From idyllic holiday spot to military base?

From idyllic holiday spot to  military base?

Port Blair might not be anything more than a vacation spot for most Indians, but a new Pentagon-commissioned report seeks to turn it into something...

Port Blair might not be anything more than a vacation spot for most Indians, but a new Pentagon-commissioned report seeks to turn it into something radically different: a base for American drones.A In possibly the first reference to the use of Indian territory for the US military in recent times, the paper, put together by the RAND Corporation, suggests that the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could be ideally suited as a base for American drones in the event of an offensive against China.

The paper, titled 'Overseas Basing of US Military Forces', was commissioned by the Pentagon on the instructions of the US Congress and looks into the presence of the American military at various bases and locations across the globe. As part of this assessment, the researchers at RAND looked into large-scale operations against potential adversaries, including Iran, North Korea and China. A Under this scenario, the paper suggests significant changes in the Indo-Pacific region.

"The Navy and the Marine Corps would also increase the number of combat forces that are stationed on US territories in the Pacific, in particular in Hawaii and Guam, while seeking to retain more marines in Okinawa than currently agreed," the paper says. It adds that the US should seek to increase the presence of troops at bases in Australia.A It then goes on to refer to the use of Indian territory to look over the strategically important Straits of Malacca, which carries about a quarter of all oil that is transported.

"The Navy would strive to station a detachment of broad area maritime surveillance UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) at Port Blair airport in the Andaman Islands, to increase surveillance over the Strait of Malacca," the paper said. James Brown, a Military Fellow at the Lowy Institute's International Security Program and Project Coordinator of the MacArthur Foundation Asia Security Project, points out that this is a possibly unprecedented suggestion -- particularly because of its China focus.

"While there is no doubt that the Andaman Islands are strategic real estate, this is the first time I have seen anyone float the thought bubble that the US might be able to operate maritime surveillance assets from Indian territory," Brown wrote in a post examining the paper.

"At first glance it seems incredibly unlikely, but the US and Indian navies have been steadily increasing their cooperation since 2006... In the event of Chinese aggression, it is not inconceivable that India might permit the US to operate maritime surveillance platforms from its Andaman Islands territory."

� Mail Today

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