The group of islands known as Andaman and Nicobar Islands have served as a geo strategic advantage to the Cholas from ancient – medieval history to the Imperial Japan in World War 2 when fighting against British empire. The archipelago have also played an important role in trade in the Indian Ocean, connecting the Middle East to India and then to the south East Asia. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands later (re)joined the independent India. The long economic and geo strategic history of these group of Islands have shown that they have been a very important part of India for a long time.
Current strategic importance
Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, due of its’ proximity to Malacca Strait becomes a very important strategic point of advantage for India to counter any Chinese misadventures in Indian Ocean. 80% of Chinese hydrocarbon requirements and about half of Chinese export and import moves just beneath the archipelago, we’ll come back to the military power requirement later in the article. The naval base in A&N allows Indian Navy Ships administrative and logistical support and early departure for ships to areas like South China Sea (SCS) and south eastern Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Air base in Car Nicobar provides Indian Air Force the ability to counter a Chinese offence with its’ aircraft carriers around the archipelago. India and Australia have bilateral agreements upon the use of Andaman & Nicobar of India and Cocos Island of Australia. Any move by the Chinese to bypass the Malacca Strait has to either go though Cocos island or beneath Australia which will be a costly affair without extensive use of support ships. A&N islands also stand as Indias’ first line of defence against any Chinese misadventures in Indian Ocean.
Economy and future prospects
Andaman and Nicobar consists of 572 islands, 1962 km of coastline, area of 7,935 km² and a population of more than 3,80,000. With such features it is expected to have an economy of at least 10 billion USD, but this is not the case, GDP of Andaman & Nicobar stands at around 1.5 billion USD. A&N has immense potential that was ignored for decades. Major source of income is agriculture and not fisheries as seen in most islands, much of the needed supply is imported from the states of India. In recent years, A&N has seen increased tourism due to its’ beautiful beaches, islands, history. Andaman and Nicobar has witnessed double digit economic growth in recent decade. A&N has a high literacy rate of >90% and medium income population (>₹1,60,000/head). Out of 572 only 38 of the islands are inhabited. A&N has capabilities to host millions of people with a GDP of 10s of billions of dollars. Singapore with a population of 5.7M has an economy of 370 billion USD due to its’ geographical location and economic policies brought by the leaders of Singapore.
Growth and development
High speed 4G network was recently made accessible with the help of submarine fibre optic cable. This will provide better connectivity at cheaper price than before, it will also help in telecommunications, banking, online education and more. Under the governments’ “Act East Policy” many major decisions have been taken to develop, out of which is the transhipment port that will be built which can support large ships and can provide a replacement of Colombo port and Singapore port, this alone is expected to add more than ₹5,000 crore to the 8,000 crore GDP of A&N, it will also help people to move from agriculture based economy to a service and manufacturing based one. A&N has 2 airports while one more is under consideration to be built in Great Nicobar. Government of India plans to build a 100% renewable electrical grid which will help in keeping the pollution low and the islands clean which will in return maintain and increase the tourism sector in future. A&N islands feature a forest land which is over 80% of the total land, which can provide land for agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors and can still have more than 50% of its’ land covered with forests and wildlife this is still above the desired 33%. With the economic development, we will also have to keep in mind that Andaman and Nicobar has a very rich ecosystem that can be harmed with ‘blind development’ programs. Government can force the joint venture and PPP companies to follow strict guidelines about environmental impacts by the development.
Military side of things
Andaman and Nicobar Islands currently house the first and only tri service command, but even half of the potential this archipelago offers has yet not been achieved. The Andaman and Nicobar archipelago has 2 airports out of which 1 is under Indian Air Forces’ (IAF) command in Car Nicobar which is just 2 meters above sea level. The air base doesn’t have any fighter jet squadrons permanently, and in recent times has seen squadrons of su-30 MKI or Jaguars being temporarily stationed. The air base does have helicopters, refuelers and maritime reconnaissance aircrafts and, IAF plans to station dedicated squadrons of su-30 MKI when proper facilities and enough fighter jets are available. Many of the Indian Navy amphibious warfare vessels have been stationed here and missile corvettes of Kora class, INS Karmuk and INS kulish are also stationed with numerous patrol vessels, fast patrol vessels and tankers. In future has an option to station the nuclear submarine attack submarines in the A&N islands. INS Utkrosh, the naval base at port blair can support large Aircraft Carriers and large warships. INS Baaz and INS Kohassa can shelter large aircrafts, Indian Navys’ P8I submarine hunter is also stationed here for maritime surveillance, reconnaissance and anti submarine warfare. INS Jarawa and INS Kardip provides logistics support and harbour.
What more can be done (Opinion)
The growing strength of Indian Navy with the upcoming Vishakhapatnam class destroyers, Nilgiri Class frigates, P75A nuclear attack submarine, and other surface combatants (P18, P28A, P75I etcetera) it can deploy more vessels at Andaman and Nicobar archipelago which can work as a forward base for Indias’ “Act East” policy. With more aircrafts in Indian Airforces’ inventory, Jaguars and su-30 MKI can be stationed at airbase in A&N with Indian Navys’ P8I. It can be guarded by XR-SAM, SRSAM and MRSAMs. With time, more personnel can be deployed on the islands.
With economic development of Andaman and Nicobar, it soon may have a 10+ billion USD GDP. More skilled population can also provide human resource needed to maintain such complex equipments. Ship building facilities can also be developed to increase the manufacturing capabilities of A&N.
Andaman and Nicobar has been one of the most neglected economic and strategic location around the globe for the previous decades which has only got proper attention in recent years.
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