Government finalises Rs 5000-cr defence plan for Andamans

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New Delhi, Jan 27: India has virtually finalised an exclusive Rs 5,650-crore military infrastructure development plan spread over 10 years for the strategically located Andaman and Nicobar archipelago — which will allow stationing of additional warships, aircraft, drones, missile batteries and infantry soldiers there — against the backdrop of China’s rapidly expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean region.
Sources say the 10-year infrastructure “roll-on” plan for the Andaman and Nicobar Command, which is the country’s only theatre command with assets and manpower of the Army, Navy, IAF and Coast Guard under one operational commander, has been formulated after prolonged top-level discussions in the defence establishment.
“The plan has also been reviewed by the defence planning committee (chaired by national security adviser Ajit Doval and includes the three service chiefs, among others). The initial plan was pegged around Rs 10,000 crore but a decision was taken to focus largely on land that was already available or under acquisition by the ANC,” said a source.
Parallelly, a comprehensive plan for “force accretion” of the armed forces in phases at the ANC by 2027 is also in the works. Under it, the proposal for an increase in Army manpower and assets is pegged at about Rs 5,370 crore. This will include upgrade of the existing 108 Mountain Brigade there and a new infantry battalion to add to the three (two infantry and a Territorial Army) battalions already there, apart from new air defence, signals, engineer, supply and other units.
Sources point to the visits of PM Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to the 572-island archipelago in the last 30 days to stress that some plans are already under way. Apart from the two existing major airports at Port Blair and Car Nicobar, for instance, the runways at the naval air stations at Shibpur (commissioned as INS Kohassa by Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba on Thursday) in the north and Campbell Bay (INS Baaz) in the south will be extended to 10,000 feet to support operations by larger aircraft. Another 10,000-foot runway at Kamorta island is also envisaged as part of the 10-year infrastructure development.
India has already taken to deploying fighter jets like Sukhoi-30MKIs, long-range maritime patrol Poseidon-8I aircraft and Heron-II surveillance drones to the archipelago on a regular basis now. “Additional Dornier-228 patrol aircraft and Mi-17 V5 helicopters will also be based at the ANC soon,” said a source.
Though the ANC was established way back in 2001, internecine turf wars among the Army, the Navy and the IAF and general politico-bureaucratic apathy as well as fund crunches and lack of environmental clearances to build infrastructure have bedevilled the unified command till now.
This when a strong ANC, with requisite military force-levels and infrastructure, can effectively function as a pivot to counter China’s strategic moves in the IOR. “China’s expanding naval forays in the region, which include nuclear submarines, will only grow over time. India needs to seriously bolster its last military outpost in the ANC to keep an eagle eye on the region, and intervene if necessary,” said a senior officer.