Ideating the Future of Indian Power Projection via Andaman & Nicobar Islands

By – Baran Ayguven;

In recent years, China has increased its military activity in the Indian Ocean with naval surveillance ships and submarines conducting more missions in the region. As China-India relations continue to worsen, especially after the Ladakh standoff, these military activities are creating greater security concerns for India. To counter these security threats, India has started developing its capacities, especially on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, to stand up against China in the Indian Ocean.

The Andaman and Nicobar chain of islands are located at the entrance of the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. These islands are critical to Indian military developments because of China’s “Malacca Dilemma.” This refers to China’s fear of a possible blockade of the Malacca Strait, through which 60 per cent of China’s trade and 80 per cent of its oil flow. This fear or strategic loophole puts China in a significantly disadvantaged position in terms of economic and energy security, which can be used to put pressure on the country. Thus, from the Indian perspective, the military development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is significant, as it gives India the possibility to threaten a significant amount of Chinese energy and trade security if well developed.

As tensions between India and China continue to rise in the Asia Pacific, both countries are working to improve their geostrategic island defense capabilities with new military infrastructure and deployments. Between the two countries, China has done more developments until recently due to the continuous security threats coming from the United States (US). In contrast, India has just recently started increasing its island military developments and has much more to develop. India can learn from China’s island experiences and developments and use these strategies to improve the defense capabilities of its Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Recent Developments in Chinese Claimed Islands

China has taken significant steps for infrastructural developments and militarisation of its islands. Some of these developments include constructing airfields, helipads, runways, fuel storage facilities, naval facilities, aircraft hangars, deep-sea harbors, placing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, missile arsenals, laser and jamming equipment, fighter jets, and radars. Land reclamation has also increased the usable area of the islands, giving China the chance to develop them with buildings to make them fully functioning military bases. In 2016, HQ-surface-to-air missiles were deployed to Woody Island, which has a range between 200-500 km. These islands are acting as unsinkable aircraft carriers for the Chinese air force and naval ports for Chinese navy activity in the South China Sea. Furthermore, the Chinese anti-ship land-based missile deployment on the islands serves as deterrence around the trade routes coming from the Malacca Strait and passing between the island chain.

The Recent Developments in Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have seen significant developments in their military infrastructure in recent years. The islands have seen the stationing of additional military forces, warships, aircraft, missile batteries, and infantry soldiers. There have also been additional developments of new infrastructure, such as naval bases and radars, to enhance India’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. More recently, in 2021, one of the main issues limiting the military capability of the islands was the issue with the size and capacity of the naval air stations and the lack of length in their runways. These problems are being addressed with reports of runway extensions at the naval air stations in Shibpur and Campbell Bay to accommodate larger aircrafts. These developments are expected to increase the logistical support and mobility capabilities of the islands, making them more accessible to the Indian mainland.

The QUAD talks, which were re-established in 2017, have led to an increase in intelligence cooperation between the four partnering countries. With this cooperation, the Japan-United States “fishhook” Sound Surveillance System, a network of sensors designed to track submarines, has recently added Nicobar island to its chain. This development is expected to help India better monitor the movement of Chinese submarines in the region by creating a wall of seabed-based surveillance sensors from Nicobar island to mainland Indonesia.

Potential Strategies to Improve Defence Capability of the Islands

Because of their state of being islands, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are in need of greater logistics infrastructure development compared to mainland military zones. This need can be fulfilled with greater installations and developments of ports and airbases. Recently, there has been work on extending the runways of the INS Kohassa in Shibpur and INS Baaz in Campbell to host larger aircrafts. But regardless of this development, there is still room for improvement. Firstly, it can be strategically important to increase the number of runways to ensure the airbase can still be usable in case of any direct attacks to the runway. Furthermore, creating helipads can be a useful tool for enhancing the logistic and defence capabilities of the islands. For example, the Chinese developed helipads on the Paracel islands in 2016 because of the usefulness of helicopters in anti-submarine warfare. India can use their MH-60R helicopters to increase their research, reconnaissance, submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities in the region if they decide to create helipads on the islands.

The storage of one of India’s AEW&C aircraft, such as DRDO Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS), on the island can also significantly increase the strike capacity of Indian jets in the region. Indian combat aircrafts have limited operational range when they do not have access to external radar coverage, as they rely on these sensors for situational awareness. To address this limitation, DRDO AEW&CS provides greater radar coverage than ground-based sensors. However, AEW&C aircrafts themselves have operational range limitations and are lacking in defensive capabilities, making them vulnerable to enemy fighters or surface combatants outside of missile coverage. Therefore, AEW&C aircrafts require external protection, such as ground-based anti-air and anti-ship missiles, to operate effectively as part of a comprehensive air defense network. This strategy is being used by the Chinese army on their claimed islands in the South China Sea, and its effectiveness makes it important for India to take note of and use it to improve its air activity capacity.

Other than providing a defense umbrella for the AEW&C aircrafts, the positioning of anti-ship missiles on the island can also put significant pressure on trade and naval passage. These developments can be a significant deterrent for China, taking into account the government’s focus on its economy and reliance on international trade. In addition, positioning anti-air missiles can also act as a deterrent against any future aerial activities of China around the Malacca Strait. An option to put BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles on the INS Kohassa and INS Baaz can help increase India’s anti-ship strike capabilities for any future confrontation and give them the ability to cut Chinese naval or shipping passage from the Malacca Strait significantly. The distance between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the mainland of Indonesia or Myanmar is short enough for BrahMos to be operational for eliminating Chinese ships’ passage option on any side of the island.

Civil-Military Fusion

As it is becoming increasingly important to find ways to increase military capabilities without showing tendencies to increase in civil-military usage style, ports might be a useful way for India to develop some aspects of the island’s port infrastructure. Developing the project in a civil-military dual-use strategy would mean planning the port in a way that, in a normal state, will be used as a civilian infrastructure, but if needed, it will have the potential to be turned into a military infrastructure with minimal effort. India has already been making efforts to transform the Andaman and Nicobar Islands into a maritime hub and transshipment port for the region.

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways has already started taking bids for an international transshipment port project at Great Nicobar. If the port project can be planned accordingly, then it can be highly significant for the military development of the island. China’s civil-military engineering doctrine has given them the advantage of creating civilian ports that have the capability of usage of naval ships and naval missions. This is a cost-effective strategy that helps China to increase their naval ports and their military capabilities with a low amount of spending while also not escalating tensions between other regional competitors.

Usage of Modern Military Technologies

The usage of unmanned surface and aerial drones is becoming increasingly significant in modern military strategies. With the increasing number of countries buying or developing military drones for defence and offensive purposes, India must also follow this trend to showcase its capabilities in the region. Countries like China have shown their willingness to include war drones in their naval offensive strategies, making it essential for India to develop strategies against them and work on readiness for future warfare technologies. The Russia-Ukraine war has shown that drones can be used to attack naval ships in ports, posing a security risk for the naval ships that will be stationed in the newly created naval bases on the islands. Therefore, equipping the islands with radar, electro-optical/infrared sensors, and radio frequency detectors might be useful to ensure the defensive capabilities of the islands against any future drone attacks.

Diplomatic Pathways

The Indian government can also consider reducing military spending on the islands by partnering with other allies, such as the US, for infrastructure development plans. This could result in even higher deterrence against Chinese activity in the region, as any Chinese activity around these military zones would create the possibility of military confrontations with the US in addition to India. The Philippines and US seem to be pursuing this strategy with their new military base agreement, allowing the US to station military equipment and build facilities in nine locations across the Philippines. This development is economically beneficial as it would take the burden off India for building facilities and infrastructure for the military bases. Additionally, the presence of US troops in the region would force China to act more carefully to avoid escalating tensions. Although the cases have significant differences, the advantages can still be comparable for the Philippines and potentially for India if it decides to take this path.

In conclusion, India has made significant progress in creating a defensive gate for the Malaca strait, but still lacks important infrastructure and military developments in the islands. To address these issues, India can learn from the experiences of China in their military developments in the South China Sea and use these strategies to improve its own capabilities. Learning from countries with similar situations but more experience can help India develop its capabilities in a shorter time. Furthermore, increasing diplomatic and military cooperation with partner states can significantly enhance India’s deterrence against China in a cost-effective way.

Baran Ayguven is a War Studies student at King’s College London. His research focuses on global security issues with a particular interest in the developments of military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. You can contact him via email at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *