Observers said, the aircraft appears to have landed at Veer Savarkar International Airport, Port Blair

Why a US Navy P8 aircraft landed at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands last week

Amid tensions between India and China in eastern Ladakh, long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft of the US Navy, Boeing-built P-8 Poseidon, landed at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands last week.

The US Navy aircraft, the defence blog says in a tweet, landed at the strategically located island chain in the Indian Ocean for refuelling.

Experts said the aircraft may have been refuelled under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a pact signed between the US and India in 2016. LEMOA gives both countries access to designated military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment.

Under the same agreement, Indian Navy warship INS Talwar, on a mission-based deployment in the northern Arabian Sea, undertook refuelling with US Navy fleet tanker USNS Yukon last on 14 September.

India has signed similar logistics exchange agreements with other ‘Quad’ countries — Japan, Australia, and France, a close strategic partner.

These agreements provide a framework under which the Indian Navy can visit bases operated by these countries for refuelling and replenishment. While France has bases in the western Indian Ocean, Australia can provide support in the south-eastern part of the water body.

Similarly, Indian warships deployed in the South China Sea or transiting through the area can receive support from the Japanese Navy.

The landing of a US Navy P8 aircraft at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands amid tensions between India and China could also be a message to the Chinese Navy and its submarines in the Indian Ocean, China watchers in India said, adding that the presence of the People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines in the Indian Ocean Region has grown significantly since 2008.

P8 Aircraft

The Indian Navy also operates P8 aircraft. The Navy currently has at least 12 of these submarine-hunting aircraft and many more are on order.

The P8 aircraft in service with the Indian Navy are armed with Harpoon anti-ship missile and the Mk 54 air-launched lightweight torpedo.

India has also used the aircraft in the Ladakh sector to keep an eye on Chinese activities in the region amid standoff at multiple sites along the Line of Actual Control. The Indian Army had successfully used the P-8 aircraft to monitor Chinese movements along the border during the 73-day-long Doklam standoff.

As Captain D K Sharma (Retd), who was serving as the spokesperson of the Indian Navy, revealed recently, “The aircraft were live-streaming data to support decision making during the Doklam face-off”.

The aircraft, this report says, was also put to use “to keep an eye on the movements of Pakistani troops after the Pulwama terror attack last year”.