Modi wants Andaman & Nicobar to become a major military base, appoints ex-Admiral as Lieutenant Governor
Admiral D K Joshi (retired), who quit the Indian Navy in a huff in 2014, has been appointed the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar islands.
The appointment of Admiral Joshi as the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar isn’t only about setting past mistakes right. It is also a clear signal that the Modi-led NDA government wants to make the archipelago – India’s easternmost military post – play a more decisive military role for its “Look East Policy”.
In fact, the archipelago is designed to be the main staging post for warships, aircraft and submarines to counter the growing aggressiveness of China in the Indian Ocean. More number of Chinese warships and submarines prowled the Indian Ocean in 2017 than ever before. And, on the other hand, the Andaman Nicobar base will form an important logistic base for the Indian Navy’s reach out programme to countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam among others. The 750-km long Andaman and Nicobar archipelago comprises a chain of 572 islands and is located 1,200 km from mainland India, but is merely 90 km from Indonesia and 50 km from Myanmar.
The Andaman Nicobar island chain faces the crucial Malacca Strait – one of the busiest shipping lanes and also China’s gateway to the Indian Ocean and therefore a natural choke-point. About 40 per cent of the world’s trade and more than 50,000 merchant ships sail through it every year. It has assumed even greater importance with the stupendous rise of China in the last decade.
Nearly 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports from the Middle East and Africa pass through the Malacca Strait. And, an estimated 15 million barrels per day of oil flow through the Malacca Strait from the Middle East Gulf and West. The Indian Navy is now permanently sending warships along the 40 Km strait to police the waters. Further down in the Northern Indian Ocean region, the Sunda Strait is also seeing more Indian warships in a policing role.
AIRSTRIP OF INDIAN NAVY’s INS BAAZ BEING INCREASED
As per plans, the airstrip of the Indian Navy’s INS Baaz, which is located at Campbell Bay – the southernmost tip of the archipelago – is being increased and upgraded to accommodate and maintain a bigger aircraft like the P8I – the US-made long-range maritime surveillance aircraft. The work to upgrade INS Baaz began during the previous UPA regime. However, it has taken longer than expected.
It is from here that surveillance aircraft are planned to take-off to keep an eye over the vast Northern Indian Ocean region. More deep water-jetties to harbour warships are in the making as well. The construction of new harbours and jetties has begun, but again progress has been slow. The Andaman Nicobar Command was set up in 1995 and has six small-to-medium air stations under the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force is up for a major upgrade as well. Again, most of the plans have remained on paper only.
Despite the South Block’s increased focus on Andaman and Nicobar, the construction of infrastructure has been slow. Issues of coordination between agencies and between the three-services have impeded progress. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra have on repeated occasions highlighted slow infrastructure development in the archipelago, top sources told India Today. And this is why appointment of former Indian Navy Chief Admiral Joshi assumes significance. Before taking over as the Navy Chief, Admiral Joshi led the Andaman Nicober command.
“The appointment of Admiral Joshi will sort out coordination issues and fast-track execution. Not only does he understand maritime strategy, he can also ensure better coordination between the three forces”, a senior Ministry of Defence official said.
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