WHAT IS COMCASA?
It is a foundational defence pact that needs to be signed by a country in order to obtain high-tech military hardware from the US. India and the United States have signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) on 6th September 2018 during the first ever ‘2+2’ talks between the countries. The landmark COMCASA agreement is likely to open the way for sales of more sensitive US military equipment to India.
COMCASA is one of three major foundational agreements in the defence sector. India has already signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 while talks are still on for the third pact – Basic Exchange and Cooperation for Geo Spatial Cooperation. COMCASA allows US to install high-end communication technology delivered by it in the Indian military systems.
ADVANTAGES OF SIGNING COMCASA FOR INDIA:
The agreement will give Indian military access to function on high-end secured and encrypted communication equipment which is installed on American platforms obtained by Indian Armed Forces. These platforms include C-130 J, C-17, P-8I aircraft, and Apache and Chinook helicopters.
The deal bolsters India’s defence and enhances its capacity to project power into the Indo-Pacific region. It broad-bases the relationship into an area of particular interest for the Donald Trump administration — defence trade. It is also a critical area for India as the world’s largest arms importer. These realities will help the relationship survive disruptions or mutual irritants that will inevitably arise.
It will also provide a legal framework for the transfer of encrypted communication security equipment from the US to India. It is believed to be safer and more secure than the system that India uses right now. Encryption is the first and most important line of defence in military equipment.
Signing of COMCASA indicates some Indian weapon systems would see an immediate increase in capabilities, including the C-130 and C-17 aircraft.
COMCASA not only improves India’s ability to fight alongside the US Navy better, but also alongside several other global navies with similar equipment that are major players in the Indo-Pacific, such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore.
COMCASA allows India to utilise US communications core that is among the best in the world. During Doklam standoff, for instance, India benefitted from US intelligence on the placement of Chinese troops on the plateau in the high Himalayas. However, in absence of a foundational agreement on sharing of sensitive intelligence such as the COMCASA, US inputs were subject to a time-lag. It wasn’t ‘real-time, that can often make all the difference.
ISSUES WITH COMCASA:
The signing of this agreement will enhance the operability of the US defence equipment used by India, but will India faces the following problems after signing the deal-
1. US have the access to our information and can even deny its support to operate in crucial times for the forces and can use our information.
2. COMCASSA is a fit for non-US military equipment, with given India’s dependence on Russia with SU30′s, Russian Tanks, Submarines under operation and helicopters, S400 under pipeline boosting the Defence will be heavily affected.
3. US has never shared the key to initiate the algorithm for signal transmission which would reduce the time and efficiency of the army as they depend on US soldiers to initiate it.
4. With the deal signed India will be forced to buy US defence equipment to fit with the communication device and becomes heavily reliant on US for technology and reducing deals with friendly nations like Russia, Israel, South Korea and Hamper the MAKE IN INDIA initiative by the govt.
5. The agreement was pending for almost ten years. One of the major reasons for this was the fear that India may compromise its operational independence. Critics had also pointed out that the agreement could jeopardise India’s established military ties with Russia and access to their weapons systems.
A legitimate question may arise on India’s apprehension that this agreement harms India’s strategic autonomy by making its own communication network vulnerable to US spying. The COMCASA is necessitated by the US to ensure that the security of the communication equipment it provides is not compromised. As it works, US forces can plug into these systems during joint action or exercises, which also make them vulnerable in case equipment with any of the partner countries is mishandled. Due to this, an end-use inspection system has also been put in place. Some critics are concerned that the US will retain control over its equipment sold to India under this pact and may manipulate decision-making. These concerns are not unwarranted, but they undermine the fact that no Indian government would walk into a deal with its eyes closed, given India’s post-colonial experience.
However, the 10-year deal features specific “India-related” adjustments to secure India’s national interests. While the text of COMCASA is confidential, India has ensured that it has full access to the relevant equipment and there will be no disruptions. Data acquired through such systems cannot be disclosed or transferred to any person or entity without India’s consent.
INDIA-US DEFENCE TIES:
In the 21st century, many tags attributed to India’s place in U.S. grand strategy and global geopolitics have emerged from Washington. India was called a rising democratic power in a dynamic Asia. India was seen as “not simply emerging” but as having “already emerged” in Asia and around the world. Defense cooperation with India was viewed as “a linchpin” in the U.S. rebalancing strategy towards Asia-Pacific. India has been designated a “Major Defense Partner” of the United States.
Balancing China’s rise in the international system, and more particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, is a clear strategic convergence between India and the United States. However, India’s geographic proximity to China, and India’s weaker capabilities as compared to both China and the United States, limits India’s traction in this case. While an elementary practice of geopolitics would see India engage with distant powers like the U.S. to balance against a proximate power like China, relations with the latter should not be determined by the former.
Any assessment that U.S. primacy in the international system and India’s rise are mutually reinforcing needs a rethink for the sake of India’s interests. The practice of India’s strategic autonomy has always been about creating traction for the pursuit of India’s national interests, and India’s ability to do so will be tested in how it manages its great power relationship with the United States.