Full of Potential

The Andaman-Nicobar Command ought to develop as India’s deterrence

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Port Blair: In the third week of November 2017, the Andaman and Nicobar Command’s (ANC) conducted a five-day joint exercise called the Defence of Andaman and Nicobar Islands Exercise (DANX). With forces pooled in from different commands, the exercise saw fighter operations, night para-jumps, amphibious landings of troops, both in the day time as well as night in addition to some sort of special operations pertaining to aerial insertion and extrication of troops.

The ANC conducting a five-day joint exercise named DANX

Apart from the ANC, which conceptualised and planned the joint exercise between the army, air force, navy and the coast guard, DANX was closely watched by another entity — the Chinese media. They not only watched but commented too on the exercise which held a lot of interest for the Indian neighbourhood.

Air Cmde B. Ahluwalia, the official spokesperson of the tri-service command (besides heading the Joint Operations Centre as the Chief Staff Officer, operations) mentioned this casually while underlying the importance of DANX. According to him, DANX-17 was the most important exercise done recently by the ANC. This was because (a) it was totally conceived and planned by the ANC, (b) it involved an integrated approach for synergistic application of forces involving the navy, coast guard, air force and the army, (c) it ascertained the accretion of forces from mainland including fighters, Special Forces, naval ships and heavy lift transport aircraft, (d) it practiced and validated procedures and drills of all the Command forces aimed at defending Andaman and Nicobar Islands, (e) it demonstrated successful fighter operations, night para jumps at sea, slithering of troops from helicopters and amphibious landings of troops by ships, (f) and, most importantly, it provided the test crucible for successful tri-service operations by joint-ness rather than coordination.

Air Cmde B. Ahluwalia has an interesting role at ANC; and never a dull moment. When he is not talking with you, he is busy on the phone getting an update on activities in the command. It is fascinating to find a helicopter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) completely at ease with the navy and the army jargon. Whether it is explaining the impact of the sea-state on operations, the time it would take a flotilla to cover the 800 km length across 572 islands called the A&C island chain, the Operational Turn Round (OTR), the amphibious operations by the three-services, the importance of the Malacca deployment, the re-enforcements from the mainland including Special Forces, or even fake news in the mainland media about the Joint Logistics Node which is still under conceptualisation, Ahluwalia is the man to listen to.

Watching him at work would make even the disbeliever insist that the ANC tri-service challenge has succeeded. Further validation of this came from the deputy commander of 108 mountain brigade posted at Port Blair. Any operation at the ANC, according to Col Vinod Bajiya, “Will be shaped by the navy with the army coming in the last leg of the battle.” This operational theme, helpfully, has been understood by all personnel of the three services posted here. However, converting joint-ness to a larger war-fighting scale, given that the three defence services are content with coordination amongst each other, will not be easy.

Besides DANX-17, the ANC also participated in the Indian Navy’s TROPEX-17 exercise from 24 January to 23 February 2017 and the IAF’s exercise Gagan Shakti recently in which they were a part of their setting. For example, in TROPEX-17, Indian Navy’s annual theatre level readiness exercise, the ANC was included in the conduct of large scale ‘Out of Area Contingency’ in island territory, with participation of all three services and their special forces. During exercise Gagan Shakti, the ANC was closely involved with the OTR for fighter aircraft and with the Jaguar aircraft dedicated for maritime role.

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