India opens key naval base close to Maldives | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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India opens key naval base close to Maldives

ByRahul Singh, New Delhi
Mar 07, 2024 04:57 AM IST

The base has immense significance not just for the Indian Navy but for maritime security, and strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific, the navy chief said.

Extending its military presence and reach in the vast Indian Ocean region, India on Wednesday commissioned a new naval base, INS Jatayu, at Minicoy in Lakshadweep islands, with navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar hailing the new outpost as a significant boost for the navy’s operational capability in a strategic maritime expanse that presents a raft of challenges.

Indian Naval officers seen during the commissioning of naval base 'INS Jatayu', at Minicoy, Lakshadweep Islands, on Wednesday. (PTI)
Indian Naval officers seen during the commissioning of naval base 'INS Jatayu', at Minicoy, Lakshadweep Islands, on Wednesday. (PTI)

Also Read: India to build naval bases in Agatti and Minicoy Islands

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The operational infrastructure that will come up at the new base, the second in Lakshadweep, includes an airfield and a jetty, and the navy will deploy more assets there, Kumar said. The base derives its name from a giant bird in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

The commissioning of the new base holds immense significance not just for the Indian Navy but for the nation’s maritime security and strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific region, Kumar said in Minicoy.

“In the Ramayana, Jatayu was the ‘first responder’ trying to stop the abduction of Sita, even to the peril of his own life...exemplifying ‘service before self’. The naming of this unit as Jatayu is an apt recognition of this spirit of providing security, surveillance and selfless service. Jatayu’s information to Lord Rama provided him with crucial situational awareness leading to the successful quest that followed,” Kumar said at the commissioning ceremony.

“INS Baaz to the east in Andamans, and now, INS Jatayu in the west at Minicoy, will serve as the eyes and ears of the navy...and the nation across the far reaches of the seas to safeguard our national interests... whatever be the challenge and whosoever be the challenger. As we commission Jatayu, it is crucial to recognise the pressing need for heightened surveillance amidst the prevailing geo-political developments which underscore the strategic significance of Lakshadweep to India. The Indian Ocean region is witnessing an upsurge in maritime terror, crime and piracy.”

Also Read: India to boost maritime reach, commission naval base at Minicoy on March 6

The growing strength of the Indian Navy is not just to cater to the short-term ongoing crises, but, more importantly, to ensure the future balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region, he said.

Minicoy is the southernmost island of Lakshadweep, 215 nautical miles south-west of Kochi. It lies near the 9 Degree Channel, a busy global shipping route, and is just about 80 nautical miles from the northernmost island of the Maldives.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has said no Indian military personnel, not even those in civilian clothing, would be allowed inside his country after May 10.

Last week, India said that the first batch of Indian “technical personnel” had reached the Maldives to replace military personnel who were operating two helicopters and an aircraft used mainly for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Around 80 Indian personnel are stationed in the Maldives to operate two advanced light helicopters and a Dornier aircraft provided by India.

Muizzu, widely perceived as being close to China, has sought to move the Maldives away from dependence on India in crucial sectors such as food security and defence following his victory in last year’s presidential election.

The navy thus far had a temporary set up in Minicoy that has now been commissioned as a full-fledged base.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep in January propelled the islands into the limelight. HT first reported on February 14 that after Modi’s visit, India has decided to extend its military footprint by establishing naval bases in the Lakshadweep islands along with airfields to secure the vital sea lines of communication.

“We already had a naval detachment and we have now commissioned it as an independent unit. It will improve operational capability, capacity and administrative aspects,” Kumar said.

Commander Vrat Baghel will be the first commanding officer of the base. INS Jatayu is the second naval base in Lakshadweep after INS Dweeprakshak in Kavaratti.

The new base will further strengthen India’s capability to monitor extra-regional presence in the area, including growing Chinese activity, said maritime affairs expert Vice Admiral SN Ghormade, who retired as the navy’s vice chief last year.

“It’s a significant development as it will enhance maritime domain awareness and help respond to threats in the Indian Ocean region. INS Jatayu will also enhance the navy’s and the country’s stature as a provider of regional peace and stability. Assets deployed there will help check drug trafficking in the ‘hash highway’ (a drug route stretching from the Arabian Sea to the western Indian Ocean),” Ghormade said.

Kumar also hailed the navy’s new MH-60Rs as among the most potent multi-role helicopters in the world, saying they will significantly enhance India’s maritime capabilities.

“The MH-60R helicopters will be employed to protect our maritime epicentres and strengthen our efforts towards a safe and secure environment in the Indian Ocean region. The MH-60R’s flexibility, reach and versatility will supplement our mission-based deployments, and consequently, our combat readiness,” Kumar said while commissioning the first MH-60R squadron at INS Garuda in Kochi on Wednesday.

The challenges in the distant seas include China’s carefully calculated power play for influence, defending the rules-based international order, and the Arabian Sea emerging as a new front with Red Sea tensions escalating and the resurgence of piracy. The navy has stepped up surveillance in the area substantially and deployed task groups consisting of around 10 warships in the face of rising threats.

INS Jatayu was commissioned in the presence of Kumar, Lakshadweep administrator Praful K Patel, Southern Naval Command chief Vice Admiral V Srinivas and Western Naval Command chief Vice Admiral Sanjay J Singh.

“This milestone event strengthens Indian Navy’s foothold in Lakshadweep islands while extending capacity building, operational reach and sustenance in the region,” the navy said in a statement. The Minicoy naval base will augment connectivity with the mainland and sharpen the focus on comprehensive development of the islands, it added. INS Jatayu will function under the operational control of Naval Officer-in-Charge (Lakshadweep), Southern Naval Command.

A Maritime Operations Centre was inaugurated after the commissioning ceremony at which Kumar inspected a guard of honour.

The Naval Detachment Minicoy was set up in the early 1980s under the operational command of Naval Officer-in-Charge (Lakshadweep).

Minicoy straddles vital sea lines of communications and the basing of an independent naval unit there with the requisite infrastructure and resources will enhance the overall operational capability of the Indian Navy, as previously reported.

“India’s growing naval power not only protects us from the increasing naval power of our adversaries, but it also provides an environment of security to other stakeholders in the Indian Ocean region,” defence minister Rajnath Singh said at a function in Goa on Tuesday.

In a veiled reference to challenges posed by increasing Chinese muscle-flexing, he said India is ensuring that no country with “overwhelming economic and military power” can exercise “hegemony” over other nations in the Indian Ocean region or threaten their sovereignty.

In February, Singh said developments in the western Indian Ocean, where merchant vessels have faced a barrage of drone attacks and hijacking attempts, presented some “extremely pressing challenges”.

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