Officials of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) have issued warnings after PLAN warships have repeatedly been snooping close to Indian Territory. Andaman and Nicobar islands are placed under ANC, India’s only strategic command comprising of the Army, Air force and Navy. A report from ANC has found Chinese warships attempting to cross over Indian waters frequently. Andaman and Nicobar Command have detected Chinese naval ships very close to India’s territorial waters in the recent past. An elaborated, yet unconfirmed report from ANC states that PLAN ships attempt to get close at least twice, every three months. The intrusions have been intensifying in the past six months.
In a move to counter the Chinese, MoD is now contemplating to deploy more assets under the strategic ANC. ANC is composed mainly around Naval forces and comprises of 15 major warships, two Navy Sea bases, four Air Force and Naval Air bases and an Army brigade. ANC is India’s first and only joint tri-service command. INS Jarawa is centric to all naval operations taking place under the command. INS Baaz and the Car Nicobar Air Force base are the only bases to operate Air assets. The ANC was setup in 2001 with all the land, sea and air military forces under one operational commander. But the command has largely failed to live up to its initial promise.
ANC mainly operates Patrol vessels that are charged with conducting reconnaissance and surveillance around the EEZ of India. They lack primary long range surveillance radar. Equipped with 76mm naval guns, they can effectively subdue smaller threats. However, they lack a primary offensive weapon to deal with larger threats. ANC also operates amphibious assault vessels, which can be effectively used for mounting amphibious operations. These amphibious assault vessels have reached their shelf life and have to be replaced to boost the operational capabilities.
The air wing under ANC is formed around the Dornier Do 228 surveillance platform. This aircraft is being currently used as the primary recon and surveillance platform by the command. After runways at INS Baaz and Car Nicobar Air base were increased in length, bigger ASW platforms like the P8I and Tuplov have been deployed temporarily. ANC also operates Mi-8 and Mi-17 V5 fleet of copters to support amphibious operations. An air defence wing was deployed temporarily under the command. Plans to field a squadron of India’s most advanced jet fighters, the Su-30 MKI have been afloat with the MoD.
PLAN has forward deployed its modern Frigates and Destroyers to the bases close to Andaman and Nicobar. Islands around Andaman are critically important, considering the close proximity to the strategic Malacca strait. Instances of PLAN’s Diesel-Electric submarines lurking close to EEZ have also been reported. China is also rumoured to have signed an agreement with the Myanmar government to lease Coco Islands, where a small naval outpost has been erected by PLAN. The Coco Island is around 70 nautical miles away from the Andaman Islands.
Considering the proximity to the Malacca strait, Islands around Andaman and Nicobar assume great importance. Almost 70% of Chinese export is based on sea routes and the sea lanes passing through Malacca strait account to almost 90% of China’s oil import. If a naval blockade is imposed around the Malacca strait, China would be chocked off Oil and other crucial supplies in a matter of days. The waters around Bay of Bengal are the doorway to mainland territory of India. In a war scenario, PLAN will surely mount an offensive operation on Andaman command. Islands around the disputed Coco Islands have also been placed under ANC and these islands can be the real changers in a war.
The current scenario of ANC is quite disturbing. The assets under ANC would fail to repel a Chinese advancement or to the have the capability to counter Chinese fleet passing through the Malacca Strait. Officials under ANC, in the past have repeatedly requested the government to diplomatically deal with Chinese presence around the Coco Islands. As a means to counter the Chinese, Indian government has drawn up elaborate plans to modernize several bases under ANC.
In a move to ramp up the air defence posture of the command, INS Baaz and the Car Nicobar Airbase were modernized. Modern facilities for the maintenance and housing of aircraft were provided. The runway length was increased significantly to allow larger aircraft to operate from these forward bases. On the contrary, till date, larger aircraft operating under the ANC have only been on the papers. During the search operation for MH-370, Long Range Surveillance Aircraft like P8I and Tuplov operated out of INS Baaz. India’s modern submarine killer aircraft, P8I was posted on a temporary rotation to ANC, but was withdrawn shortly.
The facilities available at these bases are satisfactory for the government to deploy modern and long range aircraft. The addition of P8I to the ANC will be a major game changer in the stand against PLAN. IAF can also forward deploy its fleet of strategic air lifters. The deployment of C-130 J and C-17 globe master or the IL-76 will boost the strike capabilities of the command. The plans to deploy the air superiority Su-30 MKI needs to be fastened up and the deployment of these aircraft deter the daring Chinese.
Air force can also consider forward rotating its squadrons till time and the Su-30 MKI are available for deployment. The amount of aircraft retiring from the force has forced the government to rethink its strategy towards ANC. Indian Navy will also be shortly acquiring the naval version of the MiG 29 fighters from Russia for its IAC-I project. Government can also ponder upon acquiring another squadron of these effective aircraft for Anti-Shipping roles under the ANC.
The air defence module under the command is another matter the government needs address. The command currently lacks an effective air defence system, deployment of Akash SAM systems and Barak systems will address these issues. The deployment of land based coastal missile batteries is under way and the Navy has issued a RFP for the project.
Plans of setting up a fully operational naval base have been under, since the command was set-up. Navy on several occasions has raised its concern regarding the delay in commissioning forward naval bases. The top commands have suggested the Government to forward deploy submarines at these bases. But the crippling numbers in the underwater force has left the government with little choice. Indian navy will be acquiring the modern P-75 and it’s first indigenously developed nuclear submarine, INS Arihant shortly. With the completion of these projects, the submarine force will receive a major boost. hence the government can contemplate posting submarines in the near future.
The surface combatants under the ANC have also been depleting, the command currently operates amphibious vessels and patrol vessels. The deployment of Saryu class patrol vessels have been welcomed by officials under the command. The deployment of Destroyers, Frigates and Missile boats can serve as a strong message to the PLAN. ANC should be given a major boost to mount amphibious operations. The addition of Large LHD vessels and amphibious vessels clubbed with the deployment of a brigade of Indian Army personnel is guaranteed to guard the islands against any threats by the PLAN.
Indian government has shown keen interest in ramping up the capabilities of the Andaman and Nicobar command. Various projects to modernize forward bases around the islands are nearing completion. These bases are critical in establishing a naval blockade and are bound to deter the over adventurous PLAN in the Indian Ocean.