Armed forces in Andaman & Nicobar ready to join search for Malaysian jet

The Command would deploy the IAF's Dornier aircraft and large Navy patrol vessels

 India’s Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), a tri-service command under the armed forces, will come into play if India takes a decision to assist in the multi-nation search for the missing Kuala Lumpur-Beijing Malaysia Airlines MH 370 jet, now speculated as having disappeared over the Malacca Strait, close to not only Indonesia and Malaysia, but also the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The Strait of Malacca, a very critical shipping route for India, is only 100 km and a little over an hour’s flight from Andaman and Nicobar islands, which itself is around 1,200 km from mainland India. India has said it is ready to assist in the search after Malaysia sent a formal request.

If India carries out search operations, it would likely deploy the Dornier aircraft of the IAF and the Navy and the large patrol vessels of the Navy, apart from amphibious vessels and offshore patrol vehicles. It is not clear yet when the actual operations will begin, but the forces have signalled that they are ready and on standby and would take off the moment orders come in.

This operation will have to keep in view that the jet having gone over and into Malacca Strait is one version among several. In any case, India has said it is ready to assist the multi-nation search for the missing aircraft.

A major trade route

The ANC, set up in 2001 at Port Blair, is meant to secure India’s maritime and international interests in South East Asia, particularly via the Malacca Strait, which is a major trade route.

It is also tasked with handling piracy, smuggling, drug and gun trafficking, people trafficking, poaching and illegal immigration in the region and protect India’s international interests. It has to secure land, water and airspace of the entire Andaman and Nicobar region.

The unified military command, the Army, Navy and the Air Force, which has to report to the commander-in-chief, has at its disposal a brigade of the army especially earmarked for amphibious operations, units of special and mechanised forces, artillery and air defence artillery. Plans are afoot to have Jaguar and SU-30 aircraft, while there is the transport aircraft IL-76, medium-light aircraft AN-32 and helicopters that carry out specialised paradrop operations, air logistics and communication exercises.

The Navy, though, has the largest presence with a fleet of ships and supporting Dornier aircraft. The Navy has amphibious platforms, offshore patrol vessels and fast attack craft.
As for airfields, there is the Port Blair site, another at Car Nicobar, one at the southern tip of the island and another at Campbell Bay.

The Indian Air Force will grow with the deployment of a fighter squadron once the overall runway network on the islands is readied. The island has seen Jaguars and SU-30s flying in with midair refuelling.

In case of emergency, ANC will seek the Navy’s assistance in particular, as it has a significant presence in the eastern sector. The Coast Guard and the maritime police are also on patrol. The joint command is always in touch with the armed forces on mainland India.

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