It seems India is busy building an overseas military base in Mauritius and other regions as well amid China’s continued military maneuvers — from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean.
It is no longer a secret that major regional powers such as India, Japan, Australia, South Korea besides the US have been making efforts to establish a foothold in the Indian Ocean Region to counter the Chinese Navy.
The PLA Navy (PLAN), which has the largest surface fleet according to a US Congressional report published last year, is working steadily to be on par with the US military by 2027.
Based on its “string of pearls” theory, Beijing has been proactively building military and commercial bases along its sea lines of communication (SLOCs), which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa.
These SLOCs or maritime routes run through several chokepoints such as the Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Lombok Strait as well as other strategic maritime points in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia.
Many commentators in India believe this plan, together with the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and other parts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is a threat to India’s national security. Such a system would encircle India and threaten its power projection, trade, and potentially territorial integrity.
Furthermore, China’s support for India’s traditional enemy, Pakistan, and its Gwadar Port are viewed as a threat, compounded by fears that China may develop an overseas naval military base in Gwadar, which could allow the PLA to conduct expeditionary warfare in the IOR.
To thwart such threats, India is ramping up its naval assets and infrastructure, reports suggest.
India’s Military Base In Mauritius
One such base is Agalega Island that India leased from Mauritius in 2015. The development of required infrastructure has been conducted on a rapid scale since then, and most communication from the Island has been cut off to maintain operational secrecy.
New satellite imagery shows a change in its physical features with an airfield and port development work being undertaken, believed to be worth more than $87 million.
Once the work is completed, a 3,000-m runway capable of handling the Indian Navy’s P-8I Neptune Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a port that can host other surface vessels and potentially submarines, or other assets of strategic importance will be ready there.
This Agalega airfield will serve as an intelligence outpost for New Delhi, to monitor and respond to threats emerging in the region.
According to the Lowy Institute, this development is in sync with Modi’s 2016 vision for the Indian Ocean, articulated as Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). Under SAGAR, New Delhi aims to work together with Indian Ocean regional governments to “engineer virtuous cycles of cooperation”.
India’s Cooperation With Foreign Navies
It is imperative to understand that New Delhi is steadily increasing its cooperation with foreign navies and working with countries in the IOR to establish its bases.
Apart from the Agalega, India also has its strategic listening post and radar facility in Madagascar and a coastal surveillance radar in Seychelles (whose existence is disputed and under shadows of secrecy and political controversies).
There is another listening post at Ras al Hadd. The Indian Navy has berthing rights at Muscat naval base, Oman. In 2018, New Delhi also secured access to facilities at the port city of Duqm in Oman for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy.
Duqm could serve as an important base for the Indian military if it wishes to expand its activities in the Middle East, providing security to its assets and combat piracy in the region. In 2017, Oman also signed an MoU with the United Kingdom to have access to facilities at Duqm.
“With berthing rights in Oman and monitoring stations in Madagascar, Mauritius, Kochi, and Mumbai, the navy will effectively box in the region to protect sea lanes right from Mozambique and the Cape of Good Hope to the Gulf of Oman,” an official had told The Indian Express when Madagascar station was made operational.
What’s more, Indian military vessels and aircraft can use bases of foreign militaries like the United States and France for replenishment and resupply, including the Reunion Island.
With India keeping a vigil over the Strait of Malacca from the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar Islands, this new move, along with India’s QUAD cooperation, could prompt China to rethink its strategies.