The landmark Indo-US logistics pact that provides for cashless refuelling, replenishment and related services to the militaries of the two countries could be functional as early as July with most of the kinks ironed out, informed sources said.
“The agreement is likely to be implemented before the Malabar exercise,” the sources told IANS referring to the annual India-US-Japan naval drill in the Bay of Bengal that is slated for July.
Manohar Parrikar, then India’s Defence Minister and his US counterpart at the time, Ashton Carter, had inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) last August.
Under this, both countries will designate military facilities on either side for facilities like refuelling and replenishment — with the books being balanced at the end of year.
During joint exercises like Malabar, both countries were required to make payments each time for using each other’s facilities. Now, the accounts will be settled once a year.
According to the sources, the details of the agreement have been worked out, with India sharing its “point of contact” list. The US had shared its list last year.
This list lays down the ports globally where vessels of the two countries can dock to take on supplies.
The sources also said that the vexed issue of arriving at a common accounting system for the three services has also been resolved.
The agreement had been pending for 10 years, with the former Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government fighting shy of expressing its opinion one way or the other.
It comes at a time when the US has been vocal about the growing activities of China in the South China sea and has repeatedly stressed on freedom of navigation.
LEMOA is a tweaked, India-specific version of the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which the US had first proposed in 2004 at the sixth meeting of the India-US Defence Policy Group.
The LSA, in turn, is a version of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) that the US has with several NATO nations.
India had provided logistics support to the US during the 1990-91 Gulf War, when the Chandra Shekhar-led government under Chandra Shekhar granted overflight rights US militaty planes and even permitted refueling — but revoked this after protests.
During the 2004 Tsunami, US support came in handy with India lacking the capability to provide assistance to the vast affected areas, as it did after 2015 Nepal earthquake.
Experts say the agreement will help provide such humanitarian assistance in future.
Laxman Behera, a member of IDSA’s Defence Economics and Industry Centre, termed the pact a “step forward” in consolidating the India-US strategic partnership.
“This is another example of growing proximity in relations between the two countries. It will be helpful for India, because if the army, navy or air force goes somewhere, you would not have to complete the formalities for logistics support,” Behera told IANS.
The pact will benefit the navy the most, he added.