BECA, COMCASA and LEMOA, put together, have altered the parameters of inter-operability not just with the US forces but a host of others. Operational compatibility through data sharing and logistics required for responding armed forces irrespective of flags they fly, subject to such countries being signatories to these agreements, is enhanced disproportionately. The author debates the issues based on the dividends accruing from an operational viewpoint.
India has been working continuously on the modernization of its military equipment, and induction of various hi-tech US military hardware. The transactions have been feasible mostly due to the heightened inter-governmental activities since India does not form part of the NATO alliance. The inclusion of these modern weapon platforms has further highlighted the need for net-centric operations for their optimal exploitation. Technically seen, the signing of COMCASA, BECA and LEMOA Agreements provide the much required and essential support framework for achieving net-centric warfare capability in true sense. Today, the Indo-Sino relationship in the pandemic year 2020 has evolved far beyond a one-off border incident. It may be more due to the discomfort caused by a well-orchestrated Chinese military buildup plan across the globe over the last two decades, which was being closely observed by the US and India.
To date, India has inducted some of the most technologically advanced US manufactured platforms like P-8I maritime Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lift military aircraft and a few more like the Naval MH-60R Seahawks etc. are to come in due course of time. The immediate augmentation of India’s dwindling key Air warfare capabilities to establish air supremacy over Indian skies and to successfully penetrate the air-defence of a technologically advanced adversary are seen as important factors.
The US is a market leader in developing contemporary military technologies and these platforms are not only potent weapon systems but also highly capable net-centric warfare platforms, with such specialized features inherently built into the equipment design to enhance platform effectiveness. In other words, we may say that these platforms are highly C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) enabled and their real capabilities only comes to the fore when exploited as Net Units in a larger multi-dimensional (land, air, sea, space and cyber) operations.
To quote an example, P-8I aircraft are true C4I airborne platforms and a force multiplier for the Indian Navy. These aircraft are not only individually highly capable to hunt down any hostile submarine but intrinsically capable of forming part of any fleet-level operations in the role of ASW screen since a submarine detection operation is a high air power-intensive activity. P-8Is are multi-mission aircraft with roles like surveillance, EW and are potent with air to surface missile capabilities. For their role, P-8Is have specialized radars for maritime, coastal and land surveillance using SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and ISAR (Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar) installed onboard.
The US DSCA (Defence Security Cooperation Agency) has approved the sale of AGM-84L Harpoon Block II air-launched missiles to India for P-8I aircraft. These missiles are not only designed for marine operations but can also destroy coastal and inshore assets, and thus suitable for contributing to tri-services joint operations. However, to transition from platform-centric to network-centric capabilities, India requires the onboard dedicated Tactical Datalink to activate the inter-operability features.
US military equipment manufacturers are some of the leading suppliers of the latest military hardware in the world and inter-operability is always a built-in standard design feature in their systems. However, India was unable to exploit such advance features since it required the support of COMCASA and BECA primarily and LEMOA in the support role. Indian Army, Navy and IAF have overlapping responsibilities in many areas of operations. For example, a joint air defence approach to make Indian skies impenetrable against fighter jets and hostile missiles require not only optimization of resources but also the real-time transmission of fast-moving air target tracks to effectively create a multi-layered air defence shield. Also, to be able to successfully operate with NATO forces, interoperability is a critical requirement. The requirement remains as and when Indian armed forces participate in exercises like Malabar etc., or other future combined multinational task force exercises. In today’s geopolitical environment, threat scenarios can rapidly evolve, and joint operations with NATO forces as per standard C4I concepts shall be a minimum requirement for active deployment of Indian resources.
The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) framework for the interchange of encrypted communication between India and US militaries shall assist in the inter-operability in the air, sea, land, space and underwater domains. Even though India has developed its own tactical datalink indigenously, each service has its own independent programme and thus, indigenous data links are unable to communicate data amongst each other. Meanwhile, the US exploits Link-16/Link-11 systems for tactical data communication and the same is in use by all NATO forces. This standardisation of inter-platform communication ensures optimum exploitation of the NATO resources. However, for achieving joint operations capability with Indian forces either India can retrofit Link-16 equipment on all its platforms or work out an innovative solution as Indian datalinks are indigenously designed and developed. However, the present immediate option may be the fitment of Link 16 equipment since tactical datalink development is an activity which can take a couple of years to produce a stable product.
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) relate to GEOINT (Geospatial Intelligence) data exchange information like the specifications and procedures for the information collection and processing. The GEOINT process assists in the identification of the geographic location and other features on Earth. The focus is primarily to analyse imagery and geospatial information in the context of earth-based geographical references.
This process is highly scientific and uses statistical data, remote sensing tools, Mapping and Survey information. Overall, for India, the BECA agreement shall have multiple implications, however, technically it shall help India overcome the gaps in India’s own GEOINT data reference system. The Indian system is based on initial Everest Datum and then WGS84 Datum and is not considered suitable for an effective Multi-Platform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF) technology. MPMSDF is an essential feature for obtaining situational awareness capabilities for joint operations on a battlefield. BECA further ensures that the warfighting data being communicated over the Tactical Data Link is error-free and primarily based on a common Geo Reference System.
Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), on the other hand, is more related to the upkeep and maintenance of the resources of both countries in each other’s facilities.
It may be termed more of a logistic support arrangement for re-fuelling, replenishment and repair of military platforms in each other’s countries. This could be of far greater advantage to US forces operating in the Indian subcontinent region since India’s maritime geography is most suitable for the US to create a deterrence to China. The launch of any US operations against China through the vast open Pacific Oceans exposes the resource movements to space-based Chinese surveillance. Also, the Pacific is a very large ocean to create repair and recovery facilities available to a battle-damaged platform. This disadvantage surely makes Indian subcontinent and the IOR region, the most suitable choice for the US to initiate any operations against China.
With these three primary agreements viz. COMCASA, LEMOA and BECA, Indians are better poised (against China) in the region around Indian sub-continent and IOR. These agreements shall also boost the Indian military forces’ technological modernisation initiatives. Indian Defence forces may evolve from a defensive role to an aggressive-deterrence role where Indian Army, Navy and IAF operate under a Joint Command, which can be considered as an inevitable evolution, long overdue.
The three agreements have direct implications on the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) of the Indian Armed Forces since in any operational scenario, each of the weapon platform’s survivability against physical attacks is an important factor. The threat here is computed based on the accurate and reliable view of the environment coupled with an intelligent Situational Awareness. COMCASA, LEMOA and BECA agreements, as a package. It shall assist in threat evaluation and resource deployment mechanisms to counter any adversary. The BECA supplied GEOINT information used at a Theatre level shall assist in finalising the force protection measures for each of the platforms against all perceived and emanating threats.
Threat perspicacity forms the core of every C4I system and therefore, India may consider Theatre level C4I systems implementation, preferably developed using Artificial Intelligence tools. On the other hand, Software Defined Radio (SDR) systems can evolve as an integral solution for the indigenous tactical data link equipment. Further, achieving a 9 ‘G’ aircraft tracker and track transfer of such fast-moving real-time air track coordinates for missile launch can form part of this charter.
For BECA, the rapid development of existing indigenization efforts by ISRO in terms of space segment and ground segment infrastructure for accurate GEOINT information is required. ISRO’s NavIC (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) and GAGAN (GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation) with SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) need to be operationalized for military-level data accuracy (Restricted Services) at the earliest. NavIC is India’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) based on a dual-frequency use for better accuracy. The main objective of NavIC is to provide accurate and reliable Position, Navigation and Timing services to users in India as well as the region extending up to 1500 km beyond Indian boundaries. The research on various corrections for applications demanding real-time high-precision positioning requires more focus, especially for uncertainties due to equatorial plasma bubbles and Space weather storms.
The three Indo-US Agreements may be seen more as facilitators for the Prime Minister’s Atmanirbhar (self-reliance) policy that provide the impetus to India’s self-reliance in defence. Here, a non-DRDO model based on a defence PSU along with private industry participation may be a workable solution due to niche talent required for such systems. The implementation of the COMCASA, LEMOA and BECA in its true spirit shall also require intensive resource planning and adequate training of personnel for use and maintenance of the associated technologies by all the three services.
Cdr Milind Kulshreshtha (Retd)
(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)