India set for major military expansion in Andamans

March 17th, 2006  

Topic: India set for major military expansion in Andamans



KOLKATA, India, March 16 (Reuters) - India will soon start a major expansion of its military presence in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a year after the Asian tsunami wrecked defence bases there, a top commander said on Thursday.

The plans include construction of three new air bases to add to the one existing base, increasing coast guard troop levels and strengthening infrastructure at old facilities in the strategically vital archipelago in the Bay of Bengal.

"Our expansion plans are totally transparent and the defensive measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the islands only," said Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh, commander-in-chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command.

"We have found an unused 3,000-feet (900-metre) World War Two runway in very good condition in Kamorta (island), which we are planning to develop soon," Singh told Reuters by phone from Port Blair, capital of the island group, referring to one of the three new air bases planned.

Two other air bases would be built in Diglipur and Campbell Bay after small airstrips there are lengthened to handle large transport and fighter aircraft, he said.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are located about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of the Indian mainland, close to the Malacca Strait, the main sea lane between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea leading to the Pacific.

India has an air and naval bases and listening posts across the archipelago as it considers the sea routes vital to its security and to guard against what some defence experts say is China's increasing interest in the region.

Sea routes in the region are known to be used to ship weapons destined for rebels in northeastern India, Myanmar or Bangladesh and drug smuggling. They are also prone to smuggling, piracy, poaching and illegal immigration.


Besides, the Great Nicobar island lies just 65 miles (100 km) from Sumatra and was considered vulnerable when Indonesian President Sukarno offered to take the islands to help Pakistan during its 1965 war with India.

Vice-Admiral Singh said that the runway in Campbell Bay would also be elevated to keep the sea away and sea walls built to protect personnel and the local population.

"With gadgets like the Instrument Landing System in place, landing in difficult weather conditions won't be a problem in future either," he said.

The Andamans were badly hit by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, with more than 3,500 people killed and nearly 40,000 displaced.

The dead included about 110 air force personnel and their families on the Car Nicobar base, which suffered extensive damage due to the giant waves.

But the facility was quickly repaired and the Indian Air Force even conducted exercises involving Sukhois and Jaguar fighters in what was seen as a signal to the world that New Delhi's defence installations were back in good shape.

Many Indian defence experts believe that China has military or intelligence facilities on Myanmar's Coco Islands, a few miles away from India's Diglipur, 185 km (115 miles) north of Port Blair.

Although the Indian naval chief last August said that he believed a Myanmar official statement that there were no such Chinese facilities on Coco, other Indian defence officials feel New Delhi could not let its guard down.

"In the recent past, we noticed a Chinese ship being escorted by two Chinese warships just south of Campbell Bay," Singh said. "However, there is no military threat to the region at all."
March 18th, 2006  

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