Andamans, not just an Indian mainland buffer

Japanese occupation of Andaman & Nicobar Islands (A&N islands) and role of the islands during Battle of the Malacca Strait during the World War II, is not much known in India. But if Chinese ever float a battle group towards India, the islands could be a major decisive factor. The A&N Islands forms a real estate of 8,293 sq km and 139 islands. The farthest point of the Islands is Indra Point (formerly named Pygmalion Point, Parsons Point and India Point) on the Great Nicobar, just 150 km of sea from Sumatra island of Indonesia. Indira Point lighthouse is an important landmark on the Colombo-Singapore Shipping lane on Malacca Strait. The place has a tri-junction point with Indonesia, Thailand and India in the Andaman Sea. Another fact is A&N Islands were a bone of contention after independence between India and Indonesia.

After independence, the A&N Islands went under military neglect as the Army did not have enough personnel to deploy there and it was left to Navy to defend these islands. Indian Navy charted the area in 1957-58. By 1963-64, INS Jarawa was set up. Along with Jarawa, a naval garrison was set with facilities to move to other islands if needed. In 1964 Port Blair facilities were repared. Navy used some of those Japanese facilities left over by the Japanese with improvements. In 1971, a three-phased plan in which a base repair organisation at Port Blair and meteorological office at Port Blair and Nancowry was approved and the base repair organisation was commissioned in 1978. In 1977, an interim Coast Guard organisation was set up and by 1978 Coast Guard organisation at Port Blair for the Andaman and Nicobar region became operational. Boundaries with Indonesia and Thailand were settled. In 11 May 1985, the erstwhile British air strip began functioning as an Naval Air Base ‘INS Utkrosh.’ Current major assets on the islands include INS Shipbur (Naval Air Station) in Diglipur, Tri-Service command in Port Blair, Carnic Air base operated by AirForce, INS kardip and recently commissioned INS Baaz Naval Air Station.

The Islands have not been entirely peaceful after independence. Indonesia wanted to seize the islands with the help of Pakistani Army help to divert Indian attention from Kashmir during 1965 war. The the islands also see regular piracy and rebel (Indonesian & Burmese) activities. The Chinese term the A&N Islands as the Iron Chain. Both Chinese and the Americans have alleged interest in Burma’s Coco Islands which lie on same Andaman and Nicobar Islands archipelago and are separated from the North Andaman Island by the 20 kM (12 mi) wide Coco Channel.

At commissioning of Baaz, the naval chief pointed out that the archipelago was a key military lauchpad for India. He said that Port Blair would be home to amphibious platforms, naval offshore patrol vessels and fast attack craft, subject to newer acquisitions over the next two decades. The IAF has recommended basing of its Su-30MKI multirole fighters. Army has a Brigade with three battalions, including one from Territorial Army, posted on the islands. The islands not just present a opportunity as a static aircraft carrier for India in the region, they also can support any Indian aircraft carrier group or other naval operations towards pacific. The military setup along with co-operation with South East Asian countries, US, Japan and South Korea brings in relief to many smaller nations in the area who are apprehensive of the covert Chinese aggressiveness now gone overt. The islands overlooking the Malacca Strait and Six Degree Channel will be a major source of bargain with China as majority of Chinese shipping trade and oil passes through this region.

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