As China is making strong inroads into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India has taken another strong step towards bulwarking its defences. India will be activating its southern-most airbase in Andaman and Nicobar Islands - overlooking economically important Malacca Strait - in August.
C-130J operating at Carnicobar
The Chinese Navy was expected to enter the IOR – ranging from Strait of Hormuz in the west to Malacca Strait in the East – in 2015. However, the scourge of piracy helped the dragon in finding long maritime legs and deploying assets in the region, lending urgency to India’s efforts to bolster its military presence in this archipelago.
“The airbase will be established in Campbell Bay, the last in the chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal. Till now only helicopters could operate from the island, but the airstrip will allow the fixed wing aircraft operation as well,” sources said. The Andaman and Nicobar, with its 572 islands, has the first tri-services command of the country that came into existence in 2001 following Kargil conflict. The command has elements of the army, navy and air force as part of its force structure. The airbase will also facilitate deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to keep an eye in the region.
With a bulk of Chinese trade passing through the Malacca Strait, the Andaman and Nicobar islands stand to give a strategic leverage to India in case of a conflict and also safeguard its economic interests during peace. The Archipelago gives India its 60,000 sq km of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is 30 percent of the country’s total EEZ of 2.01 sq km.
The airbase in Campbell Bay – beyond which lies the last territorial point of India named Indira Point – is the implementation of the island development plan.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has already tried out its potent frontline Sukhoi SU-30 fighter jets from air bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Shibpur airstrip in north Andamans is also planned to be extended from 3,200 feet to 12,000 feet to support all types of aircraft and night-flying operations. Moreover, new airstrips will come up at Kamorta and Little Andaman, while the existing two main runways at Port Blair and Car Nicobar are also being upgraded to facilitate fighter jet, helicopter and heavy transport plane operations. The plans will be implemented in the next few years.
“Plans are afoot to turn Campbell Bay into ‘Operational Turn-Around Bases’ with better refuelling and communication facilities and augmented force levels,” sources added.