In his first visit to the strategically-located 572-island archipelago as the defence minister, Singh will be briefed by Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) chief Lt-General Ajai Singh on the overall situation in the region on Thursday, officials told TOI.
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Apart from interacting with troops, the minister on Friday will also be visiting naval air station INS Baaz located at Campbell Bay, which is the southernmost airbase of the Indian armed forces that overlooks the crucial Malacca Strait through which China’s critical sea trade routes pass, while also dominating the Six-Degree Channel.
INS Baaz in the Great Nicobar Island was commissioned in 2012 as part of the overall policy to counter China’s strategic moves in the IOR as well as ensure security of shipping lanes.
The IAF also often operates Sukhoi-30MKIs and Jaguars from its Car Nicobar airbase, which is over 1,200-km from India’s eastern coast but overlooks the maritime boundaries of Southeast Asia, though the fighters are not permanently based there.
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In effect, the archipelago provides India with crucial military surveillance, interdiction and operational turnaround capabilities to threaten China’s `choke-points’ in the region, a senior officer said. There are plans to progressively crank up military force-levels in terms of additional aircraft, helicopters, infantry battalions, artillery batteries, surface-to-air missile systems as well as develop the requisite military infrastructure to house them in the ANC.
“In addition to major `dual-use’ civilian projects, several military infrastructure development plans are also underway. Capability development and extension of runways at some locations to support operations by larger aircraft, for instance, are works in progress,” a defence official said. But the going has been relatively slow at the ANC, which was established as India’s first geographical unified command in October 2001 with all the manpower and assets of the Army, Navy, IAF and Coast Guard placed under a single commander-in-chief.
Internecine turf wars among the three Services, general politico-bureaucratic apathy, fund crunches and major environmental concerns have all hobbled the ANC from realising its full potential over the years. “Apart from the land borders, there is certainly the growing threat from China in the IOR. It’s critical to upgrade the ANC as India’s effective military outpost in the region,” another officer said.