India and the US are Already Implementing the LEMOA Logistics Pact

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US sailors conducting a replenishment-at-sea during Exercise Malabar 2017 in the Bay of Bengal. Image Credit: Jacob M. Milham / US Navy

India and US are operationalising the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) according to new reporting from Manu Pubby of ThePrint.

According to Pubby, the two sides have commenced small exchanges and ‘Indian Navy ships currently on overseas deployment may shortly resupply with American assistance.’

These minor exchanges have involved both the armies and navies. Pubby reports that ‘elements’ of the agreement were put to use during the annual Yudh Abhyas exercise between the two armies, held this year in Washington state in September.

Pubby also cites anonymous sources to write that ‘a test project under LEMOA was carried out during the Malabar naval exercise in July this year, when an Indian tanker hooked up with a US destroyer in the Bay of Bengal.’

Of course, this sort of symbolic refuelling of a warship is only one facet of a wide-ranging logistics agreement like LEMOA. In July, Pubby had reported that the US and Indian navies had not operationalised the agreement during the Malabar exercise. Pubby had then reported that ‘a lack of clarity on the authority chain to be followed and the points of contact to be approached on the Indian side is believed to have held back the actual operationsalisation of the pact.’ This is despite the fact that several US naval ships and aircraft were in Chennai during the Malabar exercise in July.

India’s hesitant embrace of foundation agreements

LEMOA, signed last August, is supposed to allow the armed forces of both countries to use certain facilities of the other for refuelling and replenishment. One practical benefit of the agreement is that outstanding bills for services can be tallied by both sides, with one side paying the other the difference at year’s end. But the two sides are also hoping for broader strategic benefits: Easing operations over long distances and drawing the armed forces of the countries closer.

LEMOA is only one of multiple ‘foundation agreements’ that Washington is trying to get Delhi to sign. But India agreed to the more basic LEMOA with reluctance and after much hand wringing. The most colourful warnings came from strategic expert Bharat Karnad, who warned of several serious strategic and even social consequences. Less strident critics called for an informed debate.

During his visit to India last month, US defense secretary Jim Mattis probably discussed other major foundational agreements, like the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).

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