EXCLUSIVE: A&N Command Recommends Sukhoi-30MKI Sqn At Car Nicobar

The photo on the left shows a pair of Su-30s at Air Force Station Car Nicobar, on India's Bay of Bengal island territories of Andaman & Nicobar. I took this photo in April 2005 during a visit to the islands with India's then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi and then Defence Secretary Ajai Vikram Singh. It was just three months after the tsunami, and the island was still largely ravaged. Still, in a rare spasm of unabashed power projection, the government ordered a deployment of three Su-30s and six Jaguar IMs to the island for what it said was an exercise, but what was, quite obviously, a show of strength, and a very effective one at that. A message that things were back in business even though the IAF had tragically lost 128 personnel on the island, and that its guard was not down. It was also a splendid signal of deployed strength (even if it was just a few aircraft), a crashing of cymbals over the remarkable international military-humanitarian relief operation that the Indian forces embarked upon almost just minutes after the waves did their terrible work.

Flash forward four years and the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), India's only theatre command, is learnt to have officially recommended that a fleet of Su-30MKIs be deployed permanently at AFS Car Nic, with a mainland support structure in Tamil Nadu. The recommendation is part of a whole host of items that were placed on the table during a seminar at Port Blair last week attended by former President APJ Abdul Kalam, the Prime Minister's special envoy on nuclear issues and climate change Shyam Saran and Deputy National Security Advisor (and former Defence Secretary) Shekhar Dutt.

A while before the recommendation to base Su-30s at Car Nic was firmed up, the station already began a comprehensive upgrade programme under the IAF's ambitious Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) project.

In that phase immediately after the tsunami, the government had already begun toying with the idea of permanently basing fighters at Car Nicobar, though the IAF leadership at the time said depleting squadron strength meant that they could not spare fighters for a fresh squadron on the island at that juncture. The IAF therefore settled for periodic detachments of two Su-30s and six Jaguars (see photo) to the island. But with forty more Sukhois than initially contracted, plus a definitive process on to counter depleting squadron strength, it was decided that the idea of permanently basing fighters at Car Nic needed to be revisited. In January 2006, when I visited the islands for a week again to cover the Milan 05 exercise, the Sukhois were back, and performed aerobatic displays over Port Blair's magnificent marine esplanade, as well as over Car Nicobar in front of large delagations of military officers and diplomats from the participating countries, including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia among others, and for the first time with a ship (the UMS Anawrahta frigate), the Myanmar Navy.

Like much else in India's establishment structure, the proposal to base Su-30s at Car Nicobar is currently just that -- a proposal. But the A&N Command has, in a short span of time, earned for itself a great deal of credibility with the government, and as the only real joint services theater command, the government takes it very seriously. If you think I'm being flippant by insinuating that the government doesn't take proposals for additional commands seriously, consider the sad tale of the defence forces' languishing proposals for an Aerospace Command and a Special Forces Command. Recently retired Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta, as a parting shot, even stressed to Defence Minister AK Antony during a personal farewell chat the country needed to move fully into the domain of functional commands, since geographical commands were pushing true tri-service jointness farther and farther away from the realm of possibility.

The recommendation for Su-30s at Car Nic comes endorsed by the Commander-in-Chief, Andaman & Nicobar (CINCAN). That he's a Vice Admiral says a lot.

Photos Copyright Shiv Aroor / LiveFist

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