Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)

  • India and the U.S. on September 6 signed the foundational or enabling agreement  COMCASA on the side-lines of the inaugural 2+2 dialogue. 
  • COMCASA stands for Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement and is one of the four foundational agreements that the U.S. signs with allies and close partners to facilitate interoperability between militaries and sale of high-end technology. 
  • COMCASA is an India-specific version of the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). It comes into force immediately and is valid for a period of 10 years. 
  • COMCASA allows India to procure transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for US origin military platforms like the C-17, C-130 and P-8Is.  Currently, these platforms use commercially available communication systems. 
  • The joint statement issued after the 2+2 dialogue said that it would facilitate access to advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilize its existing U.S.-origin  platforms. 
  • Specific additional provisions have been incorporated in the text to safeguard our security and national interests. 
  • This will also enable greater communications interoperability between the militaries of  India and the US. Data acquired through such systems cannot be disclosed or transferred to any person or entity without India’s consent. 
  • Both countries will implement this agreement in a manner that is consistent with the national security interests of the other. 
  • India had signed the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in  2002 and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The last one remaining is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial  Cooperation (BECA). 

What is COMCASA Agreement? 

  • COMCASA becomes particularly important as India is set to buy the combat version of  Sea Guardian drones from the United States. The US would not have provided India with the weapon systems on the drone without COMCASA. 
  • The COMCASA Agreement was signed by India and the United States on September 6,  2018, during the first-ever ‘two plus two’ dialogue which was held in New Delhi. The  Union Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis signed the COMCASA agreement.

COMCASA: India-specific version of CISMOA 

  • COMCASA is an India-specific version of the Communication and Information on  Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). 
  • The nomenclature was changed to COMCASA to make it India-specific and guarantee  New Delhi that the intelligence data shared between the two countries won't be shared with a third party. 

What is COMCASA? 

  • The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is one of the four foundational agreements that a country needs to sign to become a major defence partner of the United States. The agreement comes into effect immediately and has a lifespan of 10 years. 
  • The other three agreements are General Security of Military Information Agreement  (GSOMIA), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMoA) and the Basic  Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). 
  • COMCASA provides the legal framework for the US to part with its sensitive communication equipment and codes to enable the transfer of real-time operational information. This equipment is largely used for ground-to-air communication to enable the best battle situation awareness. 
  • It ensures that the militaries of the US and India can boost their "interoperability" as well as share operational intelligence in real-time in the years ahead.  
  • For instance, if a US warship or aircraft detects a Chinese submarine in the Indian Ocean, it can convey to India through warships or aircraft equipped with COMCASA-protected equipment in real-time. 
  • COMCASA allows the US to transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication and electronic systems as well as ensure secrecy of its C4ISR (command, control, communications,  computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems.

Significance 

  • The signing of COMCASA will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India's defence preparedness
  • The pact guarantees India access to critical US defence technologies and communication network to help the militaries of the two countries in their interoperability. 
  • COMCASA will allow India to procure transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for US origin military platforms like the C-17, C-130 and P-8Is.  
  • COMCASA will effectively mean that India shares the real-time American intelligence on military deployments by China and Pakistan. 
  • COMCASA becomes particularly important as India is set to buy the combat version of Sea  Guardian drones from the United States. The US would not have provided India with the weapon systems on the drone without COMCASA. 
  • However, the signing of the agreement does not mean that India would have to necessarily buy  American military equipment. 
  • Before signing the agreement, India made sure that it gets full access to equipment. There is no commitment to the acquisition and there will be no disruption as well. 


India as Defence Partner of the United States 

  • The US usually limits COMCASA, GSOMIA, LEMoA and BECA agreements to NATO allies such as Japan, South Korea and Australia - the major powers in the Indo-Pacific.
  • However, to restrain China's military expansion in the region, the US decided to join hands with India.
  • India had already signed the GSOMIA in 2002 and the LEMoA in 2016. The LEMoA gives access to both countries to designate military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment.  
  • The BECA, which facilitates the exchange of geo-spatial data, is yet to be signed ∙ The previously bought US military equipment by India is C-130 Hercules aircraft and the  Globemaster C-17 strategic lifters. This equipment came without original communications assets due to absence of COMCASA. India used its own communication  systems 
  • The US communication system is said to be secure and encrypted. 

Concerns about COMCASA  

  • COMCASA may harm India with respect to its military decisions and policy and in turn,  affect its sovereignty. 
  • Although it has provisions for not disclosing the information without India’s consent,  there is still concern about granting the U.S. access to Indian military communication system and in result compromise India’s defence secrecy. 
  • US military may penetrate India’s strategic areas like the nuclear command. It would hamper India’s geopolitical and strategic relations with other countries such as Russia and Iran. 

o It may compromise our high technology deals with Russia such as SU-30MKI combat aircraft. A lot of Russian-origin and indigenous Indian military communication platform may not be compatible with COMCASA. 

o These kinds of complicated arrangement are politically risky for the ruling government as even the previous LEMOA (signed in 2016) created a political ruckus in the country. 

Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) 

  • It is a foundational agreement of mutual logistic support between India and the U.S. 
  • In its finalized form, it is tweaked version of Logistic Support Agreement which the U.S  has with several countries it has close military ties. 
  • The pact gives access to both countries to destinated military facilities on either side for  the purpose of refuelling and replenishment. 
  • It covers four areas- port calls, joint exercises, training and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

What is the way forward?  

  • Signing the COMCASA with the U.S. is a welcome step considering the growing threats of China and Pakistan in the region.  
  • However, the government should also address the concerns about sovereignty issues and maintain good relations with its long-term friend Russia for better prospects in the long term.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor