It is all but ascertained that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is well on track to fully utilize the strategic location of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. After India’s run-in with the wussies of PLA in the Galwan valley of Eastern Ladakh along the LAC, the Indian government is mulling a change in strategy to chokehold China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
According to a report in Hindustan Times, the union government has expedited the plans for basing additional military forces, including facilities for additional warships, aircraft, missile batteries, and infantry soldiers at the strategically-located Andaman Islands.
Reported by TFI in 2019, the Union government had provided Rs 5,650 crore to develop military infrastructure in the region after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had visited the Andamans,
As a result of that financial impetus, the Naval air stations INS Kohassa in Shibpur and INS Baaz in Campbell Bay are reportedly having their runways extended.
Defence sources said that the long-pending plans for “force accretion” and “military infrastructure development” at the A&N Islands have “gained a sense of urgency” with China’s aggressive and expansionist moves both along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control as well as the IOR.
India will be able to base additional warships, aircraft, missile batteries and infantry soldiers in the A&N Islands under the overall 10-year infrastructure development “roll-on” plan, which also includes an air enclave with a 10,000-ft runway at Kamorta island as well.
PM Modi showing the spine to do what previous regimes refused to do
This isn’t the first time that idea of militarizing the Andamans has been floated around but this is the first time that a government is showing the will to execute the all-important decision in flesh and blood. The previous regimes used to be wary to not miff China and also the smaller countries like Indonesia and Malaysia who would have been alerted by the military in their neighbourhood.
However the Galwan valley incident made the defence establishment re-examine ANI’s role as India’s crucial military outpost that overlooks China’s critical sea lanes transporting the bulk of its crude oil imports and other trade through the Malacca Strait.
Militarising Andaman and Nicobar Islands would send a stern message to China that if it tries to move through the Northwest of the Strait of Malacca then New Delhi will be tracking its every single step.
Fighter jets like Sukhoi-30MKIs as well as long-range maritime patrol Poseidon-8I aircraft frequently operate from the island cluster but are not stationed there as of now. If the change in plans regarding Andaman and Nicobar Islands leads to any fruition then these beasts could be stationed permanently in the region and China, in particular, will be miffed.
In 2016, New Delhi and Tokyo had discussed a joint project to upgrade infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, including a proposal to install a sound surveillance sensors (SOSUS) chain to improve India’s underwater domain awareness in detecting covert Chinese submarines. The project, however, involved sharing a lot of sensitive information to the foreign nations and couldn’t really move ahead at that time.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the Quad (India, Australia, Japan, USA) much closer and India will be more open to sharing the data now. The world has realized that if there is one common enemy present around, then it is none other than China which routinely makes splashy waves in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific region.
Recently the quad had conducted a military exercise in the region to flex its muscles on Beijing which in hindsight has been served a cold reminder that the Quad has got each other’s back and being reckless in the region is not advisable anymore.
PM Narendra Modi and PM Scott Morrison on June 4 had signed a military pact that allowed India and Australia to access each other’s islands, thereby allowing military ships and aircraft to refuel and access maintenance facilities.
India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Australia’s Cocos Islands can be used for such military purposes and when India will have fully developed the island, this military partnership is sure to reach new heights.
An Indian military base in the Cocos (Keeling) Island and another military base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could soon become a reality and it should plug all loopholes in India’s presence and situational awareness in the vast Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The two small islands could prove critical in India’s ambition of maintaining a credible presence in the vast Indian Ocean.
The expanding Chinese presence and build up in the Indian Ocean region had always been a cause of worry for the experts but with India strengthening its foreign relations and now militarizing ANI—the dynamics of the region are surely changing.
India is no longer a mere spectator. The country is now making use of the advantage that the archipelago offers to India. And consequentely building up military infrastructure in the region is the first step towards strengthening India’s presence in the region.