Logistic Support Agreements- A Growing Footprint
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Open sources are abuzz with the news that in the annual bilateral summit between India and Russia slated in November 2020, the Agreement on Reciprocal Logistic Support or ARLS is likely to be signed1.

In the above context, this article flags the issue of Logistic Support Agreements (LSAs) in its generic content. It then visits the various LSAs which India has signed till date with several countries and brings out how each of these is relevant in its own context. In the end, it brings out the impact of the growing footprint of LSAs for India.

Logistic Support Agreements-Larger Context

What are LSAs?

Very basically, LSAs are mutual agreements between two nations which permit a host of activities between them. While the nature of each agreement is essentially bilateral, a country may enter into LSAs with multiple nations each on a one-on-one format. For instance India has LSAs with six different countries, namely United States, France, Australia, South Korea, Singapore and now Russia 2 A similar agreement is also reported to be in the pipeline with United Kingdom (UK).3

Why LSAs?

As stated, LSAs are great facilitators. Under their large umbrella of reciprocal access to each other’s facilities, several activities get included. Some of these could be:-

  1. Access to each other’s ports to include facilities like berthing, fuelling, repairs, spare support etc.
  2. Reciprocal logistic support to include food, water, rest, recuperate etc.
  3. Reciprocal logistic support for conduct of training activities in each other’s areas.

The facilitation achieved through LSA has both direct, as well as, implied effect.

As to the direct facilitation, LSA could permit the following:-

  1. Permit greater inter-operability between nations.
  2. Permit smooth and seamless conduct of long duration complex and joint military exercises without the burden of logistic sustainment of forces in the foreign land by the guest country.
  3. Reciprocal facilitation of forces when engaged in activities such as peacekeeping operations, humanitarian aid, disaster relief and during joint deployment of forces under an international mandate (UN).

However, the more important facilitation is ‘implied’ and in fact, is the real takeaway from the LSA. Some points related to implied effect could be as under:-

  1. It permits a country to project power away from its borders in international waters without having to carry its own sustenance and logistic tail, all the way across.
  2. The above becomes possible due to extended ranges of warships, maritime surveillance and strike aircrafts utilizing port facilities of the contracting nation (implying the nation(s) entering into LSA).
  3. This extends the strategic reach and footprint of the country in far off waters and enhances its sustainability therein manifold.
  4. It permits round the clock and round the year presence in areas of interest (through shared responsibilities).
  5. This not only increases the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) manifold for security reasons, but also helps in tracking vessels of interests continuously or become the first responder in a crises situation.
  6. Most importantly, it helps to send a ‘strategic message’to the ‘target country’. The content and purport of this message is implied in the DNA of the LSA and is unique in its own way.
  7. Each LSA also helps to guard some security interests of the contracting parties in its own specific way.
  8. As a result of the strategic message mentioned above, the ‘target country’ tends to perceive the contracting parties as a sort of combined/joint front for what it is worth.

Visiting the LSAs Signed by India

With USA

LEMOA, which is an acronym for Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement is actually a part of a trio of three separate agreements between India and US aimed to build deep bilateral ties between the two nations. Each of these covers a specific ground. Very briefly, these are as under:-

  1. LEMOA.
    Signed in 2016, it permits use of each other’s military logistic facilities for a variety of reasons (covered in detail later).
    COMCASA standsfor Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement. Signed in 2018, this enabling agreement provides a legal framework that authorizes the US authorities to transfer such high-end defence equipment to India which may featureencrypted communication network. COMCASA will enable India to make optimal use of platforms employing such sensitive equipment.
  3. BECA
    Standing for Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement is likely to be signed in the upcoming 2+2 dialogue between Indian and US on 26-27 October 2020. BECA aims at enhancing geo-spatial cooperation between the two nations. With BECA done, India will have an access to the US geospatial intelligence data base which will prove to be a great enabler on many counts , military situational awareness, paradigm increase in the accuracy of long range hi-tech automated weapons, to name a few.

Picking up the LEMOA thread as relevant to this work, it is a core logistic agreement which enables the two countries as under:-

  1. Unhindered access to the designated military logistic facilities for refueling and replenishment.
  2. Logistic support and mutual assistance to facilitate activities like port calls, joint exercises, training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
  3. LEMOA is open ended in its scope. For instance, any other logistic support requirements that are agreeable to both the contracting parties can be included in its ambit, provided it is in consonance with the laws, regulations and polies of the respective country.
  4. LEMOA however does not include such activities as establishing bases, deploying assets thereon or even stationing of troops on each other’s land.
Larger Implications of LEMOA

Some of these could be:-

  1. LEMOA will increase the range and reach capability of the Indian Navy world over. This is due to the fact that our vessels operating anywhere in the international waters could get every type of logistic support from any of the US bases which are spread right across the globe.
  2. The range of above support could be really comprehensive to include birthing, billeting, port services, food, water, communications, storage, fuel, maintenance, spare support, calibration support etal.
  3. Take for instance the Multinational Naval exercise Malabar, which in the year 2018 was held in the Guam island in far western Pacific. The impact of LEMOA was immediately felt as the US naval base in Guam acted as our firm base.
  4. In addition to reciprocal naval activity LEMOA will also prove its worth in areas like UN peacekeeping operations, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations and more.
  5. In an another indirect fallout of LEMOA within an year of its signing, was the massive Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) signed between Reliance Defence and Engineering Ltd (RDEL) and the US Navy for providing repair and alteration services to some 100 vessels of the US 7th Fleet operating in the western Pacific4.

As stated, the implied advantages of such agreements always lie in the messages these convey overtly and covertly. With US, not LEMOA alone, but the full body of the trio of agreements comes into play. The increased range and reach of ourvessels and the access to heretofore prohibited high-end defence equipment that feature encrypted communication networks gets duly noted.

The naysayers of course point out to the downside of the above arrangement. Falling into the US Camp, losing out on a part of our strategic autonomy, distancing from India’s most trusted friend… the list goes on. The author’s take on this issue is briefly enumerated:-

  1. This is a new world and a new India standing on its own in the comity of nations.
  2. Our decision makers probably realize that although a real tight-rope walk, it is possible to maintain our position with both US and Russia separately, without one being at the cost of other.
  3. In that, we do possess the required national political resolve to pursue what suits our national interest without being overly concerned with the likely fury (read backlash) from the other. The reference is to the Government’s decision to go ahead with S-400 system from Russia despite all the threats of unbridled sanctions under CATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) by US.
  4. In this context the reported likelihood of signing the Agreement on Reciprocal Logistic Support (ARLS) with Russia in November 2020 and BECA with US in Oct 2020does corroborate the above view point.
  5. That LEMOA and ARLS will coexist is not to do with India alone, but also, is attributed to both US and Russia in their perception and acknowledgement of India 2020. The realisation of the opportunities (and strategic advantages) that lie in their respective ways in engaging with us runs deep.
  6. Reciprocally, the fact, that each of these arrangements gives weight, traction and momentum to us cannot be left unsaid and that our potential adversary (ies) recognize it uncomfortably, also cannot be denied either.
With France

In March 2018, open sources reported about the signing of a strategic pact between India and France that permitted the reciprocal use of each other’s military facilities and naval bases5. Some salient details in this context are enumerated:-

  1. The pact will promote cooperation for promotion of peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions to unprecedented levels.
  2. In that, while the Navies of the two nations will share maritime intelligence, their respective space agencies will develop joint monitoring mechanism for keeping a watch on the maritime developments in the region.
  3. In the 2+2 spirit, the pact is also backed with an agreement to develop a ministerial level defence dialogue aimed at further deepening of defence ties between the two countries.
  4. The footprint of the logistic agreement will of course extend to other activities like joint training, peacekeeping, HADR operations and more.
  5. This pact fits naturally in the expanding defence relations between the two nations (Rafael, Scorpene to name a few).
With Australia

On 04 June this year, India and Australia entered into a comprehensive Mutual Logistic Support Agreement (MLSA), the first ever to be signed in a virtual bilateral summit. Some salient points in this regard are enumerated678:-

  1. The classical MSLA has all its signature features as stated earlier. It will prove to be a major facilitator to improve military inter-operability between the two nations.
  2. Along with MSLA, the two nations also unveiled a ‘shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’. This vision is anchored on supporting a rule-based maritime order as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with due respect for the sovereignty of each nation.
  3. Also giving strength to the MSLA was the decision to upgrade the 2009 agreement on Bilateral Strategic Partnership to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) Agreement elevating the 2+2 arrangement to ministerial level.
  4. The above is not semantics; it is the will of two nations to take their defence cooperation to the next level and a commitment to stand by each other in dealing with shared security challenges. The paradigm shift is intended to send the requisite message (not explained further).
  5. Following on the heels of MSLA and CSP and duly facilitated by the same, a mega two day exercise took place with the Australian Navy in September 2020 in the Indo-Pacific region. The exercise involved complex naval maneuvers and air defence operations aimed at addressing the shared security challenges in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)9.
  6. It is worthwhile to mention here that this was the fourth exercise which India conducted in a row ever since June 2020 when tensions with China flared up in eastern Laddakh. These include naval exercise with Japan in Jun 2020, with US in July 2020 and with Russia in September 202010.
With South Korea

It was in September 2019, when India signed the MLSA with South Korea. Some salient details in this context are stated:-

  1. While the MSLA extends the ‘logistic support suit’ between the navies of the two countries in the manner described above, it also comes along with an agreement to take the cooperation in the defence industrial field to the next level by including such areas as land systems, aero systems, naval system, cooperation in defence R&D and in the fields of quality assurance and testing etc.11
  2. Interesting to note that the South Korean Hanwa Defence which has signed a contract in 2017 with India to supply 100 K9 artillery guns ( 10 from Hanwa, 90 in India by L&T), has provided such technical assistance that L&T is clocking deliveries, three months ahead of schedule. Living up the agreement?12
  3. Other advantages of the MSLA are on similar lines as for other MSLAs described earlier except that with this agreement and counting Indian Navy’s support base got extended all the way to the North of South China Sea.
With Singapore

On 01 June 2020, during PM’s visit to Singapore, the two countries inked eight MOUs one of which was the Logistic Support Agreement. Some salient points:-13

This agreement will cover naval ships, submarines, naval aircrafts and other ship-borne aviation assets.

  1. The type of mutual facilitation by the MSLA will be of the similar nature as described above.
  2. Ever since 1993 India and Singapore are holding bilateral naval exercise called SIMBEX or Singapore India Maritime Bilateral Exercise. Over the years the scope and reach of this exercise has increased. Future SIMBEXs will be additionally facilitated with MSLA which is now a reality between the two countries. Relevant to note here that SIMBEX 2019 was held in South China Sea with its sea phase from 19-22 May 2019.14
  3. Following on the heels of SIMBEX 2019, was a trilateral naval exercise in September 2019 with Thailand joining India and Singapore (SITMEX). The naval drills were focused towards ensuring unhindered shipping through the Malacca Straits15.
With Japan

On 09 Sep 2020, when the Eastern Laddakh was on hot boil, India entered into a logistic facilitation arrangement with Japan called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). Some points:-

  1. The signing of ACSA is on similar lines like the other MSLAs except that the text of ACSA (unlike the LEMOA and other where some of the text is classified) is publically available on Japan’s Foreign Ministry’s website.
  2. The experts have termed it as a ‘bland agreement’ in comparison to the others where the ‘real punch’ lies in the classified text. Opinions are divided on this as some feel that transparency has its own strategic pay off when it comes to China16 (not discussed further).

  3. Japan India Maritime Exercise (JIMEX) which commenced in 2012 saw its fourth iteration in the Arabian Sea from 26-28 September 2020. The focus of JIMEX is on maritime security cooperation17.
Some Reflections
  1. MSLAs are great enablers for the contracting parties in more ways than one.
  2. Besides the obvious, i.e. facilitation in terms of supplies, food , water, repairs, maintenance, spare support, HADR and more, the real worth of MSLA lies in enhancing operability through enhanced range and reach of naval vessels in international waters.
  3. The location of the country entering into MSLA decides where will be the impact of ‘enhanced strategic influence’ of the parties to the agreement.
  4. Based on the above, a covert as well as an overt message gets conveyed about a ‘joint front’ safeguarding shared maritime and security concerns in areas of ‘enabled projection’.
  5. For India some these could be the Malacca Straits or the strategic spaces in the Andaman Sea or the sea lines of communications in the IOR etc.
  6. Seen in the above context MSLAs with US to France, to Russia, to Japan, to Australia, to Singapore and Thailand (SITMEX) actually spans the high seas from the Atlantic, to the Indian and on to Pacific.
  7. This surely coveys a subtle but clear message to China in the face of its growing assertiveness in military and maritime objectives (not discussed further).
  8. Interesting to note that next month when India joins the Malabar Quad to start the 24th edition of the exercise, she would do so with a new feeling of comfort and enablement having done MSLAs with ‘every other nation’ of the Quad.

That India’s comfort might be a matter of discomfort to some other Navy is probably written on the wall.

  1. “India in talks for logistic pacts wiith Russia…,” at www.thehindu.com.new.national.Accessed on 17 Oct 2020.
  2. Updated: India expands strategic reach with military logistic pacts…,” at www.defence.capital.Accessed on 17 Oct 2020.
  3. India and UK in final stages of signing defence logistic pact…,” at www.economictimes.indiatimes.com.Accessed on 17 Oct 2020.
  4. Reliance Defence: Reliance defence signs warship repair pact with US Navy,” at www.economictimes.indiatimes.com.Accessed on 20 Oct 2020.
  5. “India France sign strategic pact on use of each other’s military bases,” at www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com.Accessed on 20 Oct 2020.
  6. India, Australia sign mutual logistics support agreement …,” at www.eurasiantimes.com. Accessed on 21 Oct 2020.
  7. India, Australia sign mutual logistics support agreement …,” at www.aninews.in. Accessed on 21 Oct 2020.
  8. India and Australia sign landmark agreement …,” at www.swarajyamag.com.Accessed on 21 Oct 2020.
  9. “Explained : India Australia Mutual Logistic Support Agreement,” at www.indianexpress.com. Accessed on 21 Oct 2020.
  10. “India, Australia to conduct 2-day naval exercise in Indian Ocean,” at www.economictimes.indiatimes.com. Accessed on 21 Oct 2020
  11. India, South Korea sign logistic agreement to support each other’s Navies, “ atwww.newindianexpress.com. Accessed on 21 Oct 2020.
  12. “India requests early delivery of K 9…,” at www.eurasiantimes.com.Accessed on 21 Oct 2020.
  13. “India- Singapore sign eight MOUs, including crucial naval logistic agreement,” at www.thestatesman.com. Accessed on 21 Oct 2020
  14. “SIMBEX 2019” at www.indiannavy.nic.in.Accessed on 22 Oct 2020.
  15. “Why the India- Singapore-Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise annualisation matters,” at www.the diplomat.com. Accessed on 22 Oct 2020.
  16. “India and Japan sign military logistic agreement for all to see,” at www.the diplomat.com. Accessed on 22 Oct 2020.
  17. “Watch: India Japan naval exercise JIMEX-2020 begins in North Arabian Sea, “ www.dnaindia.com. Accessed on 22 Oct 2020.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/MangoNews/photos/amidst-border-tensions-with-india-and-china-along-the-line-of-actual-control-ind


A positive step. Very well articulated by the author.


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