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Strategic Projects in Andaman and Nicobar Islands

  • Context (IE): Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands are seeing a major strategic security upgrade.

Recent strategic upgradations in A&N

  • Enhanced infrastructure: Revamped airfields and jetties, additional logistics and storage facilities, habitat for troops, robust surveillance infrastructure, etc., are being constructed.
  • Capacity for greater deployment: Such upgradation will facilitate the deployment of additional military forces and warships, aircraft, missile batteries and troops.
  • Road construction: A road from the north of the islands to Port Blair in the south is being proposed.
  • Expansion of IAF station: Includes expansion of the runway and station. It can result in the holding of fighter squadrons for longer durations.
  • Great Nicobar Island Project: A project that includes an international container transhipment terminal, a greenfield international airport, and a township development is being proposed.
  • Naval capabilities: Upgrades in hangers, Precision Approach Radar (PAR), Surveillance System at INS Utkrosh in Port Blair and Naval Communication Network (NCN) Centres enhanced naval capacities.
  • Remote Sensing: The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) will increase its manpower to analyse satellite imagery and technical capacity to improve surveillance in the A&N Islands and Lakshadweep.

Strategic Importance of A&N Islands

  • Closeness to maritime chokepoint: Its location at the western entrance/exit of the Strait of Malacca makes it essential in case of a “Malacca Dilemma”.
  • India’s opportunity: It allows India to monitor the flow of traffic from the South China Sea (Pacific Ocean) to the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean).
  • Closer to other nations: The A&N islands are closer to Myanmar, Indonesia, and Thailand than to the Indian cities of Chennai and Kolkata.
  • Exclusive economic zone (EEZ): It adds 300,000 sq km to India’s EEZ and promises undersea hydrocarbon and mineral deposits.
  • Uninhibited islands: Less than 40 of the archipelago’s 836 islands and islets are inhabited, leaving a possibility of surreptitious occupation — a la “Kargil heights” — by a covetous neighbour.
  • China’s expanding influence: China is building a military facility at Myanmar’s Coco Islands north of the A&N Islands, which raises concerns.

Malacca Dilemma

  • Malacca Dilemma is a word coined in 2003 by then-Chinese President Hu Jintao.
  • The Strait of Malacca’s location, which falls between the Sumatra Islands, the Malay Peninsula, and Singapore to its east, makes it a chokepoint for Chinese oil imports.
  • Hu Jintao argued that the rival nations of China could easily block this narrow stretch of water.

Historical evolution of security presence in A&N

  • British Period: Dark symbolism of Kalapani to Cellular jail in A&N island in the aftermath of the 1857 revolution led to long neglect of the island chain.
  • Liberated by INA: Japan occupied it during World War II. For a brief period, it remained liberated under the Provisional Government of INA.
  • Part of independent India: Despite some British advisors suggesting it to be retained as the Crown’s possession, it became part of India.
  • A&N Naval garrison: In 1962, after a reported sighting of a Chinese submarine, India stationed a few navy personnel in the A&N islands.
  • Post-Kargil war: India’s first unified theatre operational command, the Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC) in Port Blair, was established in 2001 after the Kargil security review report.

Way forward: India’s future role in A&N

  • Extension of defensive and diplomatic capabilities: A security infrastructure upgrade will not only extend India’s defensive perimeter but also bestow the ability to project power or extend a hand of friendship to maritime neighbours.
  • Peace in the region: India, with the cooperation of like-minded partners, can contribute to maintaining peace and tranquillity in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Transhipment hub: Port Blair could become a regional hub for navies to acquire interoperability in areas such as disaster relief, medical aid, countering piracy, and human smuggling.

To know more, visit > Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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