India has asked the United States for a binding assurance in the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (Comcasa) to ensure that the secured communication equipment covered by the pact are available to India and kept operational at all times.
ET has gathered that broadly, both sides have made healthy progress, including on end user monitoring issues, in their first formal round of negotiations on this key foundational agreement. The US also handed over the template for Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (Beca), the other foundation agreement.
In the Comcasa, New Delhi has sought some India-specific assurances to be built into the agreement. This could prolong negotiations as India is unlikely to settle for just a political assurance, making it a tough task to conclude the pact ahead of the India-US 2+2 meeting in the first week of July, though both sides continue to work overtime.
Both external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be together on this dialogue with their US counterparts.
Besides availability of equipment at all times, India wants it put down in the agreement that the US will not share data from Indian platforms with another country and nor will it access this data without prior permission. Also, the choice to upgrade would rest with India and not determined by the US.
The US, for its part, has put a standard Comcasa template on the table and has so far suggested that these assurances can be given at the political level.
But India, sources said, has told the US delegation led by US deputy assistant secretary of Defence Joe Felter that it would want these assurances as legally binding elements in the agreement. Washington will now work on details and revert.
The Comcasa will allow both sides to operate on the same communication systems, enabling an “interoperable” environment for militaries. Without this agreement, the US cannot part with highly coded communication equipment with the military platforms they sell to India.
As a result, India has had to depend on commercially available less secure systems on, otherwise, high-end platforms like C-130Js and the P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, among others.
The latest issue has been with obtaining the armed version of the Sea Guardian drones. Washington has made it clear that for it to part with the weapon systems on the drone, India will need to sign the Comcasa so that data and communication systems can be duly installed.
The COMCASA is necessitated by the US to ensure that the security of the communication equipment it provides is not compromised. As it works, US forces can plug into these systems during joint action or exercises, which also makes them vulnerable in case equipment with any of the partner countries is mishandled. Due to this, an end use inspection system has also been put in place.
The 2+2 dialogue will see both sides discuss, among other issues, the US approach on India’s military cooperation with Russia and the deal for S-400 missile defence system.
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