The maritime ‘Great Game’: Why Delhi needs to bolster the Andaman and Nicobar Command

Source- The post is based on the article “The maritime ‘Great Game’: Why Delhi needs to bolster the Andaman and Nicobar Command” published in the “The Indian Express” on 26th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance- Maritime diplomacy

News– The article explains the importance of ANC Command for controlling aggressive behaviour of China

How is China increasing its maritime presence in the Indian ocean?

Since 2013, China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea. It has created over 3,000-4,000 acres of new land atop reefs and rocks. Three such maritime outposts have been provided with runways and harbours as well as guided-missile batteries.

China’s island strategy has two objectives. It wants to develop a capability to monitor all traffic that moves under or above the sea. It is termed “maritime domain awareness”.

With surveillance facilities and fortifying them, a nation can project power over a huge oceanic expanse.

Why are Andaman and Nicobar commands strategically important?

The Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) group of 572 islands are important for India in projecting power, exert influence, or strike friendships in its eastern neighbourhood.

In 2001, India placed all Armed Forces located in the A&N Islands, including the Coast Guard, under the unitary command.

The objective of this unitary command was to ensure defence of the territory, waters, airspace and the exclusive economic zone of the islands. It was to safeguard the eastern areas of the Indian Ocean and establish an air defence identification zone over the islands.

By the turn of the century, all our South East Asian neighbours were becoming cautious of China. They expected that India would assert regional influence by positioning substantial forces with trans-national capabilities in the A&N.

ANC was also the “crucible” for testing the feasibility of “jointness” for armed forces. Gradually, the ANC became a well-oiled, efficient and functional joint command.

During the 2004 tsunami, the ANC provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the people of these islands.

How little attention has been given to ANC after its formation?

It was considered that any overt show of force by India in the Bay of Bengal would be considered by neighbours as “muscle-flexing”. Hence, it was undesirable.

The ANC model and framework has not been replicated anywhere else. The latest theatre command model under consideration recommends the abolition of ANC and its absorption by the Eastern Naval Command.

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