There has been much debate on Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) even before its signing between India and the United States. Essentially, the discourse has hinged around whether the agreement is advantageous to India or will it tie India down into an alliance with the US which is not in consonance with India’s non alignment strategy ? And if it does, what does it imply in the changing geopolitical landscape of the Asia-Indo Pacific?
The agreement has its roots in the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACAS), which was signed by the US with its NATO allies and permitted the alliance partners to access supplies, spare parts, servicing from each other’s land, air bases and ports. In the era of Cold War it was essential for allied forces to operate seamlessly anywhere in the world to support possible military confrontation with the Warsaw Pact nations. It provided the legal framework for operational flexibility while ensuring constitutional autonomy of member nations. Since platforms and equipment in the alliance countries had their origin either in the US or Europe, the positioning of spare parts for servicing of these platforms while transiting through any of these alliance nations, provided legal protection against local taxation provisions and adverse public opinion.
However, the bilateral relations of US with number of other countries became strategic in nature with changing geopolitics which necessitated similar agreement for more reasons than just the transit access. Slightly modified agreements were signed with Singapore, Afghanistan , Philippilnes and Sri Lanka. Non of these countries have lost their strategic autonomy. They deal with China and rest of the world with equal ease. Sri Lanka has often provided logistics support to Chinese submarines and naval vessels at its ports. In fact, they have all benefited by acquiring US hardware, logistics and spares support.
Pakistan signed a similar agreement in 2002 which expired in 2012. It is true that Pakistan was used as staging post by the US during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the US used it as a base for War on Terror under another agreement, however the ACSA was operative mechanism for positioning of spares and logistics support to the US and NATO forces. It is in these backdrop that the Indian strategists have been debating the fallout of such an agreement under the new nomenclature of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement which is something akin to Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) albeit with some modifications.
At present the LSA is yet to be inked. The GoI has clarified that the usage of land, airbases and ports for fueling, crew changes, servicing etc., will be on payment and case to case basis and India will have the right to reject. Another area of debate is that under the reciprocity clause where all will India be utilizing such facilities of the US and for what. This is a bigger question. Is it the pivot to Asia strategy of the US in which India is willingly or unwillingly getting dragged to contain China? Will it increase tensions in the India Ocean
Rim or the South China Sea? These are the questions being debated. GoI has also clarified that there will not be any basing of US troops on Indian soil. It needs to be seen in the final text of the agreement to calm down the contrarians.
As far as the changing geopolitics of Asia Indo Pacific is concerned, it is clear that there is convergence of views of US and India in the region east of India but US and India are not on the same page in the region West of India. The supply of weapon systems to Pakistan, US views on Iran, the Indian concern of growing Chinese presence in the IOR and it’s blatant support to Pakistan and protection of Pakistan based terror organizations by blocking of UN ban on them by China, are some issues where the US has not been of support in any international fora. India stands alone in this crusade, and therefore the question being asked is how will India gain strategically by signing the LSA.
What needs to be seen is how important is LSA for the actualisation of DTTI which US and India are pursuing jointly. How will it facilitate the Make in India technical and logistics support for systems and platforms which may be manufactured in India in the future with US transfer of technology eg., the aircraft carrier technology.
As far as EMALS (Electro magnetic aircraft launch system) is concerned, it possibly will not fall under transfer of technology. This is yet a non operational developmental model which requires very large investment. A lot has already been spent and for the reasons of high developmental cost, the United Kingdom pulled out of the programme and it settled for VSTOL model of the Joint Strike Fighter for its aircraft carrier the Queen Elizabeth . Is the US dragging India for amortization of developmental cost of EMALS, technology of which will not be transferred ? Can India afford it? Or, should India be looking at alternate steam operated catapult launch systems akin to Charles d Gaulle?
The Indian Navy has good experience of operating and maintaining steam boilers. These are the questions which would possibly be deliberated by the establishment before any binding agreements are inked. On the face of it one of the foundational agreements i.e., LEMOA or LSA does not appear to be intrusive. If Indian autonomy in maintaining its strategic balance with other powers, such as Russia (our trusted weapon system supplier so far), China an economic giant etc., can be maintained then simultaneous agreements will be a welcome sign. If India wants to be a world power like China does then a full alliance with the US will be desirable which may impact strategic autonomy whereas aspiration of being a regional power will possibly call for exhaustive deliberations prior to signing these agreements, provisions of which may prevent strategic autonomy. This would be a calculated political decision from which will flow our foreign and defence policies.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (Retired)
(Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha is a former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and was member of Defence Acquisition Council between 2010-2012.)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)