India to Acquire Armed Drones and Have Access to Advanced Military Data

Wars can never be won, but hearts with friendship, and peace with calm disposition. Despots can win neither hearts nor peace. India has been facing perpetual problems with its northern and western neighbors.

In the midst of continuous standoff faced on the Ladakh border as a result of misadventure by China, India is in the process of strengthening its defense preparedness by acquiring advanced defense weaponry, powerful fighter aircraft, and latest defense-related technology including aerial defense system and real-time satellite imagery knowhow. The Indian defense forces – army, navy, and air force – are in full readiness to face any eventuality. Indian armed forces, showing extreme power of valor, could arrest advancing Chinese forces, though both sides suffered casualties in the June 15 midnight incident.

The Indian armed forces, now well placed themselves on the key vulnerable heights along the hilly terrain of Himalayan border could successfully frustrate the deceptive follow-up attempt by Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Despite several rounds of commander level talks, and other government ministerial-level and diplomatic-level dialogues, China is yet to show signs of de-escalation, and the troop standoff still continues.

At a time like this, the good news is that India can now acquire hunter-killer advanced armed drones and access to other advanced real-time satellite imagery and related-technology from the US. This has been possible following the pacts signed between Indian and visiting top US leaders in New Delhi on October 26/27, and an earlier such meeting in Washington DC.

US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper were in New Delhi for talks with their Indian counterparts – External Affairs Minister S. Jai Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh — for the third 2+2 dialogue for two days, when the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial (BECA) was signed on October 27.

The first 2+2 dialogue was held in New Delhi in September 2018 after the modalities were approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump. The second one was held in Washington DC in December 2019.

The latest 2+2 dialogue has taken place in India at a time when India has been locked in a tense standoff with China in the eastern Ladakh area and the Trump administration’s growing friction with Beijing over a number of issues, including trade, tariff and the Chinese military manoeuvres in the South China Sea.

The Indo-US defense and security ties have been on an upswing for the past few years, especially after Narendra Modi assumed charge as the Prime Minister of India. The US in June 2016 designated India as a “Major Defense Partner” intending to elevate defense, trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners. In the same year, the two countries signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies thereby providing for deeper cooperation.

In 2018, the two countries signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale and transfer of high-end technology by the US to India.

The two agreements – the COMCASA of 2018 and the latest BECA signed on October 27 (last week) – together have paved the way for India to acquire armed drones like Reapers or Predators for long-range precision strikes against hostile targets on land as well as sea. The BECA allows sharing of military grade geo-spatial data in real-time with India by the US, which will help Indian military to launch precise missiles and drone strikes.

The BECA also allows India to buy armed drones from the US which will be fed with the data. The current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has underlined the importance of armed drones during a war. The COMCASA allows India’s access to advanced military platforms with encrypted and secure communication and data links like armed drones.

Addressing a joint press conference, the Indian and the US dignitaries, Rajnath Singh claimed that the signing of BECA after the military logistics pact LEMOA in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018 as a “significant achievement.” He said that during the meeting both sides shared assessment of the security situation across the Indo-pacific region. “India and the US have identified priority near-term projects for joint development which need to be fast-tracked under the defense technology and trade initiative (DTTI),” he added. He said that India and the US welcomed Australia joining the forthcoming trilateral – India, the US and Japan – naval exercises in Malabar.

Pompeo did not hesitate to name China and said: “US leaders and citizens are with increasing clarity that the Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, the rule of law and transparency.” Rajnath Singh too did not mince words, when he said India was being “challenged by reckless aggression on our northern borders.”

Pompeo and Esper called on Narendra Modi, who said: “Our comprehensive global strategic partnership stands on a firm foundation of shared principles and common strategic interests.”

In reference to China, Jaishankar said: “The ability of India and the US to work closely in defense and foreign policy has a larger resonance. Together, we can make a real difference when it comes to regional and global challenges, whether it is in respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism or ensuring prosperity.”

In a joint statement, the four leaders welcomed the growing understanding among the like-minded Indo-Pacific countries. They reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation would support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. They reaffirmed convergence in the fight against terrorism and called on Pakistan to take immediate, sustained and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control was used for terrorist attacks and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators and planners of all such attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai, Uri and Pathankot.

The third 2+2 India-US dialogue, in the statement, for the first time in three years specifically mentioned the South China Sea (SCS), where China continues to assert its authority over disputed waters, and called for freedom of navigation for all. The US and India also reiterated their commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region built on, among other things, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment and mutual respect for sovereignty.

Some critics and media persons have been critical of India’s closeness, engagement and dependence on the US cooperation in view of the impending Presidential elections, but India is quite aware of it. India is also extending its friendship to other global and regional nations. India is equally friendly with major powers like the UK, Germany, Russia and France. In the Asian region, India is working with neighbors like Japan and Australia.

As part of its focus on key European partners, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla is heading out on a tour of London Paris and Berlin where he is expected to hold a wide range of consultations with foreign offices, parliamentarians and academicians. The idea, according to some sources, is to restart intensive engagements in European capitals after over six months of COVID-19 imposed isolation.

As a message of taming the dominance of China in the South China Sea and its regional waters, the first phase of three-day Malabar naval exercise involving “Quad” countries – India, the US, Japan and Australia – is being held off Visakhapatnam in Bay of Bengal from November 3 to 6. India, the US, Japan and Australia are part of the “Quad” alliance, which Beijing considers as an anti-China grouping.

The second phase of the Quad exercise is scheduled for mid-November in the Arabian Sea.

– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.

Picture Credits: AP

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