7 May 2017

India Ready to ‘Plug and Play’ into the US Network

Atul Bhardwaj

The United States (US) wants the flow of big data, and its security, storage and analysis to operate under a network-centric architecture erected and owned by it. The privacy of its own data is the prime obsession of the US. However, it pays scant respect to the privacy of others. It imposes restrictions and demands on its allies to comply with its data protection laws. It not only expects money from the importer of its arms and ammunitions, but also stringent commitment for protecting its intellectual property rights, crucial codes and data contained in the systems. The US often issues diktats to allies regarding what they ought not to export to countries on the US hit list.

As early as 1951, India was apprised of the provisions of the Battle Act, 1951 (Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act), a US municipal law that debarred countries cooperating with the US from exporting to the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries that threatened US supremacy. In 1953, when India exported a small quantity of thorium nitrate to China, the US protested and reminded India of the Battle Act, 1951. In the late 1950s, when India was strategically aligned with the US on the Tibet issue, its commercial dealings with the communist countries were moderated by the US. On 31 March 1959, James B Burns, Third Secretary (Economics) of the US embassy in India, handed over an aide-memoire, which spelt out the changes in the list of items that were prohibited for export to communist countries under the Battle Act. It also made India aware of the restrictions on the use of arms imported from the US. Although India was under no legal obligation to comply with the list, it remained sympathetic to US concerns throughout the 1950s.

The Indo–US strategic relationship is once again on the upswing. The US is promising India high-tech military equipment and expecting in return unflinching Indian loyalty to the US military’s strategic, tactical and technological outlook. In the age of network-centric warfare, the US is not only selling hardware, but also the embedded software that would ensure that these weapons systems remain networked to the common grid in perpetuity. Breaking out of the grid could even result in their destruction. Now, when the US Department of Defense is relying on open-source architecture and cloud computing for managing big data, one is not sure about the compromises we will have to make to become a good strategic partner to the US.

Dishing Out Military Data

The main drivers of the defence closeness between India and the US are: (i) the US “pivot to Asia,” which entails shifting 60% of US naval assets to the Pacific; and (ii) the US’s need to incorporate maximum military assets of its allies in the region to achieve its strategic goals in relation to a rising China. It is for this reason that the US naval strategy often talks about enhancing its “global network” of partners, which includes South Korea, Japan, Australia, and India. Such partnership is built by establishing “technical interoperability, common operational experience, and prioritized areas of mutual security interest” (Lawrence 2015: 2). The desire for a “collaborative defence” flows from two main reasons: the persistent decline in the US’s defence spending since 2011, and the burgeoning Chinese fleet acting in tandem with the powerful Russian navy.

The trajectory of the India–US defence ties hinges on three “foundational” agreements: Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). India has already signed the LEMOA. The current focus is on reaching an agreement on the CISMOA that allows interoperability between allies in an operational environment. Interoperability builds teamwork, which enhances readiness and strengthens the military alliance. At the heart of interoperability is the networking of various strands in a battlefield. Networked assets provide secure and smooth flow of information, which enables a common picture of the battlefield to emerge. Based on this integrated picture, the leader in command directs the right weapons system for quick action against a target.

The CISMOA is important to the US because its strategy demands that various war elements belonging to allies be synchronised to serve the US command and control centre, which tightly controls all channels of communication. This is achieved by establishing a common command and control architecture that is owned by the US government. The common grid provides “plug and play” ecosystems, where multiple weapons systems can easily be integrated into a mission plan. All future weapons systems manufactured by US defence firms will be the plug and play kind.

The plug and play concept for weapons systems development calls for the demonstration of interoperability at design time and puts a premium on a system that can exchange information and services with multiple systems. (Software Engineering Institute 2014)

In the context of India, this means that in order to be interoperable with its strategic defence partner, it will have to rely more and more on US-manufactured systems. This is because systems purchased from Russia would not be able to plug into the secure communication and data transfer networks provided by the US. In order to make the Russian systems compatible with the common grid, complex and costly interfaces would have to be established. This is likely to lead to tampering with the proprietary hardware and software. India would get the worst of it, having to bear the cost of making legacy systems compatible and interoperable.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that ever since the discussions on “foundational” agreements began in the early 2000s, the US has gained the biggest share in the Indian arms market. It sells $14–$15 billion worth of weapons to India.

According to Ajai Shukla, a noted defence journalist who has studied a similar agreement between South Korea and the US, the CISMOA appears to be more intrusive than even the LEMOA. The CISMOA will demand that Indians completely depend on the US for the maintenance and upkeep of the radio systems. Besides placing restriction on the indigenous manufacture of communications sets procured from the US, the agreement will also enable US military personnel to occupy Indian military installations. As things stand, India has not completely ruled out accepting such intrusive regimes. The negotiations are currently on to satisfy Indian concerns, but technological imperatives limit the scope of accommodating Indian concerns.

India will not be able to avoid signing the CISMOA for too long since it has already decided to be a part of the US defence network. Besides, India has been exercising with the US forces to develop interoperability. The politico-cultural barriers will get dissolved and the sovereignty issue will eventually take a back seat. The US has much experience in dealing with “national interest” issues of the allies that hamper the progress of interoperability. NATO had faced similar challenges in the early 2000s, when every nation in NATO was keen to protect its data and technology from their allies (Ackerman 2006).

FCN Treaty Negotiations

There is so much similarity in the manner in which negotiations on the three foundational agreements are proceeding, and the protracted Indo–US talks on the Friendship Commerce and Navigation (FCN) treaty post-independence. The FCN treaty talks reopened immediately after India acquired independence. The aim of the treaty was to protect US investments in India and to demand for US nationals the same privileges and rights that British nationals and corporations enjoyed in India. The US wanted complete “national” treatment in India for their enterprises; in short, an unrestricted entry for US capital into India. They were looking for removal of trade barriers on exports and imports. India could not accede to their demands because these ran contrary to the Indian philosophy of planned and regulated trade and commerce. The treaty was seen as a facilitator that would help India get dollar investments from the US. Therefore, India did not want to upset the US by outright rejection of the treaty, nor did it want to send wrong signals to its Indian constituency by signing a truncated treaty.

The treaty was eventually not signed in its original form. It was tweaked and its provisions were broken down into three different agreements and signed separately. In September 1957, India entered into a limited investment guarantee agreement with the US. Under this, the US government extended insurance to US investors in India against possible risk of currency inconvertibility with respect to their profits and capital repatriation, provided these investments were approved by the Government of India. In November 1959, an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation was signed between the two governments. Finally, a proposal for concluding an Expropriation Guarantee agreement with the US was also approved by the cabinet.

The FCN negotiations continued for more than 10 years because the US adopted a more gradual approach rather than pushing it. This was mainly because the FCN treaty they had signed with the Chiang Kai-shek government in China in 1946 had been used by the Chinese communists to show how the nationalists had sold the country’s interest to US capital. The treaty generated anti-American sentiments in China and paved the way for communist victory. It is, perhaps, this outcome that the US wanted to avoid in India. They did not want to push an unequal treaty on a newly independent India and provide political fodder to the Indian communists.


The left liberals flaunt their internationalism; the right wingers keep their external linkages hidden behind the veil of cultural nationalism. The ideological affinity of “nationalists” with the larger global conservative agenda is rarely a part of academic or media discussion. This is largely because the right has perfected the art of making their deep-rooted connections with international finance and the military industrial complex look nationalistic. It makes global look local with great ease. Every foreign arms purchase becomes a national security necessity. All military exercises, especially with the US are touted as a big step forward in India becoming “great.”

Take, for example, the Indo–US military and strategic ties, one of the pet projects of the current government in New Delhi. The project envisages establishing synergy between the Indian and US forces, making the two capable of acting as a single entity. Achieving such high levels of interoperability with a big foreign force involves forfeiting a large chunk of sovereignty. It is during these phases of extreme globalisation that hyper-nationalism comes in handy to divert the attention of its peoples. Therefore, cow protection at home provides a beefy cover-up for the peaceful conduct of international negotiations on sharing military data and resources. Societal fears are heightened and nationalist sentiments drummed up only to underplay the mortgaging of the military—the nation’s most cherished asset—in the name of deepening defence ties with the Empire.


Ackerman, Robert K (2006): “In NATO, Technology Challenges Yield to Political Interoperability Hurdles,” SIGNAL, February, viewed on 10 April 2017, http://www.afcea.org/content/?q=nato-technology-challenges-yield-politic....

Lawrence, Mark W (2015): “Tailoring the Global Network for Real Burden Sharing at Sea,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, 25 August.

Software Engineering Institute (2014): “Weapons Systems Management,” Carnegie Mellon University, viewed on 17 April 2017, http://www.sei.cmu.edu/dependability/casestudies/indusgendynamics/.

Updated On : 28th Apr, 2017

- See more at: http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/17/strategic-affairs/india-ready-%E2%80%98plug-and-play%E2%80%99-us-network.html#sthash.hCMja24z.dpuf

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