By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)
LEMOA is a document that establishes basic terms, conditions and procedures for reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies and services between the armed forces of India and the United States
On August 29 this year, India and the United States took a big step forward towards strengthening their relationship, especially in respect of ties in the regime of defence, by successfully concluding the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). This historic agreement that was signed at the Pentagon by Manohar Parrikar, the Indian Minister of Defence, and Dr Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defense, would facilitate the provision of logistical support, supplies and services between the militaries of India and the US on a reimbursable basis. Specifically, the LEMOA would include provisioning of food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, provisioning of spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services and port services. The agreement will allow the armed forces of India and the US to operate closely by using each other’s bases for logistics support. For India, the signing of LEMOA is likely to provide unprecedented opportunities such as gaining access to US military bases in Djibouti and Diego Garcia, something that was not possible without the involvement of the US in a documented mutual agreement.
Quite expectedly, the signing of LEMOA was objected to by the political parties in India opposed to the government who invariably have a negative view of policy decisions solely on account of political compulsions. These agencies described the step using various bizarre expressions characterised with sheer negativity such as “fundamental departure from India’s time-tested policy of strategic military neutrality”, “compromised Indian sovereignty” and “surrendered strategic autonomy”.
Be that as it may, the agreement in fact ratifies an informal and ad hoc arrangement that had already been in place between the armed forces of the two nations. Converting it to a formal agreement will help enhance Indo-US military cooperation. It would not only significantly enhance the operational capability of the Indian armed forces but also make it easier for them as also for armed forces of the US, to carry out joint activities such as training and exercises. It will also reduce the response time of the Indian armed forces deployed for the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions across the globe.
The agreement in fact ratifies an informal and ad hoc arrangement that had already been in place between the armed forces of the two nations. Converting it to a formal agreement will help enhance Indo-US military cooperation.
LEMOA is actually a modified version of Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) that was proposed by the US for the first time in 2004. Unfortunately, the UPA Government remained opposed to the proposal during its tenure up to 2014 as, in their perception, it would have been regarded by the world as India entering into a military alliance with the US. In fact, providing military logistics support to the US armed forces has always been a politically contentious issue in India. Whether it was the case of permitting American military aircraft to land at Indian airfields for refuelling during the first Gulf War or the proposal to send a Brigade of the Indian Army to fight together with the US Army in the second Gulf War, the political establishment in India was understandably divided. However, the global geopolitical scenario has been evolving over the last few years bringing India and the US closer to each other driven primarily by congruent national security interests. The growing belligerence of China not only in the South China Sea and in the Asia-Pacific region, but the increasing presence and activities of the Chinese military along the borders with Tibet and in Pakistan occupied Kashmir have inspired the strategic option on the part of India to collaborate with the US to counter new threats to national security in the future.
Earlier this year, India and the US came to an ‘in-principle’ agreement on the LSA proposed by the US. Although, the US has already entered into LSA with more than 60 nations across the world, most of whom are not allies of the US. The LSA was based on a standard format, but the Indian Government insisted on a number of changes essentially to address concerns of unfettered access by the US military to Indian military establishments as also apprehensions the possibility of the US seeking to set up military bases in India. The government of the day did not want India to be seen as becoming an ally of the US. With the changes proposed by India incorporated, the document was renamed as LEMOA. The LEMOA is thus a version of the standard US Logistics Support Agreement tailored for India and is formally described as “a document that establishes basic terms, conditions and procedures for reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies and services between the armed forces of India and the US”.
In the recent past, both India and the US have indicated the intent to strengthen ties and enhance defence cooperation. Signing of the LEMOA is clearly a positive step in that direction. Besides, success of LEMOA will help set a precedent for other future military pacts between the two countries.