NEW DELHI: India is now looking to fast-track plans for basing additional military forces in the strategically-located Andaman & Nicobar archipelago, along with the requisite development of infrastructure, as an effective counter to China’s expanding strategic presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Defence sources on Friday said the long-pending plans for “force accretion” and “military infrastructure development” at the A&N Islands have “gained a sense of urgency” with China’s aggressive and expansionist moves both along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control as well as the IOR.

The Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC) was set up in 2001 as the country’s first — and till now the only — “theatre” command with all land, sea and air forces under one operational commander. But it has for long suffered from general apathy, fund crunches, lack of environmental clearances to build infrastructure and, of course, crippling turf wars among the three services.

But that could be a thing of the past now. The ongoing troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China is making the defence establishment re-examine ANC’s role as India’s crucial military outpost that overlooks China’s critical sea lanes transporting the bulk of its crude oil imports and other trade through the Malacca Strait. These “choke points” of China can be swiftly threatened, if required, by Indian warships and aircraft operating from the ANC.

“Some initiatives to augment the ANC have already been set in motion, while others are being finalised,” said a source. Land allotments and clearances for the extension of the runway at naval air station INS Kohassa at Shibpur in North Andaman, for instance, have just been completed, he added. The plan is to extend the runways at both INS Kohassa and INS Baaz at Campbell Bay in the south of the archipelago to 10,000-ft to support operations by larger aircraft.

India will be able to base additional warships, aircraft, missile batteries and infantry soldiers in the A&N Islands under the overall 10-year infrastructure development “roll-on” plan, which is pegged at Rs 5,650 crore. It also includes an air enclave with a 10,000-ft runway at Kamorta island as well.

As was first reported by TOI earlier, a plan for “phased military force accretion” at the ANC by 2027 is also being finalised simultaneously. It ranges for additional infantry battalions, surveillance and target acquisition batteries to surface-to-air missile systems, additional flights of Mi-17 V5 helicopters, transport aircraft and Dornier-228 maritime patrol planes, said sources. India, of course, also wants to permanently base fighter jets in the archipelago in the coming years.

Fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs as well as long-range maritime patrol Poseidon-8I aircraft do frequently operate from the island cluster but are not stationed there as of now.

Under the civilian infrastructure development programme, new greenfield airports at Port Blair and Great Nicobar Island are also in the works because the existing dual-use airfields at Port Blair and Car Nicobar have limitations for full-sale operations.