The US Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gary Roughead is to arrive in New Delhi on Sunday on a five-day visit beginning the day after. He will be visiting India at the invitation of the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma and will meet the other two service chiefs, as well as the Defense Minister, AK Antony.
According to government sources, the agenda for discussions between Admiral Roughead and his team and the Indian side is expected to include issues like Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and discussions for a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which have been hanging fire since 2002, because of the absence of consensus in the armed forces, defense ministry and the political leadership on them.
The CISMOA is an agreement that envisages the laying down of protocols for interoperability and assuring the security of communications between the armed forces of the two countries. This agreement, if and when concluded, would be a major step towards enabling each country’s respective armed forces to carry out joint operations via agreed and secure communications protocols, and as such, is seen as a sensitive decision with far-reaching political and strategic implications. The US has also said this will ease the transfer of sophisticated communications technology to India.
The Indian Navy has ordered eight Boeing P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft and is considering Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft in response to a Request for Information (RFI) for carrier-borne fighters.
In his testimony to the US House of Representatives in June 2008, Dr Walter K Anderson, Associate Director, South Asia Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University, said, “Indian interest in American multirole aircraft appears to be forcing the country to consider a CISMOA, which would in turn enhance the possibilities of even greater Indian purchase of US military equipment,” adding later, “In the Indian case, the issue is complicated further by a residue of substantial anti-America opinion in the bureaucracy, in academia and in the press, which while on the decline, often forces the Indian government to be cautious on something like a new security relationship with the United States, a caution that can delay or even stymie initiatives.”
Similarly, the LSA affects political sensitivities in India as well, as it would enable US forces to procure fuel and supplies from India. Since this could also possibly take place during US operations, of which the Indian political leadership may not entirely approve, it has, so far, remained unsure of acceding to the agreement.
Anderson, said in the same testimony, “Recognize that a security relationship with India – which New Delhi wants – will be different in that India will not permit itself to be militarily dependent on the US and will cooperate on security issues with the US only when there is a significant threat to Indian security interests. This Indian caution is reflected in its reluctance so far to sign a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), allowing the refueling of aircraft and ships in each other’s ports, because of concerns in India that this would undermines Indian policy of not allowing foreign troops on its soil.”
This is not to say, however, that the armed forces of the two countries haven’t been cooperating at an increasing level. It is also pointed out that foreign troops on Indian soil are no longer a shocking taboo, going by the number of times India has hosted foreign militaries, especially from the US, for joint exercises. However, as with the Fuel Exchange Agreement (FEA) discussed below, an LSA could potentially lower operational costs substantially for the Indian armed forces.
The naval cooperation between the two countries has seen India take advantage of the FEA since 2005, which has led to a major cutting of the time and cost of operations, with Indian ships refueling from US tankers, especially recently, while on anti-piracy missions around the Gulf of Aden.
The two navies have also cooperated in the occasional exchange of information related to the Merchant Shipping Information System (MSIS), which details the movement of declared maritime traffic on the basis of Automated Identification Systems (AIS). StratPost understands there to be a move to regularize this exchange, especially in the context of traffic in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean; an issue which is also likely to come up for discussion during the US CNO’s visit.
Since 2006, Indian Naval aviators have also trained on the T-45 C Goshawk carrier-borne advanced jet trainers at places like the US Naval Air Station in Pensacola in the US.
But besides CISMOA and LSA, other issues remain. With increasing procurement of military equipment and defense materiel from the US, especially via the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, India would like its general interests, as promoted by the Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP), secured, in the face of the provisions under which FMS are conducted, which are generally skewed sharply in favor of US interests. While this issue was discussed between the two countries during the visit of US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates to India last January, it is also likely to be taken up at the level of the navy chiefs.
This is the first visit of Admiral Roughead to India, since he took over as CNO in September, 2007. India’s armed forces usually interact with the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) and service commands under USPACOM, via Executive Steering Groups (ESG), as its area of responsibility for interaction includes India. However, with this invitation to the US CNO, who commanded the US Pacific Fleet at one time, the Indian Navy has now moved for stepping up engagement with the US Pentagon, especially because major decisions and agreements, like on procurement, are hammered out in Washington DC, and not necessarily Honolulu.