On August 29th India and the United States signed a historic, for India, LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) that enables both countries to depend on each other for military logistics. Actually each LEMOA agreement is customized to suit local requirements (political, economic, cultural and whatever). The Indian LEMOA is mainly for port visits, joint exercises, joint training and joint efforts to provide disaster relief. LEMOAs require both sides to agree on standard procedures for joint operations of all kinds. Often this is nothing more than communications and local port procedures. China and Pakistan are upset about this LEMOA means it is easier for Indian and American warships to cooperate in combat.
For most LEMOAs it is all about everyone’s naval ships being able to enter each other’s ports, or even naval base and for repairs, supplies and fuel and not worry about a lot of paperwork. LEMOA also covers military aircraft and ground forces although the Indian LEMOA was presented as not being a basing agreement. American troops have already been in India for joint training and that will continue. The U.S. already has LEMOA agreements with over a hundred nations and the main reason other nations like to have LEMOA deals with the United States is because they feel a bit safer with have American warships or military aircraft visiting regularly.
India has long opposed a LEMOA with the United States, or at least a lot of Indian political parties did. This all began when India won its independence from Britain in the late 1940s, which was the same time that the Cold War began. While India was technically neutral during the Cold War, India was generally hostile to the United States and quite cozy with Russia. India still has good relationships with Russia but the Russians have no military presence to speak of anywhere near India these days and suddenly the Americans are seen as potential allies because the U.S. does. In part this is because the Cold War anti-American slant was more the product of Indian post-colonial nationalism (that was generally anti-Western) and infatuation with socialism. Both those policies proved failures and, while many Indian politicians do not accept the shift to a market economy in the 1990s and better relations with the West, these changes are popular with most Indians and happened anyway.
There’s another reason for this LEMOA. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, there has been a major shift in naval power in the Indian Ocean. With the demise of the Russian fleet (long as an Indian ally) and the rise of Chinese naval power, India has sought better ways to make use of the growing U.S. Navy presence in the area. This is all about keeping Indian naval power supreme in the Indian Ocean. The rising Chinese threat is seen as more than India can handle alone. With Indian inability to expand, or even maintain their current naval power, more help has to come from somewhere.
But above all this there is China, which has already taken some disputed territory on the Indian border and claims still more. Chinese ships (both commercial and military) are more frequently seen in the Indian Ocean. Chinese shipping firms have refurbished ports throughout the region and manage them to handle growing Chinese trade with the countries where these ports are located. The Chinese presence cannot be ignored and the Indians are now welcoming the Americans.
Yet this LEMOA won’t mean a lot more Americans showing up in India. The U.S. defense budget is declining and so is the size of the American fleet. Most of the U.S. naval presence in the Indian Ocean is in and around the Persian Gulf and is there mainly to curb growing Iranian aggression. The only major American base actually in the Indian Ocean is Diego Garcia (a 44 square kilometer island 4,700 kilometers south of Afghanistan). The U.S. Navy maintains a base in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and several Gulf States host American warplanes. What India wants is some American warships closer to the Indian coast. That does not seem to be happening soon enough to influence the Chinese fleet moving into the region.