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India to reinforce security in Andaman & Nicobar


A file photo of Su-30 MKI

PORT BLAIR (PTI): In view of the Chinese presence in Myanmar's Coco Islands, just 40 km from the Andaman and Nicobar, and its increasing military activity in the Indian Ocean, India is planning to plug gaps in the islands' security with possible induction of Sukhois, more warships and radars.

"There are gaps in surveillance, air defence and coastal security. We are working towards plugging the gaps," a senior officer in the tri-services Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) comprising Army, Navy and Air Force units has said here on Monday.

"The Chinese have a presence in Coco Islands, which is just 40 km of Landfall Islands in the northern most part of Andaman. Earlier it used to be large, but now they have scaled down the presence. But, yes, they are there," the officer said on condition of anonymity.

The comments gain significance, as the Myanmarese, who enjoy good relations with both India and China, had only a couple of years ago taken a delegation of military personnel from India to Coco Islands to allay the fears of New Delhi on Chinese presence there and they had returned convinced of Rangoon's claims.

The delegation had even stated that China's presence in Coco Islands was a myth and even satellite surveillance had established it.

The officer said, "In fact, the Chinese presence in the region is all the more reason for gearing up the security apparatus in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the plans include Sukhoi squadrons for air defence and radars for both aerial and surface surveillance."

Though Sukhois have operated from Port Blair in the past, the plans to have a fighter squadron of these potent air dominance jets are still in the pipeline and depend on future induction of the 240 of these aircraft already ordered by India in recent years.

India currently has five Sukhoi squadrons based in Pune, Bareilly and Tezpur.

The plans include having at least four air bases at Shipur in the north Andamans and Campbell Bay in the Nicobar Islands in the south, apart from Port Blair and Car Nicobar for which the first two airfields are being upgraded to support night operations and their airstrips are being extended.

"Su-30 fighters have operated from here. But at present only Port Blair can support these fighter operations. The airstrips in Shipur and Campbell Bay are being extended from the existing 3,200 feet to 12,000 feet and equipped with night operations facility so that we can operate all types of aircraft from these airstrips too," Andaman and Nicobar Command Chief Vice Admiral D K Joshi said.

Not only Sukhois, the ANC is also looking at having other fighters from the MiG series and Mirage-2000s in the Islands if possible, other officers indicated.

On the Navy's part, the ANC at present does not have major surface combatants among the 15 warships that are permanently based it. But it will be wise to have destroyers or frigates in Port Blair due to the strategic importance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which sits right on the entry and exit of northern approaches to Malacca Straits, they said.

With southern most part of Nicobar just about 163 km away from Malacca Straits, India would have an advantage, as it can control the movement of maritime trade through the narrow channel frequented by about 50,000 merchant vessels a year and with about 15 million barrels of oil movement a day.

Almost 80 per cent of China's oil needs move through the Sea Lanes of Communication that pass via the Malacca Straits or the Sunda and Lombok Straits south of Indonesia.

"In fact, India holds the key and Malacca Straits is a choke point in the east of the Indian Ocean. That will summarise the strategic importance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands," another senior officer, unwilling to be named, said.

"The increase in the number of surface combatants, and even possibly submarines being based here, depends on the future inductions and deployment patterns as envisaged by Naval Headquarters in New Delhi. ANC's assets will grow. The plans have been approved at the highest levels. It will happen in due course," he said.

Stressing the importance of the AN, he added: "It will only be an advantage to have combatants here considering that Andaman and Nicobar is located 750 miles away from mainland India. When we launch operations from here, it means we have the advantage of having covered this distance already and can respond to threats in no time."

The Army, on its part, has plans of inducting a Brigade with amphibious warfare capability supported by mechanised forces and artillery fire power.

As far as coastal security is concerned, the ANC has already deployed three low level, surface radars at East Island, Neil near Ross Island and at Campbell Bay, as part of the coastal radar coverage network approved after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

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