NEW DELHI: India is now set to get access to advanced satellite imagery, topographical and aeronautical digital data in real time from the US for further enhancing the accuracy of its missiles and armed drones as well as long-range navigation of military aircraft.

The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), just days ahead of a bitterly contested US election, reflects the Indian government's close cooperation with the Trump administration as well as its confidence that the pact will enjoy bi-partisan support in America.

The inking of BECA for exchange of highly-classified geospatial intelligence, without the risk of it being compromised, was officially announced after defence minister Rajnath Singh conducted a delegation-level meeting with his US counterpart Mark Esper on Monday afternoon.

After a separate meeting with foreign minister S Jaishankar, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said, "We see each other for what we are: great democracies, global powers, and really good friends."

The two sides discussed several bilateral measures to further enhance their already expansive defence cooperation and intelligence-sharing as well as developments in the Indo-Pacific region in the backdrop of India’s ongoing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China.

With China indulging in expansionist and belligerent behaviour in the entire Indo-Pacific region, Esper also welcomed India’s recent decision to invite Australia to take part in its top-notch trilateral Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan next month.

The inking of BECA will be a major takeaway. India inked the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with the US in 2002, which was followed by the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, and then the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) in 2018.

TOI had last week reported India and the US were all set to ink BECA, which had been hanging fire for well over a decade, during the two-plus-two dialogue on Tuesday.

The previous UPA regime had stonewalled LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA during its 10-year tenure on the ground that it would compromise India’s “strategic autonomy”. In its initial period, UPA was held back by Left being a supporting party. But the NDA government has stressed there are “enough India-specific safeguards” built into these pacts to protect the country’s sovereign interests.

LEMOA provides for reciprocal logistics support like refuelling and berthing facilities for each other's warships and aircraft, while the COMCASA has paved the way for India to get greater access to advanced military technologies with encrypted and secure communications and data links like armed Predator-B or Sea Guardian drones.

There are still some lingering concerns about BECA, especially since India has its own robust satellite imaging capabilities. “But we don’t have the capabilities that provide real-time and accurate data for long-range missile-targeting and navigation,” said an official.

The continuing military confrontation with an intransigent China in eastern Ladakh has accelerated the inking of BECA, much like the decision to invite Australia for the Malabar naval exercise last week.

The US, of course, is providing military intelligence to India during the current crisis like it did during the 73-day military confrontation at Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in June-August 2017. “BECA will further smoothen the process,” he said.

China will also be in the cross-hairs when the 24th edition of Malabar is held in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea in two phases in the first and third weeks of November. It will mark the first time the “Quad” countries will come together for the combat manoeuvres on the high seas after a gap of 13 years.

The US, of course, has bagged lucrative Indian defence deals worth $21 billion just since 2007, which include the $3 billion ones for 24 MH-60 'Romeo’ naval helicopters and six Apache attack choppers signed during President Donald Trump’s visit here in February.