Port Blair: Even as China now openly talks of setting up naval bases abroad, and for one reason or the other has been increasing its naval footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, India has now decided to upgrade two fighter bases in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The move is in synchronicity with others made in the country's north-east region, which shares long borders with China, where the Indian Air Force has decided to bolster its presence with state-of-the art Su-30MKI fighter jet squadrons and an increased number of operable airfields.
It is now announced that two airstrips, at Shibpur in the Andamans and at Campbell Bay in Nicobar Islands, will be converted into all-weather bases that can support fighter operations.
''Two airstrips in the Andaman Nicobar Command are being upgraded from the existing 3,200 feet to12,000 feet to allow all types of aircraft, including fighters, to operate,'' commander-in-chief of Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC), vice-admiral DK Joshi said.
Presently, fighter aircraft already operate from the Port Blair Naval base and the Car Nicobar Air Force base.
The two new upgraded air bases, work on which has already commenced, will significantly enhance India's reach in the region and add more punch to operations of the tri-services command at Andaman Nicobar. The bases will also be capable of night operations.
The Campbell Bay base on Great Nicobar Island will give fighters quicker access to the strategic Malacca Straits.
''It's a very good thing to build an airfield on the Campbell Island. One, it gives you reach into the Strait of Malacca and secondly it is of deterrence value. While (in the past) we did not feel it necessary to base fighters (here), it can always be used as a forward base,'' said former air chief, FH Major was quoted as saying.