Explaining the India-US Logistics Support Agreement

28 Feb, 2008    ·   2500

Sameer Suryakant Patil argues that opposition to the LSA is misplaced as the Agreement will prove immensely beneficial for India

This week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is paying a two-day visit to India. On his agenda are many things, including the uncertain fate of the India-US nuclear deal, cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism, arms deals and the situation in Afghanistan. However, what has topped the agenda is the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) to be signed later this year between India and the US. Much has been made of the LSA by the opponents of the India-US strategic partnership. This article delineates the LSA and its likely implications for India.

The genesis of the LSA can be found in the Strategic Partnership document signed by both countries in March 2006 during the visit of the US President George W. Bush to New Delhi. The document stated that the US and India will soon sign an agreement to facilitate mutual logistic support during combined training, exercises and disaster relief operations. The agreement being envisaged was part of the larger security cooperation including maritime, counter-terrorism, defence trade and efforts for the speedy conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Afterwards, even as other areas of bilateral security cooperation blossomed, talks on LSA continued at snail's pace with India insisting that the agreement be renamed, citing domestic political compulsions. Currently, the LSA has been pending for more than six months before the Cabinet Committee on Security for clearance.

Stripped down to its basics, the LSA would require both countries to provide their bases, fuel and other kinds of logistics support to each others' fighter jets and naval warships. Logistical support with regard to weapons facilities would involve non-offensive military equipment. This support will involve cashless transactions on a reciprocal basis. The LSA would be particularly beneficial at the time of disaster relief operations like the one India undertook in the wake of the Asian Tsunami in 2004.

The LSA is similar to the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) that the US has with many of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. The ACSA is governed by legal guidelines and is used for contingencies, peacekeeping operations, unforeseen emergencies and also exercises to correct logistic deficiencies which cannot be met by a nation on its own.

In South Asia, Washington has a similar arrangement with Sri Lanka. Just last year in March, both countries signed ACSA (valid for 10 years) to transfer and exchange logistics supplies, support and re-fuelling of services during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations, and joint exercises. This is also a logical culmination of the growing familiarity between the two militaries which were part of the largest military exercises last year along with Japan, Australia and Singapore. The important aspect here is 'interoperability' meaning the Indian and US forces can work together in times of emergency without wasting any time in familiarizing themselves with each other's forces. India and the US are no strangers to the arrangement outlined under the LSA. During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the Indian government had provided refueling facility to American fighter jets at Mumbai's Sahar international airport. However, this move had come under criticism from opposition parties and the government had to withdraw the facility subsequently.

Opposition to the LSA comes mainly from the Left parties who do not want India to be party to the 'wrong designs' of the US military in the region and in the process, compromise India's strategic sovereignty. The LSA they argue, would oblige India to comply with Washington's agenda. Together with the civilian nuclear deal and the LSA, India's willingness to move closer to the US is what the Left parties do not want the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to do. Consequently, the UPA government has put on hold not only the LSA but also some other crucial bilateral defence measures intended to enhance India's presence in the region, including the Maritime Security Cooperation Framework and Container Security Initiative.

However, the concerns of the Left parties seem unfounded as the past records of many NATO allies have shown that merely by signing the LSA or ACSA, they did not necessarily have to identify with the US' global agenda, evident from the policies adopted by France and Germany during the US invasion of Iraq in 2004 and as recently as last fortnight when Australia (which is part of the US-led security alliance -- ANZUS) decided to withdraw from the quadrilateral initiative. Financially too the LSA makes good sense for India. According to some official estimates, with LSA in place, India would be able to save around US$20 million per war game, when Indian forces take part in any of the joint military exercises with the US on American soil like the Red Flag War Games. Thus, from both the strategic and economic aspects, the LSA works in India's favour. The fundamental question is whether India possesses the political will to forge a closer relationship with the US, and at the same time have all its options open for any eventuality.