India’s Plan To Develop “China Chokepoint” At Strategic Andaman & Nicobar Islands, In The Eye Of Storm

Sitting at the entrance of the Malacca Straits, a chokepoint for China connecting the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Andamans and Nicobar Islands will be converted into a shipping hub and tourist destination under a US $9 billion project.

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The 572-item Island chain is emerging as an essential part of India’s strategy to balance China’s burgeoning dominance in the Indo-Pacific.

Over the past decade, the Chinese Navy’s surface ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean have become ubiquitous with their presence. In 1962, when India and China fought their first and bloody war, a Chinese submarine was sighted in the IOR, the Indian government had sanctioned a 150-sailor garrison on the islands.

Chinese submarines coming to the Indian Ocean are forced to surface in the narrow Malacca Strait. Considering only 37 of the 572 islands are inhabited, calls for beefing up security measures around the islands have only increased.

Later, after the Kargil War, when intruders got into Indian territory and occupied the unoccupied posts, the Indian forces realized that the islands, many of which are uninhabited, would be vulnerable to “surreptitious occupation” by a belligerent neighbor. Thus, India’s first tri-service command was established on the archipelago.

Located at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are said to be one of the world’s most strategically located island chains. The northernmost point of the 572 islands is only 22 nautical miles away from Myanmar, and its southernmost point is a mere 90 nautical miles from Indonesia.  The islands control the Bay of Bengal, the Six Degree, and the Ten Degree channels, which over 60,000 commercial vessels use.

A trans-shipment hub planned for Campbell Bay will be close to the Malacca Strait and the East-West shipping route connecting Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The biggest advantage of the island chain located over 1200 kilometers away from mainland India is that it controls important choke points like the Malacca Straits, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Hence, India is on a quest to strengthen its position in the archipelago and maintain a stable Indo-Pacific.

The project scale can be gauged by the promotional video posted by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways on its handle on X. In March 2021, NITI Aayog unveiled a ₹72,000 crore plan called ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands.’

It includes the construction of an international transshipment terminal, an international airport, a power plant, and a township. The project will be implemented by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO), a government undertaking.

The clearance of the project has sparked concerns among environmentalists that the project will adversely impact the fragile ecosystem of the region. The rainforests and beaches host numerous endangered and endemic species, including the giant leatherback turtle, the Nicobar megapode, the Great Nicobar crake, the Nicobar crab-eating macaque, and the Nicobar tree shrew. It has an area of 910 sq km with mangroves and Pandan forests along its coast.

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It is home to two tribes—the Shompen and the Nicobarese. These were the sole inhabitants of the island until the government set up seven revenue villages by settling 330 ex-servicemen families on the islands from 1969 to 1980.

Presently, the population of Southern Nicobar, comprising Great Nicobar Island, Little Nicobar, and other small islands, is over 8,000. The mega project would bring nearly 400,000 people to the island in 30 years. An estimated 8.5 lakh trees will be cut down in GNI’s prehistoric rainforests for the project.

Militarising The Archipelago

India already had two airports at Port Blair and Car Nicobar, and the Indian Navy is building a longer runway at Shibpur (commissioned as INS Kohassa) in the north.

The Indian government is developing the islands’ military assets as part of a 10-year infrastructure development. The Campbell Bay (INS Baaz) runway in the south will be extended to 10,000 feet to support operations by larger aircraft. Another 10,000-foot runway is planned at Kamorta.

India has been deploying its Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Jaguar Maritime fighter jets in the islands. The Indian Navy’s Poseidon submarine hunters P-8Is also operate from here. The military infrastructure development is to enable the permanent deployment of these assets from here.

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Former Indian Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of the islands in 2017 to promote the security, economic, and commercial potential and limitations of the islands’ development.

Talking about the strategic importance of the isles, former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash wrote that the military assets stationed here need to be beefed up as “the frequent transits of PLA Navy (PLAN) warships, submarines, and research/intelligence-gathering vessels in these waters portend a sustained Chinese naval presence, including nuclear attack submarines.” “This would require the IN to maintain a substantial anti-submarine warfare capability in the A&N,” the former Indian Navy chief contended.

File Image: Andaman Map

“To obviate the possibility of intrusions by state and non-state entities, ANC (Andaman and Nicobar command) will need to maintain three-dimensional maritime domain awareness through networked assets, including radars, aircraft, satellites, and unmanned vehicles. The command must be invested with adequate defensive and offensive firepower, as well as rapid-reaction forces with amphibious and airlift capabilities,” he further added.

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The Andaman and Nicobar Command periodically conducts joint maritime exercises such as SIMBEX, the Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise. The Indian forces also conduct MILAN, the largest naval exercise in the region.

Most recently, India inaugurated the Chennai-Andaman and Nicobar undersea internet cable to provide a high-speed internet connection to seven remote island chains.

The naval vessels of partner countries often make a pit stop in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before entering or exiting the South China Sea.

The Quad countries and France have been working with India to develop Andamans and Nicobar to answer China’s increasing footprint in the surrounding waters. There have been reports that India will be installing the Japan-US “fishhook” SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System, a chain of sensors designed to track submarines), creating a counter-wall against Chinese submarines loitering in the Andaman Sea and deep South China Sea.

It will be a crucial collaboration, as it is said that once up and running, Japan will share intelligence with the United Kingdom, Australia, and India.

Japan, which controlled these islands till World War II, understands the strategic importance of these isles. In 2022, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) decided to provide aid of up to 4,016,000,000 Japanese Yen (approximately US $133 million) for a power supply project in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Once completed by February 2024, this project will provide clean, renewable energy to the islands.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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