Defence Minister on Saturday will leave for the Maldives on a three-day visit

Defence Minister A.K. Antony will inaugurate on Saturday coastal radar network in Kochi, a project envisaged after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

The first two clusters of the project were inaugurated in Mumbai and Porbandar by the Minister on August 25. The network was first recommended by the Group of Ministers formed in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war.

The project implementation on the mainland and the island territories is expected to be completed by September and March 2013 respectively, officials in the Defence Ministry said.

Under Phase-II, 38 additional remote radar sites would be established. The project envisages fitment of high end surveillance gadgets — frequency diversity radar, electro-optic sensors, VHF sets and met equipment on lighthouses and masts. When installed fully, sensors would provide near gap free electronic surveillance of the entire Indian coast line up to the 25 nautical miles from the coast.

Mr. Antony is also scheduled to flag off INS Sudarshini, a three-masted barque (sail ship), which will undertake a historic Asean voyage from September 15. During its voyage, the ship will touch 18 ports and conclude its trip in April next.

INS Sudarshini is the second sail training ship of the Navy. It was commissioned by Vice-Admiral K.N. Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command (SNC) at Naval Base, Kochi, in January. The ship is a follow-on the class of INS Tarangini, which joined the SNC in 1997.

From Kochi, Mr. Antony will embark on a three-day visit to the Maldives, beginning Saturday evening. It will be his second visit to Maldives as Defence Minister in three years.

During his visit, Mr. Antony will have interaction with the Indian community there, lay the foundation stone for a military hospital and hold bilateral meetings with leaders. Before returning home on Monday, he will also call upon the Maldivian President.

In the recent past, India has stepped up its defence engagement with the Maldives and Seychelles in a bid to counter China's strategic moves. Indian warships and Dornier reconnaissance aircraft are helping the Maldives in maritime patrol and surveillance. New Delhi is also assisting Male to set up a network of ground radars in all its 26 atolls and link them with the Indian military surveillance systems.

India and the Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy close, cordial and multi-dimensional relations. India was among the first to recognise the Maldives after Independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with it.

India's swift assistance during the 1988 coup attempt, which helped in defusing the crisis, became a landmark in India-Maldives relations.

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