India Counters ‘Maldives Loss’ With New Naval Air-base In Minicoy Islands

by Mar 6, 2024Defence & Foreign Policy0 comments

Rafales Set To Roar In Western Indian Ocean Region


India lost its foothold in Maldives, the smallest country in Asia, to Chinese overtures. But, not losing its hold in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy is building a naval air base in the Lakshadweep Islands group. The Indian Isles, located in the Arabian Sea, is just 507 kilometers from the Maldives and is seen as an alternative to the Maldives.

The ramping up of facilities on the island will mean that soon, the Indian frontline fighter jets will roar in the Western part of the Indian Ocean.

The induction of the base will be in the first week of March 2024, the timeline of which is congruent with the withdrawal of Indian troops from the island nation. The new dispensation in the island country has severed its traditional close military and diplomatic ties with India and has leaned squarely towards China.

This was seen as China’s coup d’état in India’s strategic space. Maldives’ strategic importance doesn’t stem from its size but from its location. Its islands are dispersed atop a 960-kilometer submarine ridge that runs north to south and forms a sort of wall in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

In the IOR, there are two safe passageways for ships to travel through, and they are situated at the southern and northern ends of this island group. The maritime trade flow between the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia and the Gulfs of Aden and Hormuz in West Asia depends on both of these sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). The Maldives essentially act as “a toll gate,” even though the Indian Ocean is regarded as the main route for international trade and energy flow.

India sprung into action and is set to commission a new base in the Lakshadweep islands next week. This base, named INS Jatayu, will play a crucial role in enhancing the Navy’s presence in the region. INS Jatayu will be based on Minicoy Island, one of the picturesque Lakshadweep islands.

Minicoy Island lies near the 9-degree channel, one of the busiest shipping routes, about 130 kilometers from the northernmost island of the Maldives.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited this island in January 2023, which was followed by a social media war between the two countries, resulting in a diplomatic feud. The new government in Maldives asked India to withdraw its troops and even welcomed a Chinese research vessel that was refused permission to dock by Sri Lanka earlier. The Indian public responded by boycotting the country for any kind of tourism.

The base aims to bolster security in the Indian Ocean Region by contributing to maritime surveillance and defense.

Ex-Indian Navy Commodore Anil Jai Singh told the EurAsian Times: “Makes sense for India to develop this capability. It will be an aviation facility. It will not only enhance India’s MDA (Maritime Domain Awareness), which will also benefit the entire IOR but also enable better monitoring of developments in our maritime neighborhood.”

Initially, INS Jatayu will be commissioned with a small component of officers and men. However, it is planned to be expanded to allow fighter aircraft like Rafales to operate from here. The commissioning ceremony of INS Jatayu will not be a quiet affair.

India is making sure that the powers in the region take note of it, as both of its aircraft carriers will be present during the ceremony, projecting the full might of the Indian Navy.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, onboard INS Vikramaditya, and INS Vikrant carrier task forces, along with about 15 warships, will travel to Minicoy Island with top naval officials to inaugurate the INS Jatayu naval base on March 4-5.

The Indian Navy intends to hold the first phase of the Combined Commanders Conference on board the Indian aircraft carriers, with the two flotillas traveling from Goa to Karwar to Minicoy Islands to Kochi. The second phase of the Commanders conference will be held on March 6-7.

INS Jatayu – The Sentinel Of Indian Navy

INS Jatayu will be the counterpart of INS Baaz, the frontline naval base in the Andaman Islands. Like INS Baaz, it will be capable of handling all classes of fighter jets and aircraft.

During the commissioning ceremony, a squadron of MH 60R ‘Romeo’ Naval helicopters is likely to be raised. These helicopters will enhance surveillance, search and rescue operations, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

Plans are underway to construct a new airfield at Minicoy. This airfield will accommodate various military aircraft types and even commercial airliners, potentially boosting tourism in the island chain. Additionally, there are plans to extend the existing airfield on the nearby island of Agatti.

India is ramping up its capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where its tri-service command is located. The Indian fighter jets regularly operate from the islands, projecting India to be a dominant force in the region.

As the foray of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean marks an increased frequency, India has been responding by bulwarking its defenses in the island territories.

Also, India has been carrying out anti-piracy operations like a true-blue water navy. The threat of Houthi rebels is making it imperative for the Indian Navy to safeguard its strategic and economic interests in the region.

China has also been looking to set up its own military facilities in the Indian Ocean Region. But as Sri Lanka can vouch, nothing from China comes without strings attached.

(Courtesy – Eurasian Times) 

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