Currently, the United States militarily prefers India over its seven-decade-old South Asian ally, Pakistan. It has been transferring state of the art weapons and shares geospatial intelligence for military purposes with New Delhi to pursue its strategic objectives in Asia-Pacific, including balancing China’s steady rise and strengthening India’s role in the Indian Ocean region.
Indeed, this serves the Americans’ global strategic agenda but immensely undermines Pakistan’s defensive fence.
The modernization and strengthening of the Indian armed forces is alarming for Pakistan. Since the 1950’s, Americans contributed to the modernization of Pakistani armed forces against India. Presently, Washington not only ended its military cooperation with Islamabad, but is also providing state of the art military technologies to the Indian armed forces.
The US designated India as a ‘Major Defense Partner’ in June 2016, which elevated the Indo-US defense partnership to a level commensurate with its closest allies and partners. Consequently, the bilateral defense trade and technology cooperation grew to approximately $16 billion in 2018 from almost zero in 2008. Indeed, it’s a win-win situation for both Washington and New Delhi, but very destabilizing for Pakistan, which lost all its American military assistance.
Read more: US, India to sign intelligence accord
Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement
The Indo-US strategic convergence resulted in a multilayered defense cooperation between them. In October, during the third 2+2 India-US ministerial dialogue in Delhi, both sides inked the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). The conclusion of BECA finalized the key defense agreements between India and the United States. The execution of BECA will revolutionize the Indian armed forces’ offensive and defensive capabilities.
The BECA is aimed at the sharing of geospatial intelligence for military purposes. Hence, the Americans will share with the Indians classified advanced satellite and topographic data, i.e., maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery, geophysical, geomagnetic, and gravity data.
The BECA will give a quantum jump to the Indian Geographical Information System and Management Information System capability. The induction of these technologies in the Indian military systems boosts its military’s accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons such as cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and armed drones, which India is looking forward to purchasing from the US.
Growing mistrust between Washington and Islamabad?
Admittedly, the Americans sharing of information/data received from reconnaissance satellites’ primary focus is China, but it multiplies Pakistan’s insecurity. Islamabad will not trust Washington as a neutral interlocutor between India and Pakistan. Besides, it is compelled to invest in anti-satellite techniques and technologies to prevent its military deployments, especially nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
The Americans’ lead in the missile warning satellites has been a serious concern for the Russians and Chinese. Since the inking of BECA, such an advantage is equally interpreted as disadvantageous for Islamabad. Therefore, it is imperative that Pakistani policy-makers carefully evaluate the Americans’ investment in the missile warning satellite, which they are determined to share with their allies, including India.
On December 2, the US Lockheed Martin announced that the fifth geosynchronous Space-Based Infrared System satellite (SBIRS GEO-5) would be launched in 2021. This missile-warning constellation allows the US Space Force to detect ballistic missile launches all around the world. Therefore, the operationalization of SBIRS GEO-5 will boost the global missiles race and increases the threat of preventive surgical strikes against deployed missiles and their manufacturing facilities.
The SBIRS GEO-5 provides critical early warning information, which under BECA, Washington shares with New Delhi. Hypothetically, it could detect ballistic missiles deployed and launched from Pakistan.
Widening conventional weapons asymmetry
Since the 1980’s, India has been struggling to manufacture indigenous ballistic missile interceptors. In the following decades, it entered into a defense cooperation with Israel to purchase advanced Green Pine radar systems, ballistic missiles propellant, and guiding systems. In 2017, India’s Cabinet Committee on Security– a government body responsible for military procurements– had approved $2.5 billion for purchasing a medium-range surface-to-air missile system from Israel.
Without Washington’s permission, Israelis cannot transfer these sophisticated technologies to India due to Israel and US military-industrial complexes agreements. Nevertheless, the Americans’ direct military items transfer to India augments Indo-Israel missile cooperation.
Occasionally, the Indian missile bureaucracy claimed the success of a few tests of its missile defense systems, especially after the receipt of Israel’s assistance. However, the credibility of India’s missile defense systems was questioned by strategic analysts due to their geospatial intelligence and lack of high-speed missile interceptors.
The transfer of American military hardware to the Indian military will widen conventional weapons asymmetry between India and Pakistan. The former’s conventional advantage will lower the nuclear threshold in South Asia. In simple terms, India’s conventional advantage increases Pakistan’s reliance on its battlefield nuclear weapons to deter India’s Cold Start doctrine and surgical strike strategy operationalization.
To conclude, the sharing of accurate data about Pakistan’s deployed ballistic, cruise and fighter aircraft undermines Pakistan’s strategic equilibrium with India. Thus, the inking of BECA will be an ongoing military challenge for Pakistan.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Author of India’s Surgical Strike Stratagem: Brinksmanship and Response, (2019). He is also an advisor on Non-Proliferation to SASSI, London and a course coordinator at Foreign Services Academy for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece was first published in Arab News. It has been republished with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.