US-India deal: Conclusion of BECA to open doors for high-tech arms

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo, disembark from an aircraft upon their arrival at the airport in New Delhi
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his US counterpart, Secretary for Defense Mark Esper, met in New Delhi today in the lead-up to the “US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue” on Tuesday. Joining them for the dialogue tomorrow will be Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The two ministers reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning military-to-military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues,” announced the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD also confirmed the conclusion of the last remaining “defence foundational agreement” — the so-called Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geospatial Intelligence.

“The two ministers expressed satisfaction that agreement of BECA will be signed during the visit,” said the MoD.

In explaining the benefits of this agreement for India, the bland rationale that is publicly offered is that BECA would allow India’s military to access a range of US topographical, nautical and aeronautical data, including the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA’s) “geospatial information bank”.

Less publicly acknowledged is the fact that becoming a BECA signatory will take India into a select group of long-range missile powers, which can strike targets thousands of kilometres away with an accuracy of 100 metres or less.

Most long-range missiles are guided by “inertial navigation systems” (INS) over the course of their flight. As an INS-guided missile travels towards its target, however, small navigational errors build up. These errors are best corrected through signals received from highly accurate navigation satellite networks, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) run by the US Department of Defense.

The classified military signal of GPS is reputed to have an accuracy of one metre. If, over a segment of its flight, the INS of a long-range missile builds up an error, the GPS military signal can be referenced to correct it. However, accessing the GPS military signal requires a country to sign BECA.

Signing BECA would also allow India to receive advanced navigational aids and flight management systems for several types of aircraft procured from the US, including the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130J Super Hercules and the P8-I Poseidon.

BECA would also allow India to exchange mapping data with the US to support a particular defence system or weapon to produce aeronautical and nautical charts or to conduct joint hydrographic surveys in uncharted areas.

Signing BECA does not bind India to cooperate with the US in a geo-spatial project that New Delhi might be uncomfortable with. The agreement allows both signatories to decide on projects based on the benefits they perceive.

As on 2017, Washington had signed BECA, or similar geospatial or mapping data-sharing agreements, with 57 countries.

When the two countries sign BECA on Tuesday, it will have taken New Delhi over three decades to negotiate and sign four “foundational agreements” that the US demands as a precursor for deep defence cooperation.

In 2002, after 15 years of negotiations, US and India concluded the first of these agreements, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). This is basically a “non-disclosure agreement” that binds each side to respect the security of information shared by the other, thereby creating confidence for activities such as greater intelligence sharing.

In 2009, with India buying an increasing share of its defence weaponry from the US, Washington negotiated with New Delhi a standardised “End Use Monitoring” (EUM) Agreement, which is mandatory under America’s Arms Export Control Act. This defines the terms and conditions for America to monitor weapons and equipment it has sold India, either through a foreign military sale or as a direct commercial sale via an export licence.

While an EUM Agreement is not a foundational agreement, it is regarded as vital to ensure the recipient nation physically safeguards equipment or technology and does not re-transfer it to a third country.

The second foundational agreement, called the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was signed in Washington on August 29, 2016 by Manohar Parrikar, then defence minister.

LEMOA has been defined as an “agreement under which the United States agrees to provide logistics support, supplies, and services to military forces of a country... in return for the reciprocal provisions of logistic support, supplies, and services by such government or organisation to elements of the armed forces”.

LEMOA enables deployed military forces from either country to “plug in” to the logistics systems of the other country to meet unforeseen mission requirements. Each country provides support to the other without surcharges or markups, enabling considerable cost savings.

The third foundational agreement, called the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), was signed on September 6, 2018. COMCASA lets India procure secure and protected equipment that enables encrypted communications for American-origin aircraft and platforms like the C-17, C-130 and P-8Is.

These aircraft were initially delivered to India with commercial communication systems since high-tech US systems could only be transferred to countries that had signed COMCASA-equivalent agreements. While signing COMCASA has allowed high-tech equipment transfers of various types, the absence of BECA remained a hurdle.

With BECA now out of the way, India would be allowed the full range of equipment it is entitled to as a designated “major defence partner” of the US.

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