then let loose “Hellfire” missiles and “smart bombs” on them before returning to their home bases to re-arm for the next mission like manned fighter jets, India is already in advanced talks with the US to acquire at least 22 of them.
The weaponised Sea Guardian, a high-altitude, long-endurance drone, has COMCASA-protected equipment like an advanced Global Positioning System (GPS), Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) receiver and VHF system, which is immune to jamming and spoofing from enemies.
This tightening strategic clinch between India and US, with an eye firmly on an expansionist and aggressive China in the Asia-Pacific region, is a marked departure from the stance adopted by the previous UPA regime. It had stonewalled all attempts by the US to push for the three so-called “foundational agreements” during its 10-year tenure on the ground that it would compromise India’s “strategic autonomy”.
But the NDA government inked the first pact on reciprocal military logistics support â€“ the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) — with India-specific safeguards in 2016. Similarly, it has now inked COMCASA, which “fully safeguards our national security and interests, with no disruptions”, said officials.
But there are persisting concerns over whether the US will be able to track and snoop on Indian aircraft and warships equipped with COMCASA-protected equipment. India had so far been hesitant to ink the pact despite having bought military hardware and software worth $17 billion from the US since 2007.
An official, however, said, “COMCASA is a legal technology enabler that will facilitate our access to advanced defence systems and enable us to optimally utilize our existing US-origin platforms like C-130J Super Hercules and P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. It does not commit us to buy any equipment from US. But when and if we do so, COMCASA will apply.”
The US contends COMCASA will allow it to transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication and electronic systems to India as well as ensure secrecy of its C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems.
“The US basically wants its militarily-sensitive equipment should not leak to third countries like Russia and there are no attempts to reverse-engineer them (like China often does). India also wants classified data exchanged with the US is not shared with others without its prior consent,” said the official.
Without COMCASA till now, India had so far used commercially available kits, instead of encrypted and secure radio, data, navigation, guidance and communication systems, to equip its C-130Js, P-8Is and C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft bought from the US.