April 27, 2022
International law

This article is written by Shivi Khanna, a student of School of Law, Sushant University, Gurugram. This article is an attempt to understand COMCASA, its intricacies and its functions. The Agreement’s impact on India after its signing in 2018 is also examined.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Taking into account the complex geopolitical situation with respect to international relations, navigating sensitive sectors such as defence and national security can be challenging. The US had come up with the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) as a measure to meet this challenge of building an efficient defence network with its allies. The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement or COMCASA (hence referred to as the Agreement) is the successor of the GSOMIA and is India-specific. 

The COMCASA is merely one agreement in the chain of agreements that the US has come up with to build on its interest in the Asia-Pacific region. The BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) and LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), are examples of the other agreements the US uses to tie up with its military partners. The main purpose of COMCASA is to facilitate military relations, communications and the exchange of valuable technologies. When it comes to maintaining diplomatic relations, the intricacies of each partner, such as the culture, history, language, etc. need to be taken into account.

Background of the COMCASA

As the successor to GSOMIA, the COMCASA in its inception was targeted toward India and was signed on September 6th 2018. The signing representatives of India and the US were Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis, respectively. 

At the time of signing in 2018, the two signatories to the Agreement – India and US – issued a joint statement, that COMCASA would:

The Agreement also paved the way for India to purchase certain weapons, such as combat drones, from the US military. The US also gained a certain degree of confidence in selling the defence systems to India after signing the Agreement. At the same time, there was also a guarantee that sensitive information connected to national security would not be leaked out beyond the two parties to the Agreement. The platforms facilitated by COMCASA also allow secure communication with other countries using US-origin platforms and systems.

Factors that delayed the signing of the COMCASA

The following factors led to hesitancy or delays before the signing of the COMCASA in 2018:-

Foundational agreements other than COMCASA

The foundational agreements (including COMCASA) form the foundation or rather the bedrock of the US-India defence partnership. These agreements cover different facets of the military cooperation between India and the US, however, they also share many common points, such as the need for confidentiality, and are tailor-made to fit the Indian scenario. In order to understand the role and functions of COMCASA, it is also important to examine the functions and inter-linkages it has with the other foundational agreements.

Now, let us have a look at each of the foundational agreements. 

What is GSOMIA

The GSOMIA or the General Security of Military Information Agreement was signed between India and the US on 17th January 2002. The main objective was to regulate and promote the exchange of sensitive military information between the two countries. The COMCASA is the successor to the GSOMIA and contains  more in-depth provisions to facilitate and regulate communications between the India and American militaries.

What is LEMOA

The LEMOA or the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement is a version adapted from the original LSA or Logistics Support Agreement. Both, the LEMOA and COMCASA have been adapted from their original templates to fit in with the Indian scenario. The LEMOA was signed on 29th August  2016, two years before COMCASA. The LEMOA was also the first of the foundational agreements to be signed.

Logistical tasks such as refuelling and resupplying are crucial aspects of any military activity or exercise. The LEMOA facilitates the process of providing logistical support from one military ally to another. Supplies include the basics such as food, water, clothing medicine etc. Similar to the COMCASA, the LEMOA caters specifically to India. Therefore, the task of providing logistical support to each other falls to the Indian and US militaries, respectively. Instead of dealing with this exchange of strategic supplies and resources on an ad-hoc or case-by-case basis, the LEMOA has given a formal structure and integrity to the process, which includes the payment aspect. India does have a history of supplying the US military from time to time, therefore, this Agreement is not a deviation or some conspiracy by the US to subtly concert India into a supply base as has been alleged by interest groups.  Unlike the airforce and army, the navy has a higher need for refuelling and resupplying. The LEMOA has, therefore, allowed the navy to become relatively more unfettered and stable in fulfilling its objective of protecting national security.

What is BECA

The BECA was signed on October 27, 2020 and became the last agreement to be signed among the 4 foundational agreements. The BECA or Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement is an Agreement between the US Department of Defence and the Indian Ministry of Defence. The BECA focuses on the exchange of unclassified information obtained from satellites, such as nautical maps, aeronautical charts, gravity fields, etc. Moreover, there are also provisions for the exchange of classified information which is used by weapons such as missiles and combat drones. This exchange of classified information is also protected from leakage to a third party. Through the BECA, India can gain access to hardware and software from the US, for instance, the necessary technology and data for controlling certain missile systems.

Similarities between the COMCASA, GSOMIA, LEMOA and BECA

The four foundational agreements – GSOMIA (2002), LEMOA (2016), COMCASA (2018) and BECA (2020) are agreements which are India-specific and regulate the military cooperation between India and the US. The usual trend for the past few decades has been the US preferring to sign military cooperation agreements with North Atlantic Treaty Allies (NATO allies), and major powers in the Asia-Pacific region such as South Korea, Australia, etc.

The four foundational agreements cover a wide array of factors with respect to military cooperation and communication. They cover exchange of information, military technologies, cooperation, communications, logistics, etc. It is due to the existence of these agreements that India and the US can be formally called ‘defence partners.’ These agreements also formally and legally bind the two countries to their obligations to each other as per the terms of the agreements.

Maintaining confidentiality and preventing leakage of intelligence is a universal feature of the agreements. The agreements also lend some legitimacy to allow the US to act more freely in the Asia-Pacific region with the pretext of keeping China in check.

Difference between the COMCASA, GSOMIA, LEMOA and BECA

What is COMCASA : an overview

The COMCASA is one of the many milestones on the long road to further developing India-US relations as partners and military allies. In a way, the COMCASA has become the bedrock upon which the militaries of the two countries can securely exchange and communicate sensitive information. Improving national security, capturing international criminals, pirates, smugglers, etc. in an efficient way through communication and cooperation, are some of the advantages of the COMCASA. The COMCASA from its date of signing in 2018 is supposed to be valid for a decade, i.e. its term lasts till 2028.

The COMCASA essentially creates a net that makes it easier to capture crucial, sensitive information in real-time by providing a safe and efficient platform for communication between allies (India and US). The applications of COMCASA have been tested through joint military exercises between India and US. The legal implications of COMCASA give the two countries the confidence to share sensitive information and also increase the trust and cohesion between their respective forces. The main advantage of the technology supported by the COMCASA is the fact that it allows real-time transfer of data between parties, improving combat strategies, facilitating strategic and tactical decisions, and improving battle awareness. The key factor in this Agreement is ‘interoperability’ between Indian and US militaries promoted through the use of sensitive communication technology and platforms.

The COMCASA and associated technologies have wide ramifications when examined in light of national security. For instance, if the US was to discover the entry of international war criminals into India through the borders, then the US could effectively pass on this intelligence to the Indian forces through these technologies.

The US platforms for exchanging encrypted information include – C17, C130, and P81. Obtaining real-time intelligence via the US channels is also significant to India, as it allows the latter to monitor and keep in check its neighbours such as China and Pakistan.

Significance of COMCASA

The following aspects highlight the importance of the COMCASA in simple terms :

Important clauses of the COMCASA 

As COMCASA is an important strategic and military agreement between the two countries, in-depth information is not available to the general public. However, like other international agreements, it essentially has to have the following clauses :

Effect of COMCASA on India

India has retained a reserved character, often opting for a wait and see approach when confronted with anything controversial or progressive. Indeed, the COMCASA has been a controversial step for the Indian Government and has been the object of criticism from various interest groups. The conservative stance adopted by India is in part also a colonial legacy. A legacy that can also be seen to have influenced India’s choice to opt for non-alignment during the Cold War. The decision to sign the COMCASA is a somewhat bold move, in that India is finally actively and aggressively attempting to carve out its place in the complex international arena. The COMCASA draws India closer to the US in a military alliance but also poses the risk of alienating Russia. The COMCASA – is both indicative of the changing progress of India on its path to becoming a developed nation, and also a sign of the increasing pressure it faces in the highly competitive geopolitical diplomatic scenario.

Besides playing a role in enhancing the defence mechanisms of India, the COMCASA also has other effects which influence major strategic sectors :

The final and overall impact of the COMCASA can only be objectively and holistically judged when the term of the Agreement comes to an end in 2028. However, currently, at the time of writing this article, there seem to be no major problems.

Possible concerns with respect to COMCASA 

The following concerns have been raised with respect to the COMCASA between India and the US :

Future prospects after signing COMCASA

Since the time of the Obama administration, the US has been focused on stirring up the Asian geopolitical field as a major player. The signing of the GSOMIA or the General Security of Military Information Agreement in 2002, and roping in India into the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, the US has step-by-step laid the foundation for further cooperation with India. One of the core reasons behind the 4 foundational agreements – including BECA, LEMOA and COMCASA is to check Chinese expansion and ambition.

However, despite the mutually beneficial agreement, where both India and US draw benefits from COMCASA, there are also undercurrents below the seemingly flawless cooperation. The US has imposed sanctions on India in the past due to the latter’s trade of oil with Iran. There is also the awkward position of India as an important defence partner of Russia while building stronger relations with the US on the side.

This is in a way a gradual process that the US has engaged in to get India more comfortable with such bilateral cooperation. The COMCASA is just one of the milestones on the US road to consolidating the position of its allies and military network, whereas India as a developing country also benefits from the arrangements.

Important developments after signing of the COMCASA

The COMCASA’s main objective is to enhance the ‘interoperability’ between the militaries of both countries. As mentioned before, the COMCASA provides the medium and technology for cooperation and communication between both countries. This cooperation can be seen in the form of joint exercises, combined efforts towards humanitarian aid, etc.

Since the signing of the COMCASA in 2018, the following developments have taken place:

Exchanging intelligence, technologies, military hardware and building tacit cooperation between the countries’ militaries is due to the diplomatic policy of the US about increasing its strategic presence in the Indo-Pacific. This policy of the US is also in line with India’s needs, as the presence of the US is a significant deterrent to Chinese aggression. 

Contrast in the way the US and India approach military technology

The US has always taken a more rigid and strict approach when it comes to safeguarding its military technology, to maintain the strategic and tactical advantage when it comes to its military technology. Toward this end, the US has adopted the method of enacting strict legislation to control the outflow and leakage of classified information. The US assigns a certain level of security classification depending on the nature, strategic importance etc. of the intelligence, establishments and entities under it. 

If an official does not possess the corresponding security clearance then it is impossible for them to gain access to restricted information and files. When officials with a higher level of security clearance find it necessary to share information with those people who are at a lower level, the former must be careful about measuring their words and not revealing more information than they are meant to. Overall, the US defence and security sector prioritises the safeguarding of sensitive information. On the other hand, India does not have a history of taking stringent measures when it comes to safeguarding its military technology.

The way forward 

In order to deal with the increasingly volatile relations between India and its neighbours (China and Pakistan), the COMCASA has been a key instrument in tightening the bonds between India and the US as ‘defence partners.’ The subsequent signing of the BECA in 2020 was also influenced by the turbulence at Galwan Valley.

However, the US restrictions and scruples when it comes to India’s ties with allies like Iran and Russia continue to be an arena for diplomatic negotiation and compromise. Questions regarding India’s sovereignty and conservative character are very much relevant with respect to the current scenario. Moreover, the signing of the COMCASA in 2018 and the signing of the BECA in 2020 show a positive trend toward India opening up and expanding its avenues with respect to cooperation, as well as solidifying its national security measures.


As a region that can be regarded as a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, trade, commerce and politics, ever since the last few decades, the Indo-Pacific region has grown in strategic importance. The defence partnership between the US and India is also due to the US’ recognition of the significance of the Indo-Pacific region and all the possibilities it holds for the future. The threat of China’s expansion has also led to India and the US jumping on the same bandwagon. Although building deeper ties with the US, especially in a sensitive sector such as that of national security, the Indian government has faced a lot of opposition, the signing of the COMCASA is indeed a sign of progress. 

The COMCASA is symbolic of India shifting away, no matter how minutely, from its conservative and closed-off political character. Partnering with the US has also opened the gateway to forging deeper connections with other key players in the international geopolitical arena, such as Australia and Japan. Gaining access to the wide intelligence database of the US and the real-time information has also bolstered India’s defence technology which had been relatively lagging behind the rest of the developed countries. Although leakage of sensitive information outside India and the US is a concern, the COMCASA serves as the greatest guarantee in assuring India that its information is protected. Depending on the policies and development of international relations henceforth, the COMCASA may just be the start to even greater cooperation and partnerships, with a complex and wide scope.


  1. https://www.shaan.academy/blog/communications-compatibility-and-security-agreement-comcasa
  2. https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/comcasa-another-step-forward-for-the-united-states-and-india/
  3. https://theprint.in/defence/the-3-foundational-agreements-with-us-and-what-they-mean-for-indias-military-growth/531795/
  4. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48636718?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Aa13125e4c77d9d21ced3edf4ab5cdb1d&seq=10 

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