US military aircraft refuels at Indian base for first time under defence pact

US military aircraft refuels at Indian base
File image of US maritime surveillance aircraft P-8 Poseidon | Commons

New Delhi: Amid tensions between India and China, the US Navy’s long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft, P-8 Poseidon, carried out its maiden refuelling from India’s strategic base in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Sources said the refuelling happened towards the end of last month and was carried out under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), signed between India and the US in 2016.

While the LEMOA was operationalised in 2017 with the US Navy tanker refuelling an Indian Navy ship in the Sea of Japan, this is the first time an American aircraft had done so.

In September, an Indian ship had been refuelled through a US tanker.

A defence source said, “The flight landed over a week back at an airstrip in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for refuelling under the #LEMOA. The aircraft was present at the base for a few hours before resuming its journey.”

While it was a simple refuelling, the message of a US anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft refuelling from the strategic airbase of India is hard to miss.

The development assumes more significance because it comes at a time when India and China are locked in a tense stand-off in Ladakh.

Both India and China have been signalling each other on their capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region.

India has put its entire military on operational alert and almost the entire fleet of the Western and the Eastern Naval Command are at sea.

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What is LEMOA?

Asked if such refuelling had been done earlier by the P-8 Poseidon, the source said this was the first time for the aircraft.

Under LEMOA, both countries have access to each other’s military facilities for refuelling and replenishment.

This include food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oil, lubricants, clothing, medical services, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, training services, and other logistical items and services.

The LEMOA provides India access to Diego Garcia, the biggest American base in the Indian Ocean, besides Guam, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

While both countries hold a large number of joint exercises during which refuelling and replenishment are done, payment is a tedious process.

The LEMO is actually a tweaked version of the Logistics Support Agreement that the US had been pushing for several years.

The UPA government was stonewalling the signing of this agreement, which is part of the Foundation Agreements that the US refers to for deeper cooperation with India.

The others agreements under the Foundation Agreements are the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, which is yet to be signed, and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement, signed in 2018.