DURING the US presidential election 2020, the US and India have signed a key defence deal which considered a foreign policy success by both the countries. The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation, (BECA) is among the few deals that the US signs with close partners. It allows India access to a range of sensitive geospatial and aeronautical (sensitive satellite data) that may be used for defence purposes. The BECA deal is significant for India as it will strengthen its conventional offensive and defensive capacity. It provides India access to detailed, sensitive intelligence that can enable to be more accurate in targeting terrorists or rival militaries, and to better monitor the location of the enemy either just across the border or in faraway seas. India has now become US “de-facto” military ally in the region against China and Pakistan.
It may be vital for hitting missiles, drones and other targets with precision. One of the main aims of the BECA is to counter China’s influence in the region. But it has spillover repercussions for national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan too. While visiting to India US Defence Secretary Mark Esper held talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and terming the BECA important for strategic partnership engaging much more intensively on matters of national security. Both highlighted its strategic importance and labelling it terminal for regional and global challenges, whether it is in respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism or ensuring prosperity.
BECA was signed in October 2020 between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defence and India’s Ministry of Defence. It entails both countries to share all kinds of military information, aero-space, geo-magnetic and gravity data, maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, etc. Classified information like sensitive satellite and sensor data can also be shared with proper safeguards. Collaboration in the cyber, space and electro-magnetic spectrums is apparently pending. It will definitely further enhance Indian cyber security apparatus in the days to come. Moreover, provision of real time targeting and navigation data from the US systems will enhance the accuracy of Indian missiles, PGMs, armed drones and even facilitate aircraft navigation.
The US and India also signed other deals in the fields of nuclear energy, earth sciences and alternative medicine. But BECA is the most significant deal among them which will allow the US to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India. It also means the US can fit high-end navigational equipment in the aircraft it supplies to India. India has been prey of its own “hegemonic” “obsession” since its inception. It has been locked in one of its most hostile standoff with China in the Himalayan region. On the other hand, its military misadventure is still going on against Pakistan on LOCs. Many other regional countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh do not share diplomatic ease with India. Moreover, increasing influence of China in terms of One Belt & One Road Initiative (BRI) in South East Asia region and the CPEC have produced dints in Indian foreign policy and military options.
India has now become new strategic partner of the US in its fight against China and precisely “containment policy”. President Donald Trump’s diplomatic offensive against China over trade, the coronavirus pandemic and the South China Sea issue, the US Secretary of State also called on to “thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party encouraged both the countries to get connected in terms of enhanced military deal. Role of Australia being former closest ally of the US has now been shifted to India. On the green “signalling” of the US some important countries of the GCC and Middle East are now diverting their investment and national priorities towards Delhi, by badly ignoring Islamabad.
The most recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Kabul, Afghanistan showed rapidly changing geopolitical and geostrategic orientations of the regional as well as international power politics. In this context the “reactive” “posturing” of our Foreign Ministry must be immediately converted into “preemptive” mode to safeguard the vested interest of Pakistan in the days to come. The BECA deal is another step forward in deepening India-US military ties. India is one of the world’s biggest defence equipment buyers, but ironically, around 60-70 per cent of its inventory (SU 30 MKI, MIG 29s) is supplied by Russia which may be changed in the days to come. Russia wisely re-approaching to Beijing, China to establish collective regional defence shield against the heavy military presence of the USA in the region.
After distrust of more than half century, Islamabad and Moscow are now landed on the same page and inching/crawling on the road of further strengthening of bilateral relations in terms of trade and commerce, oil & gas cooperation and exploration, steel development and last but not the least military cooperation shows systematic response to US-India nexus in the region. It seems that India’s military standoff in June 2020 on its western border with China have forced New Delhi towards the US which has been trying to bolster allies against an increasingly assertive China. However, it will not be easy for India to easily operate diversified military technologies/systems/models and installations in the future because it has different and divergent national and international military systems i.e. Russian SU 30 MKI, MIG 29s, local Indian systems. Adaptability mechanism of the Indian armed forces will be doubtful in terms of BRAHMOS missile or the S 400 ABM system.
The IAF operational and tactical debacle at Balakot proved Indian pilots flying French aircraft to launch Israeli PGMs and ultimately they hit nothing in the end. Multiple independent systems operate within the Indian military in parallel, ie US, Russian, Israeli, British, French and indigenous platforms with their own technologies and compatible data would not be easily fixed, operationalized and channelized. Resultantly, Indian operational strategies will be disjointed, difficult to execute and self-defeating. Being a prominent regional expert of China, I uphold that the BECA deal will have serious geopolitical, political and military implications in the entire region for which Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow must chalk a comprehensive policy to deter the ill designs of the US-India partnership.
—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.