In ‘strategic signalling’, Rajnath reviews infrastructure upgrade in Port Blair

The Andaman and Nicobar islands gives India leverage to keep an eye on China’s expansion in the Indian Ocean region

Updated - January 05, 2023 08:49 pm IST

Published - January 05, 2023 06:46 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. File

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. File | Photo Credit: ANI

Amid push to upgrade facilities at the strategic Andaman and Nicobar islands (A&N), which gives India leverage to keep an eye on China’s expansion in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday reviewed the “operational preparedness” of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and infrastructure development at operational areas.

Commander-in-Chief ANC (CINCAN) Lt. Gen. Ajai Singh briefed the Minister about the “geo-strategic potential” of the islands and “the role they can play towards enhancing India’s influence and support to military operations in the area,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement. Mr. Singh is on a two-day visit to the ANC, the country’s only operational joint services command.

“The CINCAN briefed the Defence Minister about the achievements, future plan and challenges of ANC. He highlighted the significant role played by the ANC in carrying forward the government’s Act East policy and in realising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region [SAGAR] by building ‘Bridges of Friendship’ with the country’s maritime neighbours,” the statement said.

He visited the ANC joint operations centre, which is the nerve centre for integrated planning for surveillance, conduct of operations and logistic support and also visited Sankalp Smarak, the location of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s historic arrival on December 29, 1943. Mr. Singh is also scheduled to visit units at Campbell Bay, Carnic and Diglipur.

Key role

Interacting with officers and jawans, Mr. Singh commended the role played by the ANC in strengthening national security and keeping the maritime domain safe and secure, while playing a significant role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Noting that this is Mr. Singh’s first visit to Indira Point since January 2019, the statement added that apart from the “strategic signalling” in view of proximity of these far-flung islands to the Indo-Pacific, the visit of the Minister motivated the troops deployed in these distant and remote islands.

Recently, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change granted final environmental clearance for a mega ₹72,000-crore development plan for the Great Nicobar island which entails the construction of a transshipment hub, international airport, township and power plant spread over 160 sq km.

The expansions and development will significantly expand India’s footprint in the region, a defence official noted.

The A&N archipelago is closer to southeast Asia than to the Indian mainland, overlooking key sea lanes of communication and strategic choke points, including the Malacca Strait through which a bulk of global energy and trade transits through. For instance, Myanmar and Thailand are about 500 km away from INS Kohassa, the naval air station located 100 miles north of Port Blair.

China’s presence

With increased contestation in the region, including China’s increased presence in the IOR, India has in recent years upgraded military infrastructure and facilities and deployed long-range assets to monitor the region. However, there have been major delays as well and there is now a renewed effort to speed up the development.

While the Navy operates its P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft from here, the Indian Air Force has deployed Su-30MKIs. BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles have also been deployed in the A&N islands which have a long-range offensive strike capability. The Navy is also expanding runways to operate all kinds of aircraft, including fighter jets.

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