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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS

Militarising Andaman’s: The costs and benefits


The Editorial covers GS paper 3[Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.]

Context

  • The Ladakh stand-off with China has boosted India’s efforts to strengthen its military presence at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

  • India has expedited plans for basing additional military forces, including facilities for additional warships, aircraft, missile batteries, and infantry soldiers at the strategically-located Andaman Islands.

Where are the islands?

  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of 572 islands (37 inhabited) located at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

  • They span 450 nautical miles in a roughly north-south configuration adjacent to the western entrance to the Malacca Strait (a major Indian Ocean chokepoint).

  • The Islands connect South Asia with South-East Asia.

  • The northernmost point of the archipelago is only 22 nautical miles from Myanmar, the southernmost point (Indira Point), is a mere 90 nautical miles from Indonesia.

  • The islands dominate the Bay of Bengal, the Six Degree and the Ten Degree Channels that more than sixty thousand commercial vessels traverse each year.

  • ANI constitutes just 0.2 % of India’s landmass but provide 30% of its Exclusive Economic Zone.

What is its strategic importance?

  • One-Fourth of the total world population and one-third of littoral states of the world are located around the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

  • A large volume of the World’s trade, particularly oil and gas passes through this ocean.

  • The island chain acts as a physical barrier that secures busy Sea Lines of Communications by creating a series of chokepoints.

  • It includes the Preparis Channel in the north, Ten Degree Channel between ANI groups and Six Degree Channel to the south.

  • All the vessels that pass through Malacca Strait must traverse the Six Degree Channel.

  • The islands are located 1,500 kilometres from the mainland, they help to connect India to the Indo-Pacific.

  • They act as a buffer zone between India and the nations present in IOR.

  • India can defend its vital stakes in IOR and is a part of many maritime regional groupings due to the location of the islands.

How has it been militarized?

 

  • The idea of militarizing the Andaman Islands was advocated since the 1980s.

  • However, it was not an easy decision for Indian policymakers.

  • It was believed that turning the islands into a strategic-military garrison would infuriate countries in South and Southeast Asia and result in the militarisation of the littorals.

  • Malaysia and Indonesia feared that India would use its military facilities in the ANI to dominate its region, and project power east of Malacca.

  • Hence, the security presence at the strategic islands was kept minimum.

  • In the present times, amid growing threats from China, India is open to the idea of militarizing the islands.

What are the Highlights?

 

  • In 2016, India and Japan discussed a joint project to upgrade infrastructure in ANI.

  • This included a proposal to install a sound surveillance sensors (SOSUS) chain to improve India’s underwater domain awareness.

  • The plan was to integrate India’s undersea sensor chain with the existing US-Japan Fish Hook SOSUS network meant specifically to monitor People’s Liberation Army-Navy submarine activity in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean Rim.

  • Naval air stations INS Kohassa in Shibpur and INS Baaz in Campbell Bay are reportedly having their runways extended to support operations by large aircraft.

  • A 10-year infrastructure development roll-on plan pegged at Rs 5,000 crores is on the fast-track.

  • India can permit friendly foreign navies access to the ANI’s military bases.

Conclusion

 

Keeping in mind the strategic location of ANI and the growing ambitions of China, strengthening collaboration with Indo-Pacific partners must be a priority for Indian decision-makers. However, the downsides of offering foreign navies access to its island facilities must be taken into account. The final decision should be based on a weighing of costs and benefits and changing dynamics of the region. 

 

Source: Hindustan Times.



 
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