In a historic turn of events, India and the United States signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) on Thursday in the first ever ‘2+2’ talks between the two countries. This agreement is going to have far-reaching implications as far as military relations between the two countries are concerned. The agreement was signed after United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and United States Defence Secretary James ‘Jim’ Mattis met defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and held a dialogue in New Delhi.
The COMCASA is one of three foundational agreements that a country needs to sign before it can procure high-tech military hardware from the US. India had already signed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The two countries are, however, still to hold a dialogue for the third agreement- Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). In reality, the Act is known as Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). However, its name was changed to COMCASA only in order to signify India-centric nature of the agreement. This also comes as a bold political move as the agreement had been pending for almost ten years. Critics had been propagating that the agreement will affect India’s sovereignty and independence and that it will also jeopardize India’s military relations with Russia. Modi government has done really well not to care about the critics and the political backlash that it might have to face and going ahead with the significant agreement. It is clear that the government knows that the benefits of COMCASA outweigh the political backlash that it will have to face.
In 2016, India was designated as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ by the US and true to its words, the US is giving special importance to the country. As stated by a senior defence ministry official briefing the journalists after the agreement was signed, Indian interests were not compromised. He made it clear that even though the text of COMCASA was classified, it was specially negotiated for India. He made it clear that India refused to sign the standard text which other countries had signed. And therefore, the agreement did not bind India to buying US weaponry.
The agreement is going to come as a big boost for India’s military capabilities. Most importantly, it will give India access to high-end secured and encrypted communication equipments which are installed on American platforms obtained by Indian armed forces. These platforms are C-130 J, C-17, P-8I aircraft, and Apache and Chinook helicopters. The agreement will also provide a legal framework for transfer of encrypted communication security equipments from the US to Indian armed forces. It is going to be safer and more secure than the system currently in place. Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Signing of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) will enable India to access advanced technologies from USA.”
It is clear from the importance that India is being given that it is seen by the US as a major strategic ally. The way a modified version of the COMCASA agreement was signed in order to accommodate India’s demands and Donald Trump administration’s decision to give India STA-1 status (Strategic Trade Authorization-1) shows that Indo-US military relations are set to get a boost. After the ‘2+2’ talks, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said, “We’ll be meeting PM Modi on how to advance relationship in the new era of growth under his leadership and President Trump. We had many productive and forward thinking conversations on our bilateral relationship and our shared future.” The agreement will go down as a major historical achievement.