Left-forbidden talks with US

India and the US are in talks on an information-secrecy agreement to collaborate in the development of a new class of aircraft carriers for the Indian Navy ahead of defence secretary Ashton Carter's scheduled visit next week.

By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 9.04.16
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New Delhi, April 8: India and the US are in talks on an information-secrecy agreement to collaborate in the development of a new class of aircraft carriers for the Indian Navy ahead of defence secretary Ashton Carter's scheduled visit next week.

Called the "Information Exchange Agreement", the pact is designed for sharing of classified data. Signing the navy-to-navy agreement will formalise the collaboration in the project to build a new generation of aircraft carriers for the Indian Navy.

Even in recording the progress on sharing the sensitive technology, along with considering new agreements such as the "Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)", Indian officials say they have told the US that India cannot consider being a part of joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean region.

The US has not made a structured proposal for such patrols but both sides have jointly stated that they are in favour of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China and five other countries have conflicting claims in the South China Sea where the US last year conducted patrols that went into areas claimed by Beijing.

The administration in New Delhi has been so far wary of signing these agreements, primarily because of opposition from the Left. The LEMOA is a re-christening of the Logistics Support Agreement that the US began signing with its Nato allies and then with other friendly countries.

But the political heft that the Narendra Modi government carries has pushed the defence establishments here and in the Pentagon to probably the friendliest military-to-military cooperation in recent years.

"The Modi government is seriously considering signing the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which will convert India into a military ally of the United States on par with countries like Pakistan, Philippines and South Korea," wrote former CPM general secretary Prakash Karat in an article titled "Bharat Mata with Stars and Stripes" on a website today.

"The LSA, which is another name for the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements (ACSA), will provide for the respective militaries to use each other's base facilities for logistic support such as refuelling and berthing facilities and to borrow specified "non lethal" defence equipment for use elsewhere. This would facilitate the United States using India's air force and naval facilities for military operations against third countries," Karat wrote in the article.

Talks on collaborating on designing an aircraft carrier are part of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that Prime Minister Modi and President Barack Obama decided to bolster in their meetings last year.

US defence secretary Carter is expected in India on April 10 for three-day talks with Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar. Carter will begin his tour with a visit to the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier at the INS Kadamba, the Indian naval base in Karwar, Karnataka.

Of the six "pathfinder projects" identified under the DTTI, Indian and US officials acknowledge progress in the talks on sharing aircraft carrier technology.

The Indian Navy is looking closely at the US navy's Gerald R Ford-class of carriers for its Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-II (IAC-II), an ambitious project for its next generation of carriers. The Indian Navy is scheduled to retire one of its two carriers, the INS Viraat, in November this year. The first IAC-1, to be named the Vikrant, is scheduled for sea trials towards the end of next year.

The IAC-II - with a probable tonnage of 65,000, that is still on the drawing board - is tentatively called the Vishal. India is considering the EMALS (Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System) - a technology being developed for the Gerald R. Ford class to launch aircraft from flight decks faster.

The aircraft carrier technology consultations have progressed alongside discussions on what the Pentagon calls the "foundational agreements".

A draft of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), to be renamed the "Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement" (LEMOA) has been agreed. But there are doubts on whether it would be signed during Carter's upcoming visit.

The two other agreements the US has been trying to convince India to sign for the last 12 years is a Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and a Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA).