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Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is an important marker of India’s strategic presence in the Eastern Indian Ocean (Figure: I). Lately, the Bay of Bengal has emerged as a critical area of interest for China and Chinese companies have been tasked by the CCP, to set up critical shipping and energy, ports, and roads infrastructure in India’s neighbouring states, which is causing concerns to India because of related Debt Trap diplomacy. In addition, China’s increasing Ships, submarines and Underwater Drone operations in the area are posing a direct threat to India’s economy and security and having a counter to this has become an imperative need for India.

This would necessitate expansion of India’s maritime capabilities in general and those of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) in special, not only to enable effective surveillance of Chinese ships and submarines in the South Asian seas but also to fulfil the onerous task of protecting the busy trade routes that the A and N islands straddle. Even from a domain awareness perspective, ANC can act as an effective force multiplier.

This article will, therefore, examine the current Geo-Political-Security Scenario in the region, carry out a brief Force Comparison between India and China, thereafter, examine aspects related to historical background and strategic importance of A & N Command, the future course of action for India, ending with some viable recommendations.

Current Geo-Political Scenario

The great Indian Strategist Chanakya had said that “By being alert, you can keep an eye on every movement of the enemy…” these words aptly signify the role of Andaman and Nicobar Command, in the current geo-political scenario.  

India currently has multiple problems on its platter to tackle. Issues like Pandemic effects, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China issues, instabilities in Indo Pacific and Indian Ocean region, would all have a serious bearing on India’s geo-economic-political stability and Security. The impact of these issues on India’s global prestige can also be significant and deft handling of the situation would be of utmost importance for India. This task can be really arduous for India, because of the limited resources available to it.

Though various measures have been initiated by India, to stabilize its economy and tackle the situation on various other fronts, a lot more still needs to be done, if it wants to remain relevant in IOR. This is where India’s Andaman and Nicobar Command would play a vital role. 

Before re-examining the importance of the Andaman Nicobar Command, it would be necessary to briefly focus on the current geo-political scenario in Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions. These regions are undoubtedly critical for the security and economic well-being of India and nefarious operations by China. in the region, are posing a worrisome threat to India.

The China Factor

China’s hegemonic behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region in general and in the South China Sea in particular, the creation of Artificial Islands and their militarization, are all detrimental to the Freedom of Navigation and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. It is indisputable that the Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific region is important for maintaining peace, economic and political stability, safety, and security in that area as well as in IOR.

In addition, China’s IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fishing activities and surreptitious survey operations in the IOR also pose a danger to the long-term economic stability and security of India and other littoral countries in the region (Deshmukh, 2021). As if this isn’t enough, Predatory Financial Investments by China in countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka et al, have changed the geostrategic calculus in IOR.

In addition, issues like China’s String of Pearls Project, China-Pakistan Nexus as a part of the Belt and Road Infinitive (Gwadar Port, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would pose their own problems for India. On the economic front, Regional Comprehensive Economic Pact (RCEP) led by China would have its unique implications for India.

In view of the above, it is imperative for India to have a comprehensive strategy to tackle problems posed by China and maintain its importance in Indo-Pacific and IO Regions.  The A & N Command would have an important role to play in this context.

Comparative Military Strengths: India-China

Before moving, it would be appropriate to examine the comparative military strengths of India and China (Table-I).

Table: – I- Comparative Military strengths- India and China

    Category       India       ChinaStatus for India    Remarks
Navy Ships    ~ 250      ~ 650      UnsatBuild rate slow
Navy S-marines    ~  16      ~  75      UnsatDecisions Slow
Airforce~2260 Ac+ Hptrs~4630 aircraft+ Hptrs      UnsatDecisions slow
ArmyArmoured Strength ~ 11000Armoured Strength ~ 27000      Unsat Decisions slow
Coast Guard    ~ 200 ships~ 230 Ships     Average 
IC: armed forces.eu (n.d.)

It doesn’t paint a very rosy picture for India and it’s clear that dice is heavily loaded in China’s favour. Thus, India would need to do its best in the given scenario, using some out of the box solutions. To cite an example innovative use of the Andaman Nicobar Command may help in partially compensating ships/submarines shortages for India – a factor which would highlight its importance.

Importance of Andaman and Nicobar Command

Historical Perspective

The Andaman and Nicobar (A & N) Islands are amongst the most strategically located island chains in the world. These islands form an important part of a sole archipelago in the Bay. In view of their location, straddling important sea channels, they are critical for India’s strategic interests. Being the common maritime space between India and Southeast Asia, the Bay of Bengal and the adjoining Andaman Sea are, undoubtedly, cardinal for peninsular India’s strategic manoeuvres and maritime prowess.

China’s unabated efforts to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, to overcome its ‘Malacca Dilemma’ and to fulfil it’s Maritime Silk Road’ ambitions, have fuelled apprehensions about economic, navigational, and strategic security aspects in these waters. India’s aspirations in the Bay, thus co-exist with its apprehensions over the belligerent rise of China in the region. 

Consequently, the littoral countries, as well as the global powers, have sought security collaborations with India, to ensure free movement along the SLOCs. On this background strategic location of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands makes them well-suited to serve as the nodal point in such collaborations (Bose and Chaudhury, 2021)

Current Perspective Related to ANC

Keeping the above perspective in mind, the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) was created in the year 2001, to safeguard India’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia and the Strait of Malacca, by increasing rapid deployment of military assets in the region. ANC is the first and only Tri-Service Theatre Command of the Indian Armed Forces, based at Port Blair in these strategically well-located Islands.

The ANC is now playing a critical role in providing logistical and administrative support to naval platforms and other military assets which are sent on deployment to East Asia and the Pacific Ocean. India has pragmatically decided to leverage the potential of these islands and enhance the capabilities of A & N Command to:

  • Protect its own interests
  • Strengthen its image as the ‘net security facilitator’ if not ‘net security provider’ in the region.
  • Monitor the shipping routes passing through the islands. 

The important Functions being served by A & N Command, for fulfilling its roles, cover (Journals of India, 2021): –

  • Control over vital global shipping routes: The zone of influence of ANC has deep significance in terms of history, culture, religion, economy, and trade, EEZs, political and international relations, national security, safety and freedom of navigation and power projection of not only India, but also for other nations of South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as $3 trillion international trade which passes through south Andaman Sea. ANC’s watch over the gateway of Far East includes Six Degree Channel and Ten Degree Channel in Indian EEZ in Bay of Bengal, which is connected to the Strait of Malacca. These are crossed by over 94,000 merchant ships every year carrying world’s 40% freight trade to and from China, South Korea, and Japan. Andaman and Nicobar Islands account for 0.2% of India’s land and 30% of its Exclusive economic zone.
  • Control over critical shipping chokepoints: Since this area is in Indian EEZ and ANC influence zone connects Indian Ocean with South China Sea and Pacific Ocean, safety of Malacca strait is of paramount interest to the economies of numerous countries.
  • QUAD force multiplier: Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), a strategic dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and USA, is aimed at countering the risk posed to the trade and security of navigation and nations in and around this region. QUAD nations continue to hold regular military exercise in the ANC influence area, such as Exercise Malabar.
  • Historic and contemporary geostrategic soft and hard power: Historic Indian cultural influence: Indianized Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms within Greater India, which also included Andaman and Nicobar as an important staging area were spread across Indonesia and Malaysia (Srivijaya, Majapahit, Gangga Negara, Kalingga, Kuai, Singhasari, Tarumanagara and Pan Pan), Malaysia (Langkasuka), Thailand (Dvaravati), Indochina (Champa, Funan, and Chenla), and Myanmar (Pagan).
  • The area in and around ANC influence zone is part of historic Greater India which was dotted with numerous Indianized Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms.
  • Port-development led Encirclement: To enhance the regional connectivity, trade, safety, security, and to protect the Strait of Malacca channel. India is developing several strategic ports in the influence zone of ANC, namely Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh with rail connectivity to Tripura, Port of Mongla in Bangladesh, Sittwe Port as part of Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar, Sabang deep-sea port -under India–Indonesia strategic military and economic partnership. This is being augmented by India’s Sagar Mala projects, aimed at developing several coastal ports in India, India is also considering developing more ports in the influence zone of ANC, such as the Dawei Port Project.
  • Protection of exclusive economic zone: The region suffers from the problem of piracy. ANC is the de-facto guarantor of the safety and security of exclusive economic zone of India, which also lies in the vicinity of EEZs of several other nations including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.

 ANC Futuristic Roles

Through, ANC fulfils all the above-mentioned duties, justifying its strategic importance, India still needs to do more to protect our national interests. Thus, in the coming years, India would need to further strengthen ANC’s capabilities (Chinoy, 2020): –

  • Re-invigorate its current policy to factor in China’s unilateral approach and growing strategic objectives in the Indian Ocean
  • Recalibrate its response to China due to:

– China’s scant regard for India’s sensitivity in regional geopolitics despite India’s self-imposed restraint, with regard to granting access to the A&N Islands.

–  China’s growing presence in the Bay of Bengal, and its strategic engagement with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Thailand which has significantly enhanced in recent years.

– Violation of India’s EEZ around the A&N Islands by Chinese research vessels illustrates China’s growing strategic presence and intentions in the Bay of Bengal

  • Develop comprehensive maritime and underwater domain awareness (MDA & UDA) for acquiring granular and accurate knowledge of both surface and sub-surface actors. This has become critical with China’s growing economic and strategic interests and commensurate naval presence in the IOR including regular forays by Chinese nuclear submarines.
  • Make full use of effective increase in the operational range by 750 Nautical Miles & and make A & N a base capable of multi-domain 24×7 operations.

For the above to become a reality, considerable enhancement in ANC’s network-centric capabilities would be needed to cater for AI (Artificial Intelligence Enabled)/ EW (Electronic Warfare) applications. Such enhancement would enable A & N Command to function as: –

  • Ideal secondary base for IFC-DFC
  • Credible Center for SAR/ IUU Control/Pollution Control/ HADR
  • Effective part of the larger Sagar Mala Initiative to:

– Become a credible net security facilitator and the first responder.

– Support ASEAN Countries in controlling the Dragon’s menace.

– Bolster the Blue Economy of the region by supporting Renewable Energy Projects, Monitored Fishing, and exploitation of Sea Wealth.

To summarize, the above initiatives would make ANC a bulwark for India’s security, justifying its importance and making India a power to reckon and depend on, in Indo-Pacific and IO regions.

Conclusion

For India, ANC’s quintessential utility would be its potential for non-traditional security cooperation. Over the years, the ANC has become an important ‘staging post’ for India’s humanitarian efforts in the Bay of Bengal.  Starting from its 2004 tsunami relief operations, India has credibly displayed its wide-ranging HADR capabilities in the region, ranging from major evacuation efforts in Yemen to alleviating a drinking water crisis in the Maldives and providing relief supplies to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Indonesia during natural disasters.

Indian Navy’s biennial MILAN exercises at Port Blair are the largest gathering of navies in the region (including from Southeast Asia) which gives special attention to humanitarian relief and non-combatant evacuation drills.

ANC would be a lynchpin in justifying India’s ‘security provider’ status, as it would support sizable force levels on these islands, in the coming days. ANC would also be an important link in meeting India’s ever-increasing Maritime Domain Awareness requirements. India is at the forefront of information collection and sharing endeavours and can play a lead role in improving domain awareness in the IOR. Better surveillance facilities, and deployment of naval assets like the Khukri-class warships positioned on strategic nodes at the ANC, will raise the effectiveness of India’s security endeavours, and make it a reliable partner for the countries in the region.

Finally, it could be said that ANC would be playing a Queen’s role on the dynamic geopolitical chessboard in the region. However, to allow ANC to function as envisaged India must: –

  • Accord due weightage to its strategic location, which makes Andaman and Nicobar Islands a natural platform for collaboration between India and Southeast Asia.
  • Display strong political and strategic will to make Andaman and Nicobar Command a credible deterrence force for the enemy and a cooperation center for the friends.
  •  Remove palpable ambiguity about its ambitions and allocate high priority to Improving communication and other operational facilities to truly make A & N India’s strategic node in the Indo-Pacific.

Jai Hind.

Acknowledgement

The author would like to state that this article is based on the presentation made on the subject ‘Importance of Andaman and Nicobar Command’, during the Indic Researchers Forum (IRF) conducted conference titled “The Great Game in Indo-Pacific: Beginning of a New World Order, held on 13 Nov 2021. The author would like to thank IRF for their permission to publish this article by DRaS. The author would also like to thank DRaS for accepting the article for publication.

References

  1. Deshmukh Cmde SL (April 2021), CHINA’S SURREPTITIOUS SCIENTIFIC AND SURVEY MISSIONS IN IOR -IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIA (Occasional Paper), Chennai Center for Chinese Studies-India{C3SI),
    On-Line, Retrieved From: https://www.c3sindia.org/wp- content/uploads/2021/05/OP_Chinas-Scietific-and-Survey-Missons-in- IOR.pdf, Accessed on 10 Nov 2021.
  2. Armedforces.eu (n.d.), Military power of China & India, On-Line, Retrieved From: https://armedforces.eu/compare/country_China_vs_India, Accessed on28 Dec 2021.
  3. Bose Sohini and Chaudhury Anasua Basu Ray (September 27, 2021), The Andaman and Nicobar Islands: Indian Territory, Regional Potential, Observer research Foundation, On-Line, Retrieved From: https://www.orfonline.org/research/the-andaman-and-nicobar-islands-indian-territory-regional-potential/ Accessed on 10 Nov 2021
  4. Journals of India (March 01, 2021), Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), Journals of India, On-Line, Retrieved From: https://journalsofindia.com/andaman-and-nicobar-command-anc/, Accessed on 10 Nov and 28 Dec 2021.
  5. Chinoy Sujan R (June 26, 2020), Time to Leverage the Strategic Potential of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, MPIDSA, On-Line, Retrieved From: https://idsa.in/policybrief/strategic-potential-andaman-nicobar-sujanchinoy-260620, Accessed on 11 Nov and 28 Dec 2021.
  6. Singh Abhijit (February 05, 2019), Andaman and Nicobar: India’s ‘strategic anchor’ holds ground, Observer Research Foundation, on-Line, Retrieved From: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/andaman-and-nicobar-india-strategic-anchor-holds-ground-47848/, Accessed on 10 Nov 2021.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

Title image courtesy: https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis

Cmde S L Deshmukh

By Cmde S L Deshmukh

Commodore SL Deshmukh, NM (Retd), has served Indian Navy for 32 years, is a Mechanical Engineer is specialised in both Marine & Aviation domains. He also holds a Masters in Defence Studies and a Post-Graduate in Management. He has served onboard aircraft carriers and is specialised on fighter aircraft and ASW helicopters. He held many operational and administrative appointments including Principal Director at Naval HQ, Commodore Superintendent at Naval Aircraft Yard, Director, Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology and Project Director of a major Naval Aviation Project. He is alumni of Defence Services Staff College Wellington. He was with Tata Group for 5 years and is currently working with SUN Group‘s Aerospace & Defence vertical as Senior Vice President. He is also the Life Member of Aeronautical Society of India.