Runways Every 100 Miles…
China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region appears to have injected new momentum in India’s efforts to fortify its farthest military outpost - the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Plans are afoot to upgrade airstrips to support fighter operations, induct 5,000 more troops and deploy additional Warships, senior officials of the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) are reported to have said.
INS Viraat at Port Blair
Myanmar’s Coco Islands, where the Chinese navy has reportedly set up a surveillance post, are barely 40 km from the Andamans’ northernmost tip, the Landfall Island.
New Delhi may not openly flag concerns about China’s strategic moves to squeeze India with its presence in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but there is a growing realization that the Andamans hold the key to dominating a vital maritime zone.
Vice-Admiral D.K. Joshi, Commander-in-Chief, Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), is reported to have said that the airstrips at Campbell Bay and Shibpur in the Diglipur region of North Andaman, were being extended from 3,200 feet to 12,000 feet to support all types of aircrafts, including fighters. The airstrips are being upgraded for night-flying operations too.
I recently came to know from a defence website, Bharat Rakshak that the ANC sources told Rahul Singh of Hindustan Times that the army was planning to beef up its brigade-level deployment (around 3,000 soldiers) with three more battalions and support units. An officer said, “There are plans to induct a mechanized infantry battalion, an artillery regiment and an infantry unit.”
The navy, too, is deploying more warships and patrol vessels in the region. Asked if the navy was concerned about the Chinese navy’s expansion in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the then navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said, “The navy’s plans are guided by what’s happening in the region… not just by what a particular country is doing.”
The Andamans are more than 1,200 km away from mainland India. A significant volume of China’s oil imports passes through Malacca Strait, about 350 km from these islands.
The ANC is also India's first tri-services command, which means it has under its wing, assets from all three wings of the armed forces, as also the Coast Guard. Its chief is drawn by rotation from the army, the navy and the air force.
The ANC crew in action during 2004 Tsunami
I, along with scores of other islanders of the territory, have always been highly appreciative of the ANC, which also includes an element from the Coast Guard, as it had played a stellar role in the wake of the devastating Dec 26, 2004 Tsunami that ravaged the islands by providing succor to its inhabitants and also to countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives that too were badly affected.
As per the ongoing plans of the Indian defence think-tank, after Port Blair, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are now set to have full-length ‘all weather and all aircraft’ runways after every 100 miles.
“Every 100 miles or so you will find an airfield capable of operating all aircrafts (which could include commercial ones) in all-weather conditions,” the Commander-in-Chief of the Islands, Mr D.K. Joshi, is reported to have said.
At present, only Port Blair, the capital has a full-fledged runway capable of operating all kinds of aircraft but considering the height of a hill, the Joggers Park or “Chaandmaari” as the locals call it, on the eastern side, it’s a uni-directional airstrip. However, it’s planned to be made bi-directional soon.
The Uni-directional runway at Port Blair airport
The runways in Car Nicobar, Shibpur and Campbell Bay are also proposed to be upgraded into full-length runways.
Meanwhile, it’s in the air that the famous Taj Group is setting up a venture at the famous Havelock Island to boost tourism in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, even as corporates are flocking with major investments. Tourism and other developmental activities are poised for high growth in the immediate future.
Also on the anvil is a container transshipment hub at Campbell Bay, for which feasibility study is in progress. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen as to how these runways will be operated and more importantly what will be the Logistical apparatus in place to sustain the same.
Admiral Gorshkov renamed “INS Vikramaditya” to join Indian Navy fleet by 2012
I reckon the proposed development of these runways must have come up keeping in mind the rising Air Force might in the East as also the Indonesian intentions of acquiring 180 Flankers. Also, the military establishment will work wonders towards boosting the economy of the islands. India has a pearl in the middle of the Indian Ocean... and we are finally realizing its true worth.
The bottom-line is – The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are precious and prized strategic assets for India. India's resource box and geographical location has it quite nicely geared up for Asian dominance and these pristine islands, besides being an enviable floating paradise for tourists from the world over, are a proud natural aircraft carrier of India. :-)
Stats: Bharat Rakshak