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India and the US will hold fresh discussions on the two pacts — Communications Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) — at a meeting here on Thursday and Friday.
“The defence ministry (MoD) is seriously re-examining COMCASA and BECA, and will do a cost-benefit analysis to fully understand the technical implications involved. The US says inking the pacts will allow India more access to cutting-edge military technologies and platforms with encrypted and secure communications like armed drones,” said a source.
India has for long been interested in acquiring armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like MQ-9 Reaper or Predator-B drones, which fly like fighter jets to fire missiles on enemy targets and then return to their bases to re-arm for next mission, from the US.
But the two countries so far have held formal discussions only on the
possible sale of 22 unarmed Sea Guardians
+ , which are high-altitude, long-endurance drones capable of flying non-stop for over 27 hours for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, at an estimated cost of $2 billion.
“The US recently announced its new policy on export of armed/unarmed drones to friendly countries, with end-use monitoring and additional security conditions. If India at all decides to acquire such expensive drones, then they obviously would be the armed ones rather than ones used just for reconnaissance,” said the source.
The US contends COMCASA is a “technology enabler” to help transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication and electronic systems to India as well as ensure secrecy of its C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems from leaking to other countries like Russia.
But India has so far been hesitant to ink the pact despite having bought military hardware and software worth $15 billion from the US since 2007. Instead of encrypted and secure radio, data, navigation, guidance and communication systems protected by COMCASA, India has used commercially available kits to equip its US-origin C-130J Super Hercules, C-17 Globemaster-III and P-8I Poseidon aircraft despite some reduction in their operational capabilities.
There are widespread fears that the use of American C4ISR systems could compromise India’s tactical operational security, enabling the US to keep track of Indian warships and aircraft. “The MoD will study the COMCASA being offered in detail. Much like the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) inked in 2016, India would like a less-restrictive COMCASA that addresses all its concerns,” said another source.