Quad leaders’ virtual summit: Where Does India Stand?

March 11, 2021 2:28 PM

Many aspects like India’s technological competence to collaborate intrinsically within QUAD etc. are likely to evolve in the next couple of years.

India is expected to show some tentativeness in its military activities in the western Pacific waters. (File image)

By Milind Kulshreshtha

Prime Minister Modi will be holding virtual talks with US President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of both Australia and Japan in the first-ever leaders’ meeting of the Quad on 12th March’2021. QUAD is considered as a significant development coalesced primarily to counter China’s growing economic and military influence in the Western Pacific region. The economic collaboration and Climate crisis too shall be discussed in the Quad meeting.Issues regarding Maritime security and cooperation towards maintaining free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific are also planned to be discussed.

QUAD to QUAD Plus

Australia took part in Exercise Malabar 2020 last year as part of QUAD Navies and its involvement was viewed with concern by China. Overall, Australia amplifies the US posture in the region, and is seen by China as an impediment to its influence in the region. The option of QUAD growing into QUAD Plus with other countries from Europe and SE Asia participating shall be highly dependent on the accomplishment of the existing core team of QUAD. The effective implementation of a cohesive economic and military strategy by these nations shall surely encourage other regional countries to participate in the QUAD objective. India’s foreign policy is likely to seemore testing times in the near future.

US-India Core Agreements: COMCASA, BECA, LEMOA

Last year’s third annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue concluded a major agreement — BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement).

Agreements including COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) and LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA shall make India an active participant in the US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. And, this will be through military cooperation, information sharing and defence trade to achieve Joint service synchronization through interoperability. However, the technology behind BECA and COMCASA is highly advanced and can take a couple of years to be fully functional and be able to generate the Common Operational Picture (COP) amongst the multi-national units. Implementation of LEMOA is physical in nature and is about the resource redeployment, setting up of repair facilities etc. Making the BECA, COMCASA and LEMOA shall be critical for India for achieving an active and closer participation with the other NATO alliance countries.

Limitation of Space Capabilities

Despite some stellar performance by ISRO, Indian Defence Space Agency is at a nascent stage. The indigenous NAVIC Global Positioning System for mil-grade precision is yet to be implemented due to technological limitations. Collaboration with the advanced Defence Space network of QUAD shall enhance India’s surveillance competence. The all weather 24/7 military grade precision look’ capability in theIndo-Pacific and SE Asia region is critical for India. Chinese own dual-use Space capabilities are ahead of India’s efforts, and the physical or cyber threat to Indian satellite system from China is real.

Five Eyes Alliance (FVEY)

This is an intelligence-sharing partnership between the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. At some stage, the inclusion of three more countries viz. India, Japan and South Korea to FVEY is expected so as to counter China’s growing capabilities in military and cyber technologies.

BrahMos SSMs to Philippines

Even though India would have preferred to register Akash SAM sales to the Philippines in its order book, the planned Brahmos supply to the Philippines could be a conspicuous factor for China. Land based BrahMos SSMs shall provide the Philippines a reach to engage targets in the South China Sea. The fishing Trawler aggression by China in the South China Sea now shall have deterrence with highly lethal Brahmos missiles.

Malabar 2021 Plans

Malabar 2021 would be a keenly awaited naval exercise. Today Western Pacific is considered the new potent flash point where China and the US Naval task force are likely to see closer skirmishes for sea dominance. Malabar 2021 is still likely to be closer to Indian coasts.The East Coast of India may see intense Anti-Submarine Warfare collaborative drills by the QUAD flotilla. The Aircraft Carrier Battle Group is likely to be seen more on the West coast. The probability of deployment of the sole Aircraft carrier on the Eastern seaboard by Indian Navy during hostilities is likely to be low due to Chinese nuclear submarines (which can traverse freely and undetected with their long endurance underwater capabilities).

Conclusion

Even though Indian R&D and defence industry can keep claiming a series of successes on each ‘test cycle’, China shall always be a potent adversary in the region since it has the ability to replace its destroyed or damaged war-fighting assets at a pace which is far superior to that by any other nation around. This gives a decisive edge to a nation in any combat zone. An arms race with an adversary like China is something India cannot afford to start now or in the near future. QUAD based jointness may be more than simply a choice for India, and probably a necessity to maintain the positive pressure on an adversary with whom we share a disputed border, is aggressive and expansionist Superpower in economic and military terms. A well measured approach in the QUAD, with a clearly defined role can make this inevitable relationship advantageous for India.

Many aspects like India’s technological competence to collaborate intrinsically within QUAD etc. are likely to evolve in the next couple of years. India is expected to show some tentativeness in its military activities in the western Pacific waters; however, this may be the right approach while we are still building modern armed forces with objectives like Theater Commands for Maritime and Air Defence operations.

(The author is a Strategic and C4I expert. He can be contacted on milind.kulshrehstha@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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