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What is COMCASA Agreement?

Sep 7, 2018 17:28 IST
    Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis signed COMCASA
    Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis signed COMCASA

    The COMCASA Agreement was signed by India and the United States on September 6, 2018 during the first-ever ‘two plus two’ dialogue which was held in New Delhi. The Union Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis signed the COMCASA agreement.

    COMCASA stands for 'Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement'.

    During the first 2+2 dialogue, high-level talks were held between foreign and defence ministries of the two nations. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hosted the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

    COMCASA: India-specific version of CISMOA

    COMCASA is an India-specific version of the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).

    The nomenclature was changed to COMCASA to make it India-specific and guarantee New Delhi that the intelligence data shared between the two countries won't be shared with a third party.

    What is COMCASA?

    The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is one of the four foundational agreements that a country needs to sign to become a major defence partner of the United States. The agreement comes into effect immediately and has a lifespan of 10 years.

    The other three agreements are General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMoA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

    COMCASA provides the legal framework for the US to part with its sensitive communication equipment and codes to enable transfer of realtime operational information. This equipment is largely used for ground-to-air communication to enable best battle situation awareness.

    It ensures that the militaries of the US and India can boost their "interoperability" as well as share operational intelligence in real-time in the years ahead.

    For instance, if a US warship or aircraft detects a Chinese submarine in the Indian Ocean, it can convey to India through warships or aircraft equipped with COMCASA-protected equipment in real-time.

    COMCASA allows the US to transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication and electronic systems as well as ensure secrecy of its C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems.

    Significance

    The signing of COMCASA will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India's defence preparedness.

    The pact guarantees India access to critical US defence technologies and communication network to help the militaries of the two countries in their interoperability.

    COMCASA will allow India to procure transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for US origin military platforms like the C-17, C-130 and P-8Is.

    COMCASA will effectively mean that India shares the real-time American intelligence on military deployments by China and Pakistan.

    COMCASA becomes particularly important as India is set to buy the combat version of Sea Guardian drones from the United States. The US would not have provided India with the weapon systems on the drone without COMCASA.

    However, the signing of agreement does not mean that India would have to necessarily buy American military equipment.

    Before signing the agreement, India made sure that it gets full access to equipment. There is no commitment on acquisition and there will be no disruption as well.

    Why it took time for India to sign COMCASA?

    • The United States, since long, have been trying to maintain its position on barring countries including India from doing business with Russia and Iran on which it has imposed sanctions.
    • However, India has been maintaining that purchase of Iranian crude is crucial to its energy security and it is also in the process of purchasing S-400 missile defence system from Russia whose agreement is ready to be signed in the upcoming months.
    • The US, in this respect, said that as of now, no decision has been made for the S-400. It is working to impose sanctions in an appropriate way and will consider waivers only where it makes sense.
    • US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis asserted that the US expects that the purchases of Iranian crude oil shall go down to zero from every country; else, sanctions will be imposed.
    • The pact also raised concerns about data leakage to third parties. However, such concerns were addressed and there was "enough guarantee" that Indian data won't be shared with its adversaries.

    India as defence partner of the United States

    The US usually limits COMCASA, GSOMIA, LEMoA and BECA agreements to NATO allies such as Japan, South Korea and Australia - the major powers in the Indo-Pacific. However, to restrain China's military expansion in the region, the US decided to join hands with India.

    India had already signed the GSOMIA in 2002 and the LEMoA in 2016. The LEMoA gives access to both countries to designate military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment.
    The BECA, which facilitates the exchange of geo-spatial data, is yet to be signed.

    The previously bought US military equipment by India is C-130 Hercules aircraft and the Globemaster C-17 strategic lifters. This equipment came without original communications assets due to absence of COMCASA. India used its own communication systems.

    The US communication system is said to be secure and encrypted.

     

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