India will send more troops and equipment to its bases on the eastern Indian Ocean islands of Andaman and Nicobar, a step intended to bolster defenses against China, an Indian Defence Ministry official said.
Strike jets and aerial refuelers will be based there, and about 100 long-, medium- and short-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be sent to help keep watch on the Chinese base in Myanmar’s Coco islands, the official said Dec. 4.
India has Army, Navy and Air Force troops on the 572-island chain, which lies less than 100 kilometers from the Indonesian coast. A joint command was established there in 2001 as part of a $2 billion plan to boost India’s ability to rapidly deploy troops in the region.
In November, command planners asked ministry officials for about $388 million to buy 70 foreign-made UAVs and $66 million for 30 Lakshaya aircraft, built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., Bangalore, the official said. The ministry’s finance department is adding the request to its budget plans.
Requests for proposals are slated for issue to foreign firms within two months. All deliveries are to be complete in two years, the official said.
India also will base 18 nuclear-capable multirole Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Mirage 2000 aircraft on the islands, far outside the range of current Pakistani nuclear missiles. It also purchased six Il-78 aerial refuelers from Uzbekistan in June for an undisclosed amount to enable the fighters to fly long-range missions from the island bases, the official said.
India also will send amphibious ships, Mi-17 combat and transport helicopters, An-32 transport planes and maritime reconnaissance aircraft, another Defence Ministry official said Dec. 7. In all, about 100,000 troops will be stationed there by early 2007, he said.
“The deployment of UAVs for monitoring Coco islands clearly spells out the basic aim of the tri-command, which is not targeted at the southeast Asian region,” Mahindra Singh, a retired Army major general and New Delhi-based independent defense analyst, said Dec. 7.
An Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman declined to comment on the development, but said that India and China are improving their friendly ties, especially in the wake of the June visit of Indian Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee to China.