India and the United States signed the crucial Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which pertains to geospatial intelligence, sharing information on maps and satellite images for defence purposes during the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue held in New Delhi on 27 October. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar started their talks with the US counterpart US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 26 October. The exercise is being perceived as a strong reinforcement of the bilateral relationship between the two nations.
The signing of BECA allows India to use US geospatial intelligence and enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. It gives access to topographical and aeronautical data and advanced products which will aid navigation and targeting. It is significant for Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation between both countries. The agreement also includes sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts, and data exchange on Chinese troops and weapons deployment along the 3,488-km India-China LAC.
After inking the pact, Singh termed BECA as a significant achievement. “We held a comprehensive discussion on a range of key issues of our bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Signing of BECA with US after signing of LEMOA in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018 is a significant achievement in that direction,” he said.
Defence Minister highlighted some of the other noteworthy steps taken by both India and US in order to progress earlier discussions between the two countries. “These include Positioning a USNavyLiaison Officer (LO) at IFC-IOR and Indian LO at NAVCENT, Bahrain; greater interaction and coordination with CENTCOM and AFRICOM; setting up of the COMSEC account and increasing the scope and complexities of our exercises. Now LOs at each other’s establishments could be leveraged to enhance our information sharing architecture. To sum it up, our military to military cooperation is progressing well,” Singh observed.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, on the other hand, talked about increasing aggression and destabilising activities by China while Pompeo referred to the Galwan incident where 20 Indian soldiers were killed.“We visited National War Memorial to honour brave men and women of Indian armed forces who sacrificed for the world’s largest democracy, including 20 killed by PLA in Galwan Valley. The US will stand with India as they confront threats to their sovereignty, liberty,” Pompeo said.
“US and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manner of threats and not just those posed by Chinese Communist Party. Last year, we’ve expanded our cooperation on cyber issues, our navies have held joint exercises in the Indian Ocean,” he added.
A high-level dialogue continued on the second day of Dialogue in which both sides highlighted the need to take forward shared objectives and build capabilities across all domains to ensure a safe, stable and rule-based regional and global security environment.
“In today’s meeting, we also explored the probable capacity building and other joint cooperation activities in third countries, including our neighbourhood and beyond. We have a convergence of views on a number of such proposals and will take those forward,” Rajnath Singh said.
“In the Defence Industrial Cooperation area, we had a very candid and useful discussion. The recent initiative of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat‘ in the Defence sector was underlined as a key driver and a guiding factor of our Defence Industrial Cooperation. I highlighted the capabilities of Indian Defence Industry and their usefulness in the supply chain of major US platforms and systems. We have identified priority Near-Term projects for joint development between respective agencies, which need to be fast-tracked under the DTTI and resolved to work together in Defence R&D more efficiently,” he added further.
Defence Minister talked about Malabar exercise and peace across Indo-Pacific during the Dialogue. “In our meeting, we shared assessment of the security situation across the Indo Pacific. In that process, we reaffirmed our commitment to peace, stability and prosperity of all countries in this region. We also agreed that upholding the rules based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential. Our defence cooperation is intended to further these objectives. Both sides welcomed Australia joining the forthcoming Malabar Exercise,” said Singh.
Both Ministers held the third edition of the 2+2 talks with Pompeo and Esperjust before the US Presidential elections amidst the heightened tension in the region, with Indian troops confronting Chinese PLA forces at the Himalayan border in eastern Ladakh. The first edition of the dialogue took place in Delhi in September 2018, the last one was in Washington December 2019.