Recently, the third annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in India concluded and is seen as one of the major partnership for India’s participation in the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. This means an increased military cooperation in terms of information sharing, trade related to defence and a Joint service harmonisation through interoperability including upcoming MALABAR naval exercise (November 3-7, 2020). Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) shall be an important Agreement for maritime security in the Indo-Pacific zone, along with COMCASA and LEMOA. For an effective coordination under Maritime Domain Awareness, a US Navy Liaison Officer shall be based in India, whereas an Indian Liaison Officer shall be based at NAVCENT (United States Naval Forces Central Command), Bahrain as a start.
An increased collaboration with US Africa Command is also planned. Later this year, a Military Cooperation Group (MCG) to further evaluate the Defence engagement in terms of planned Joint Exercises and training is scheduled. Over the last two decades, Defence imports from US has seen a surge and today India boasts of the largest C-17 heavy-lift fleets and P-8 maritime aircrafts outside of US and to-date USD 20 billion in defence sales to India has been authorised. The Indo-China skirmish has taken a new dimension from a border issue to an altogether new stance taken up by India in the Asian scenario. A flurry of background activities by inter-governmental agencies have ensured that despite India not being part of a NATO Alliance, three major Indo-US defence cooperation Agreements viz. COMCASA, LEMOA and BECA are signed. The message sent out by India is clearly that it is preparing to participate actively alongside friendly US and NATO forces in the Indo-Pacific region keeping a common objective to curtail China’s growing dominance in the region.
The Naval Exercise Malabar scheduled next week in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea shall have participation by the Royal Australian Navy along with US, Japan and India. Australia has an important role to play in the Indo-Pacific naval influence for security in the region, especially against Chinese expanding role in the region. Australia has an ‘Enhanced Opportunity Partners’ collaboration with US for contributing to NATO forces. As part of the growing cooperation, in July 2020, the Indian Navy undertook PASSEX exercise with the US Nimitz Carrier Strike Group while it transited the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). In 2019, the U.S. and India held their first-ever tri-service exercise called Tiger Triumph, in which the US Navy, Marines, Air Force and the Army participated.
Indian Navy has actively participated in a number of joint maritime exercises recently, and in September 2020 a three-day drill with Japanese navy was conducted. It also carried out a two-day PASSEX in the IOR with the Australian Navy that included naval maneuvers, anti-aircraft drills and helicopter operations.
Indo-Pacific Strategic Importance
US is well aware about the strategic importance of IOR since the region is highly populated and busy maritime ‘silk’ sea lanes. It has a major significance for China since it depends upon these sea lanes for import of raw material and oil, and export its manufactured products to rest of the world. Five of the world’s nuclear nations fall within the zone of Asia-Pacific and out of ten largest standing military powers, seven are in this region. Keeping this Geo-political perspective in view, US has established one of the largest military command and in 2018 emphasised its intent was renaming the Command as US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) due to heightened tensions with China over the supremacy over South China sea. India forms part of the region within this Indo-Pacific Command and is seen as an important contributor with its large Naval presence in IOR and geographic location in the region.
Inter-operability and Joint Operations
India has been in the process of procuring multi-billion dollars’ worth of military hardware from some of the leading US manufacturers. For example, in the Air combat segment AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, P-8I maritime aircrafts, heavy-lift Chinook and C-17 and the Naval MH-60R Seahawks are going to be the mainstay of Indian defence forces for many decades to come. However, these equipment and systems supplied by US military manufacturers are always enabled for Net Centric warfare so as to achieve optimal performance, but for this, the underlying capabilities and computational frameworks are required to be operationalised. In fact, the weaponized drones planned to be imported from the US have their own higher-grade military GEOINT requirements even before they are launched.
Overall, these US supplied platforms firstly are to form part of India’s Air, Land and Sea defences by being interoperable with the existing weapon platforms each of the Indian service arm possess (like from Russia, France and Israel). Further, India shall require the Tri-services mission integration to be also achieved for Theatre level operations. Meanwhile, US and NATO forces shall also be expecting these weapon platforms to be interoperable with the Joint Forces command when participating in missions like exercise Malabar with Quad.
Indo-US Naval Cooperation
In a Netcentric Operations regime, the background Real time computations and low-latency tactical data transfer schemes provides the extra edge to the hi-tech weaponry for optimum exploitation. Here, the deployment of weapon systems is based on an overall Threat level calculated as per the most recent, accurate and reliable view of the Environment so as to obtain the Situational Awareness. With these three Indo-US Agreements, India shall now possess a contemporary Threat perspicacity and Resource deployment methodology based on a high end technology, and fundamentally routed to advanced Space based satellite systems.
These Agreements may be considered as a precursor to India’s own Space Command defining the Rules of Engagement as per the Space based assets. The Threat evaluation mechanism when assisted by an accurate GEOINT information available under BECA, shall ensure safety of weapon platforms against physical attacks, while continuing with the offensive objective. COMCASA, BECA and LEMOA Agreements provides this much required and essential support framework for achieving Netcentric Warfare functionalities.
The Tactical data amongst friendly Net-units is transferred through a Data Link equipment, where the Link should qualify to have the least latency but highest throughput. The encrypted information regarding Tactical disposition of friendly and hostile forces is communicated and shared amongst the Net-units along with various other operational parameters.
Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) framework is regarding this framework so as to achieve inter-operability between Indian war fighting units and US/NATO forces. India’s indigenously developed Tactical Data Link is specific to each of its service arms. US and NATO forces uses Link-16/Link-11 systems for Land, Sea and Air Tactical Data communication. Hence, technical challenges are envisaged to establish the inter-communication protocol between Link-16/Link-11 with Indian platforms.
Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is more of a hardware related agreement where Indian and US Defense assets can share the physical resources like replenishment and maintenance facilities in each other’s sites.
This Agreement makes available for US Forces a direct Land and Air connect to China through India’s common border region with China. Overall, over a period of time, US has been losing its influence over the SE Asia region and South China sea, whereas, China has been highly ambitious for enhancing its control in these regions, and beyond (like IOR etc.). LEMOA now changes India’s Defence stance from an individual influencer in the Asia region to being part of a larger US led NATO forces.
India’s military Geo-referencing system have been bereft with inherent errors, more so when the technology used for Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services became part of Satellite services for better accuracy and timing purposes. Due to numerous technical factors, the original Everest Datum established for India was replaced by World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS84) but the conversion errors crept into the positioning services, especially critical for military grade systems. The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) shall fulfil this gap.
GEOINT (Geospatial Intelligence) data exchange information like the specifications and procedures etc. for the GEO information collection and processing shall be established as per US military standards. This shall pertain to information like aircraft or satellite imagery and geo-spatial data computations for Mapping and Survey services for civilian purpose and Defence.As per the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO), Monaco, the Naval Chief Hydrographer is the NAVAREA VIII Coordinator and provides hydrographic services including NAVAREA warnings. As part of its duties, Naval survey ships also provide support to the friendly countries in this region to prepare accurate nautical charts which shall get enhanced military grade charts.
The BECA is likely to provide the much needed impetus to India’s own satellite based NavIC Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). NavIC and GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation) with SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) are the ISRO’s flagship programme for Position, Navigation, Timing services for commercial and military use. However, the military grade PNT services are not yet available due to further research required for signal distortions emanating due to uncertainties like equatorial plasma bubbles and space based weather storms.
ISRO, in collaboration with NASA plans to launch a SAR Radar satellite in 2022 so as to improve the Space based Situational Awareness, thereby leading to continued U.S.-India Space Dialogue as well as discussions on areas of potential defence cooperation. Due to the vastness of Indi-Pacific region, Space based surveillance shall be the primary interest for Indian Navy. The nascent India’s tri-services Defence-Space Agency for satellite intelligence and imagery shall be the main beneficiary in this initiative.
Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)
The projects under Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) are proposed to be fast tracked. India holds the designation of being a Major Defence Partner (MDP) with US. The DTTI Initial Guidance for Industry was released in July 2020 to facilitate Indian industry participation with US manufacturers. Indian Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO-iDEX) and US Defence Innovation Unit (DIU) held their meeting earlier in July 2020. Later this year, Industrial Security Annex (ISA) Summit is also being planned.
Indian Navy has a robust warship indigenisation programme in place and is likely to immensely benefit from these Industrial cooperation in Defence. Already, Indo-US Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC) for information exchange in the field of Aircraft Carrier technology under DTTI is in place.
In September 2020 itself, annual US-India Defence Cyber Dialogue was completed. Indian Navy through its Cyber Group shall be looking forward to enhance their skill in the Cyber attack domain, thereby putting up Cyber Defence against hacking and cyber espionage attacks emanating from the Chinese sources as part of the Cyber vulnerability study. Indian Defence forces identify Cyber attacks as India’s security priority so as to protect the software based defence systems.
Overall, with these development in terms of Chinese threat and evolving military collaboration, Indian Navy is likely to be busy re-writing India’s Maritime Doctrine any time soon.