Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)

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  • COMCASA is one of three foundational agreements that guide US high technology cooperation in defence sector with other countries.
  • It was earlier called Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) before name was changed to reflect its India-specific nature.
  • Other two agreements are Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and BECA.
  • COMCASA is meant to facilitate use of high-end secured communication equipment to be installed on military platforms being sold to India by US to fully exploit their potential.
  • It essentially provides legal framework for transfer of communication security equipment from US to India that will facilitate interoperability between armed forces of both countries and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secure data links.
  • Interoperability in this case means that there will be access to encrypted and secret technologies or communications.
  • India is currently dependent on commercially available and less secure communication systems on high-end US defence platforms like C-130Js and P8I maritime surveillance aircraft.

 

India’s stand:

  • After initial reluctance of government and reservation of defence ministry, India has signed COMCASA.
  • The agreement will give Indian military access to function on high-end secured and encrypted communication equipment which are installed on American platforms obtained by Indian Armed Forces. These platforms include C-130 J, C-17, P-8I aircraft, and Apache and Chinook helicopters.
  • The agreement was pending for almost ten years. One of the major reasons for this was the fear that India may compromise its operational independence.
  • Critics had also pointed out that the agreement could jeopardise India’s established military ties with Russia and access to their weapons systems.
  • These agreements and Donald Trump administration’s decision to give India STA-1 status (Strategic Trade Authorization-1) shows the country’s importance in the US strategic calculus.

 

Significance of COMCASA:

  • It will enable Indian military to get a better picture of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which is seeing increasing Chinese movements.
  • With COMCASA, Indian armed forces will get to fully exploit the capability of the military platforms procured from the US. For instance, the P-8I reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy which have emerged as a major force multiplier are currently operating at limited capacity.
  • As a consequence of COMCASA, India will get access to Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, or CENTRIXS, which is the secure communication system network of the US.
  • Navy ships with CENTRIXS on board can communicate securely with the U.S. Navy when needed and can benefit from the wider situational picture of the region as they have a large number of ships and aircraft deployed. This will reduce the stress on the assets and allow prioritising the deployments more efficiently.
  • CENTRIXS consists of a collection of coalition wide area networks (WAN) known as enclaves” and is a “great enabler, allowing ship-to-ship operational dialogue between the two nations in text and web-based formats.

 

Safeguards:

  • It is believed that there are persistent concerns that this would allow U.S. Navy access to India’s own secure communication network and also that the information shared with the U.S. will be accessible by Pakistan.
  • Officials brushed aside these fears as specific measures have been incorporated in the agreement to “have full access to the relevant equipment and there will be no disruptions”.
  • Data acquired through such systems cannot be disclosed or transferred to any person or entity without India’s consent.
  • It is an enabling instrument and does not commit India to acquiring U.S. platforms.

 

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