AS DEFENCE Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spends her first Diwali with the troops in the country’s only tri-service command at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, New Delhi is working on expanding the military effectiveness of its outpost at the juncture of Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
This includes creation of military infrastructure for greater naval presence in the islands which dominates the strategically important Malacca Strait.
“Keeping in mind the Act East policy, and envisaging the future scenario in the Indian Ocean region and South-East Asia, the focus is on developing the strategically located islands in Andaman and Nicobar. Appointing retired Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi as the Lt Governor is part of that plan,” sources told The Indian Express.
Although officials are unwilling to state openly, the military focus is on countering the increasing Chinese presence in the region, which has been a cause of concern. Chinese submarines have been sighted in the area and have also been docked at bases in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The southernmost island is only 150 km from Sumatra in Indonesia.
The airstrip at INAS Baaz, the naval aviation base on Campbell Bay on the Great Nicobar island, is currently being extended from 3,050 feet to 10,000 feet. The extension, which will allow the Navy to place its modern P-8I surveillance aircraft at INAS Baaz, is scheduled to be completed by 2021. The Navy currently operates its eight P-8I aircraft, procured from the US in 2013, from INS Rajali base at Arakonam in Tamil Nadu.
“If the P-8I aircraft shift to Campbell Bay, our surveillance reach will get multiplied by thousand miles. Baaz gives us that flexibility — it increases our surveillance bubble, which will cover South China Sea. Moreover, Baaz is adjacent to Malacca straits, an area of immense strategic interest to us,” sources said.
The Navy also plans to commission its second Floating Dry Dock Navy (FDDN) — constructed by L&T — near Port Blair by December, along with a dockyard under completion. This will allow more naval ships to be maintained and serviced in the islands.
The Navy is also in the process of constructing three forward operating bases (FOBs) in the islands — at Diglipur, Kamorta and at Campbell Bay — to allow its Khukri class corvettes to be distributed across various locations in the archipelago.
The creation of military infrastructure at Andaman and Nicobar Islands requires coordination with civilian administration of the islands. Earlier this month, former Navy chief, Admiral D K Joshi (retd), was sworn in as the Lt Governor of the UT. He had earlier served as the Commander of Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC).