India is spooked by China’s push to Thailand to expedite work on the Thai Canal aka Kra Canal across the Kra Isthmus — the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula in southern Thailand.
To counter the increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, India is working on the military up-gradation in its island territories. According to top military officials cited by HT, the airstrip at INS Kohassa, Shibpur in North Andamans and the Campbell strip at Nicobar will be upgraded into full-fledged fighter bases.
The airstrip at Agatti, in Lakshadweep, will also be upgraded for military operations to secure both the Bay of Bengal upto Malacca Straits and the Arabian Sea up to the Gulf of Aden.
“The two Island territories will be like the new aircraft carriers for India, extending the navy’s reach in the region far from the mainland. Both the Islands sit on the busiest sea lanes of the world with more than half the world trade going through this route,” said a tri-service commander.
The 120 kilometers long Thai canal is an integral part of China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative, which, in itself, is a key constituent of the ambitious One Belt One Road project. The Kra Canal is China’s attempt at solving its ‘Malacca problem’.
The Malacca strait is one of the busiest routes with reportedly, 84,000 ships passing through it every year carrying around 30 percent of global sea trade. It connects the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean. By building of the Kra Canal, China will be able to bypass the Malacca strait cutting both time and distance.
Experts believe that India should see this as an opportunity as currently, Sri Lankan ports enjoy monopoly as ships and vessels have to wait their turn earning foreign exchange as well as leverage to Colombo.
Along with that, upgrading the island territories would offer twin benefits: First, it will enable India to maximize the economic gains and secondly, boost its military presence in the Indian Ocean Region.
With the rising Chinese aggression in Ladakh, New Delhi has deployed its forces on not just the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but also in the high seas.
“The Indian Navy is on high alert from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait in the context of the standoff with China. The instructions to the navy are clear: That they should be prepared for military action if China mounts an attack along the LAC,” said a source familiar with the matter quoted by HT.
Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is India’s first and only “theatre command” with all land, sea, and air forces under one operational commander. Even the 10-year infrastructure development “roll-on” plan worth Rs. 5,000 crores is fast-tracked. Analysts believe that these make the “choke points” of China which can be threatened via ANC.
The US-China deteriorating relations have also lead to the US ramping up its military operations in the sea with China’s muscle-flexing in and around the South China Sea. As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) confirmed that three B-2 stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri have been deployed Naval Support Facility on the remote island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The US Navy’s aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan entered the South China Sea earlier this month and has also conducted air operations. The strike group includes the carrier, its air wing, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, and the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Rafael Peralta.
The Chinese aggression in now not only limited to its bordering neighbors but also the high seas which have lead to nations like the US and India to stand prepared in case a counteraction is required.