The 2+2 meet has deepened India's military relationship with the US. COMCASA will enable India to access secure US communications equipment. Indian military assets can now plug into the CENTRIXS communications grid. CENTRIXS communication equipment is installed on Indian warships before the exercise begins and uninstalled after it ends

by Sandeep Unnithan

The recently concluded Two Plus Two dialogue and the inking of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) has significantly deepened India's military relationship with the United States, particularly in the maritime sphere.

Other significant developments include a major trilateral exercise to be held in eastern India next year and an outreach towards the Manama-based US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which will see an Indian naval officer posted there as defence attache.

COMCASA will enable India to access secure US communications equipment that support encrypted datalinks like Link 16 and its successor, Link 22, which seamlessly links ground, air, surface and subsurface assets to present a common tactical picture.

This equipment could for instance enhance the Indian Navy's 'Maritime Domain Awareness', allowing it to obtain real-time data about the presence of Chinese warships, submarines and aircraft in the Indian Ocean.

All major US-origin platforms like the C-130J and P-8I Poseidon aircraft are being sold without high-end US communications equipment and feature commercial-grade communication systems, thus limiting their capabilities.

Indian military assets can now plug into the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System or CENTRIXS communications grid on a permanent basis.

CENTRIXS provides secure voice and data communication among US coalition partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Indian warships presently access CENTRIXS Cooperative Maritime Forces Pacific that links the US with Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korean naval platforms only for the duration of the multilateral Malabar Exercises.

CENTRIXS communication equipment is installed on Indian warships before the exercise begins and uninstalled after it ends.

The joint statement released after the inaugural India-US 2+2 ministerial dialogue on September 6 commits "to start exchanges between NAVCENT and the Indian Navy, underscoring the importance of deepening their maritime cooperation in the western Indian Ocean".

A point, re-emphasised by defence minister Sitharaman in her press statement that day: "Reflecting our wider global partnership, we will also enhance our interactions with the United States military's Central Command."

Until now, India was addressed only by the Hawaii-based INDO-PACOM and Pakistan by CENTCOM, evidently part of a US-policy to place allies with serious differences, under different operational commands. (Israel falls under the US European Command, Arab countries under CENTCOM).

Manama also houses the US Fifth Fleet responsible for naval operations in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Western Indian Ocean.

India has remained under the ambit of the Hawaii-based Pacific Command for several decades now. The command was renamed the Indo-Pacific command on May 31 this year. Naval analysts say the CENTCOM outreach is significant. "It opens up the possibility of our participating in joint exercises in the western Indian Ocean and Africa," says Vice Admiral Jagjit Singh Bedi, former C-in-C of the Western Naval Command.

An Indian Navy spokesperson said the government was working on the appointment of a Captain-ranked naval officer in NAVCENT to improve liasoning with CENTCOM. "For us, the officer will be an observer and an enabler."

INDO-PACOM steers the annual trilateral Malabar naval exercises held between the navies of India, the United States and Japan. NAVCENT will be an important node for coordinating a new series of triservices exercises, which will be held annually and for which it will liase with the triservice Headquarters of India's Integrated Defence Staff (HQ-IDS).

The yet to be named triservices exercises will kick off on the east coast of India next year. Officials say the amphibious exercise will most likely be held in Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh and will feature an amphibious exercise where the three services will provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The NAVCENT outreach started with the 16th meeting of the Indo-US Military Cooperation Group (MCG) in Hawaii last November, chaired by the Pacific Command.

The MCG, which is the primary forum for developing, implementing and refining a five-year military-to-military plan, for the first time, included CENTCOM representatives.