The BECA Pact


The BECA Pact

During the third round of 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between India and the United States, both countries signed Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation, or BECA, whereby the US has allowed India access to a range of sensitive geospatial and aeronautical data that is crucial for military action. Under the agreement, the United States will provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India.  It also means that the US can fit high-end navigational equipment in the aircraft it supplies to India. It is important to note here that BECA is among the few deals that the US signs with close partners. That two of America’s most senior officials—Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—travelled in person to meet their counterparts during times of Covid, and a week before the US presidential vote, is an indication of just how important these talks were.

In what is being widely viewed as a progressive officialising of India’s fealty to the United States, the two sides, on October 27, signed the fourth and final ‘foundational military pact’ called the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA). During the 2+2 Dialogue, held between US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on one side, and India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, on the other, the two sides also signed a clutch of other deals in the fields of nuclear energy, earth sciences and alternative medicine. But BECA is the most significant deal among them as it will allow India access geospatial data from US military satellites which can be applied to its missile and defence technologies. The information that the two countries will exchange will include both classified and unclassified data—maps, topographical images and military coordinates. The information exchange also covers nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data.

Is China the target?

Experts believe that the strengthening of India-US ties is aimed at countering China’s influence in the region. The US Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed at containing China has made some progress with the signing of BECA. The agreement will not only support Indian military activity on its border with Pakistan and China but will also provide India with accurate information on Chinese Navy’s movement in the Indian Ocean. The timing of the agreement is also remarkable as it has come at a time when India is locked in one of its most hostile standoffs with China along their disputed border in the Himalayan region. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in a clash that erupted between troops on both sides in June this year, sparking months-long rounds of diplomatic talks to ease tensions. But that has not helped to de-escalate hostilities so far.

The US seems to have sensed an opportunity in the India-China border standoff and wants to further raise its profile in the region. The BECA is being seen as a signal to China that Washington considers Delhi a close military ally. The US military help that could improve the accuracy of Indian weapons amid the China-India border standoff will make the pulses of some already excited Indian forces beat faster, and India is likely to stir up more and bigger troubles along the China-India border to aggravate the border situation. But there is absolutely no chance for India to reverse the reality of the military power gap between China and India, not to mention defeating China in possible military conflicts.

Commenting on real US motives behind this agreement, Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese government wrote: “The US has adjusted its China policy and tried to exploit gains from every possible means. Such a strategic impulse can be explained by its hegemonic logic. But if Washington is serious in waging a new cold war against China, it is bound to meet a dead end. India’s selfish opportunism is exacerbating due to its border disputes with China. Together with its extreme nationalistic opinion among its public, New Delhi is at sea. What does India really want? What goals are realistic and what are not? What can India get by pressuring China together with the US? New Delhi is lost. Many Indians were moved when Pompeo and Esper paid tribute to Indian soldiers who died in the Galwan Valley. But did the Indians ever think why?  US senior officials have not even paid tribute to the 220,000 Americans who died of Covid-19. Now they come to India to offer condolences to Indian troops at a war memorial. It is nothing but a Greek gift.”

India’s Servility to the United States

Although Modi government has touted that BECA will help India strike military targets with its missiles and bombs with greater precision and that it will also help India upgrade and improve its maps, the reality is that by signing BECA, India has potentially mortgaged the digitised military capability of its three services – army, air force and navy – to the United States. What prompted the Modi government to take this mindlessly suicidal extreme step, considering India is neither a US military ally nor has it received any commitment that the US military would fight its wars? Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggests the answer. On the eve of the BECA signing, she tweeted, “Arguably without Doklam and Ladakh crisis, India would not have got to yes on COMCASA or reportedly BECA.”Hero_img2

India has cut off its nose to spite the Chinese by flaunting untested strategic ties with the US, in the hope that US geospatial intelligence and real-time images datasets would help the accuracy of India’s long range firepower comprising its cruise missiles, multi-barrel rocket systems and probably the Russian S-400 air defence missile system once it joins the inventory.

The huge volume of US datasets from diverse sensors would come to Indian command centres through the special COMCASA equipment. Since good quality, real-time datasets are the new ammunition of digitised warfare, this can be platformed quickly (perhaps using US-assisted Artificial Intelligence) to both the armed drones being procured from the US as well as other weapon platforms with the three services for precise stand-off firepower.U.S. Secretary of State of Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper visit India

On the face of it, this would be great. But deep down, India has created space for the US to exercise widespread mala fide activities on the cyber front, should it so decide. Malicious cyber activities do not happen only through cyberspace, but through systems too. These include computer software, embedded processors, routers, all wired and wireless transmission, controllers and so on. While systems are accessed through cyberspace, there are other paths that cyber warriors can use to introduce egregious errors into computer systems without using the internet.

Russia is watching

The BECA is being taken as a step forward in deepening India-US military ties. India is one of the world’s biggest defence equipment buyers, but around 60-70% of its inventory is supplied by Russia but it, reportedly, saw its share of defence exports to India fall from 72 to 56 percent over 2015-19. Analysts opine that arms sales by the US are evidently the crux of the BECA, as they seek to promote military transfers to partner countries as a means to “standardise” their defence systems for easing interoperability. This has been articulated by many a US official; as for instance R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military (PM) Affairs. Speaking on 5 October on ‘Aligning Arms Sales in the Indo-Pacific with US Great Power Competition Objectives’, he maintained that as the US partners and allies could not be expected to stand up to China on their own, it was necessary to create an interoperable network with them, so as to enhance their security capabilities through arms sales and security assistance processes.96a3c146547bf60f0702e19c5a988fab

All this is not lost on Russia which is watching the US-India cooperation cautiously. India will also be mindful of its relations with Russia. So, it will be interesting to see how it balances its military and strategic ties with both Washington and Moscow.

Element of Secrecy

Despite the openness of American society, where all official decisions and policies are in the public domain, these foundational agreements have been shrouded in secrecy and designated “non-public documents” at the behest of the Modi administration, which has routinely denied government information to Parliament and the public. This raises the question as to what worries it about these accords that it seeks to keep beyond public scrutiny.Blitt_Kvetchbook_final_092519

Implications for Pakistan

China-India stand-off may have impacted Indian readiness to sign BECA with the US. For India, however, Pakistan remains a significant and core concern. Not only Pakistan gets more coverage in the Indian strategic and public discourse it remains central to the planning of Indian military force structure. Additionally, Pakistan also becomes relevant to such developments because of the idea of a two-front war scenario with Pakistan and China that is being discussed in India’s strategic circles.

Pakistan’s concerns over the shift in Indian policy to counter-force targeting have been aggravated with Indian access to real-time and accurate data on Pakistan’s military infrastructure. India is developing a range of missiles that can be used for counter-force targeting in Pakistan. Real-time data on military targets in Pakistan would increase the lethality and accuracy of Indian missiles such as BrahMos and Nirbhay cruise missiles, Agni III ballistic, and K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Future Indian hypersonic missiles would also benefit from these developments.

Pakistan should seek clarity from the US government over the provisions of BECA and get assurances of not sharing any sensitive data on Pakistan’s military infrastructure with India. Although India already has its Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, access to the data from the US will complement those capabilities.

Furthermore, sensitive information on the military and other infrastructure of other smaller countries will weaken their military and diplomatic bargaining positions vis-à-vis India. They will have difficult choices to make then on their relations with China and/or to comply with the US and Indian interests in the region.


What are Foundational Agreements?

Foundational agreements are those the US signs with countries it has close military ties with. They have much common ground, meant as they are to build basic groundwork and promote interoperability between militaries by creating common standards and systems. They also guide sales and transfers by the US of high-end technologies, so they have a strong commercial element that clearly advantages the US, by far the world’s largest arms exporter.

Beginning 2016, India has signed three foundational agreements:

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA),

The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) while

The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed a long time ago.


It was signed in 2002 between India and USA.

GSOMIA paved the way for greater technology cooperation in the military sector.

It allows the sharing of classified information from the US government and American companies with the Government of India and Defence Public Sector Undertakings, but not with Indian private companies.


Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is a logistics support agreement signed in 2016.

It gives both the nations access to each other’s military facilities. But it does not make it automatic or obligatory.

It is a tweaked India-specific version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) which the US has with several countries it has close military to military cooperation.

The agreement will primarily cover four areas — port calls, joint exercises, training and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. Any other requirement has to be agreed upon by both sides on a case-by-case basis.


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.

It would facilitate access to advanced defence systems and enable India to utilise its existing US-origin platforms.ElVqxOnVgAEZH-m

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.


With the signing of these strategic agreements, India is getting the status of a US ally fighting against a common enemy. They raise the US expectations from India to act for promoting and protecting the US strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region. The US administrations want to make India a balancer to China in its Indo-Pacific strategy. However, they have also concerns about the outcome of such efforts due to Indian shortcomings as net security provider when it comes to delivering on the US expectations.

It seems apt to conclude this piece in the words of Prof. Harsh V. Pant who wrote in an article for ORF: “Despite the rise of China bringing New Delhi closer to Washington, it has been a matter of faith that there’s absolutely no possibility of India ever entering into an alliance relationship with the US. It can sign the civil nuclear pact, it can sign foundational defence agreements, it can converge on the Indo-Pacific but it won’t ever lead to an alliance relationship. All this merely to underline that such an alliance would lead to India losing its much vaunted strategic autonomy.”

This agreement means that India has decided to give up its strategic autonomy; and any hope for arriving at a working relationship with China; and entered the great power competition as a US ally. By doing so, it has also relinquished its own claim to be regarded as a great power in its own right and acceded in reality to the role of a junior proxy in the great power game. Only time and history will tell whether this was an opportunistic move by India, which we believe has neither the intent, nor will have the capacity to match China in the foreseeable future.


The writer is a member of staff.

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