Ironies and pressure points
COMCASA will effectively mean that India also shares real-time intelligence it acquires with the USA
There are doubts in the minds of foreign policy minions in the Indian government who, till now, were elated with having told the visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that there was no scope of cancelling the S400, Air Defence Weapon System procurement deal with Russia as it was in their National Interests to procure the S400.
This issue had grown out from the CATSAA in an otherwise placid relationship. The US Congress had passed this as a law on August 2, 2017, and President Donald Trump had acquiesced albeit, gingerly. "Title II of the Act primarily deals with sanctions on Russian interests such as its oil and gas industry, defence and security sector, and financial institutions, in the backdrop of its military intervention in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential elections". Section 231 of the Act empowers the US President to impose at least five of the 12 listed sanctions—enumerated in Section 235 of the Act—on persons engaged in a "significant transaction" with Russian defence and intelligence sectors. Two of the most stringent of these sanctions are the export licence restriction by which the US President is authorised to suspend export licences related to munitions, dual-use, and nuclear-related items; and the ban on American investment in equity/debt of the sanctioned person.
The US President has delegated his powers to the Secretary of State to implement Section 231 in consultation with the Treasury Secretary. In this section, the Department of State has notified 39 Russian entities, dealings with which could make third parties liable to sanctions. These include almost all of the major Russian companies/entities such as Rosoboronexport, Almaz-Antey, Sukhoi Aviation, Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, and United Shipbuilding Corporation which are active in manufacturing defence items and/or their exports. These are all major suppliers to the Indian Government
This pressure point from the US was jarring as it arose whilst an Indian External Affairs brief had extolled that "India-U.S. bilateral relations have developed into a "global strategic partnership", the Defence relationship has emerged as a major pillar of India-US strategic partnership with the signing of 'New Framework for India-US Defence Relations' in 2005 and the resulting intensification in defence trade, joint exercises, personnel exchanges, collaboration and cooperation in maritime security and counter-piracy, and exchanges between each of the three services. The Defence Framework Agreement was updated and renewed for another 10 years in June 2015".
And that the two countries now conducted more bilateral exercises with each other than they did with any other country. Bilateral dialogue mechanisms in the field of defence were all pervasive and it included Defence Policy Group, Defence Joint Working Group, Defence Procurement and Production Group, Senior Technology Security Group, Joint Technical Group, Military Cooperation Group, and Service-to-Service Executive Steering Groups. The agreements signed during the past one year include, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA) signed in August 2016, Fuel Exchange Agreement signed in November 2015, Technical Agreement (TA) on information sharing on White (merchant) Shipping signed in May 2016 and the Information Exchange Annexe (IEA) on Aircraft Carrier Technologies signed in June 2016.
In February 2017, the LEMOA led to a Master Ship Repair Agreement between the Indian firm Reliance Defence and Engineering Ltd (RDEL) and the US Navy to provide repair and alteration service at its Pipavav Shipyard for the ships of the US Seventh Fleet consisting of some 100 vessels operating in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions. This contract is likely to generate in excess of 10,000 crores in revenue to RDEL in the next five years. On the other hand, one does not see a planned reciprocal opportunity accruing to the Indian Navy in the near future.
The aggregate worth of defence acquisition from U.S. Defence has crossed over US$ 13 billion( 2017) and they included 13 C 130 J Hercules aircraft, 10 C -17 Globemaster, 12 P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Boeing, 22 AH 64 Apache helicopters, 15 CH 47 Chinook helicopters, 145 M777 Howitzers. Also in 2012, Tata Advanced System Ltd (TASL) and Lockheed Martin established a JV to produce C 130 airframes components. TASL also established a JV with M/s Sikorsky to produce S-92 helicopter cabins.
The United States agreed to supply India with the General Atomics MQ-9 Guardian/Predator-B long-range unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). This UCAV equipped with advanced marine avionics has both air and sea variants and can be armed with up to four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs.
But at this stage, the US government insisted on signing the COMCASA agreement. Without this agreement, the US indicated that it could not part with highly coded communication equipment with the military platforms they sell to India, whilst claiming it will also allow India access to the big database of American intelligence, including real-time imagery. In fact, it went on to include all previous acquisitions of aerial platforms including the C-130Js, Globemaster, P-8 Poseidon, AH 64 Apache helicopters and CH 47 Chinook helicopters in this agreement. We would recall that during the C -130J contract Indian Defence Minister had declined to sign COMCASA and had accepted to function without the special communication equipment. The COMCASA will effectively mean that, like it or not, India also shares real-time intelligence it acquires with the USA.
(The author is a retired Air Commodore and strategic affairs commentator. The views expressed are strictly personal)