NEW DELHI: In a development that comes amidst India’s ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, long-range maritime patrol aircraft of the US seem to have begun refuelling from the strategically-located Andaman & Nicobar island archipelago. An American P-8 Poseidon aircraft, armed with radars as well as missiles and rockets to take on enemy submarines and warships, landed at Port Blair for a few hours on September 25 for logistics and refuelling support, said sources on Friday.
While India and US have been providing refuelling and operational turnaround facilities to each other’s warships under the reciprocal military logistics pact inked in 2016, this is the first time that an American military aircraft has landed at the A&N archipelago. The event is significant as India and US have also cooperated in exercises in the Indian Ocean region near the Andamans — a crucial maritime supply line for China.
Under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Indian warships and aircraft get similar access to US bases in Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay. In a strong strategic signal to China in July, Indian warships had conducted a “cooperative exercise” with the US carrier strike group in the southern Bay of Bengal. The Indian Navy has also inducted eight of the Boeing-manufactured P-8I (‘I’ stands for India) aircraft under a $2.1 billion deal inked in January 2009, while the next four will be delivered from this December onwards under another $1.1 billion contract signed in July 2016.
Moreover, India in July also formally kicked off another acquisition process for six more P-8I aircraft from the US for around $1.8 billion, while a plan is also underway for fast-track procurement of six Predator-B armed drones, as was first reported by TOI.
India has been deploying its P-8I planes for surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean as well as keeping tabs on the People’s Liberation Army along the frontier in eastern Ladakh. Indian warships and submarines, of course, are also on the prowl on the eastern seaboard due to the heightened tensions with China since early-May.
The inking of another military pact with the US called the COMCASA (Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement) in September 2018 has also paved the way for greater access to advanced military technologies with encrypted and secure communications and data links from the country. The six new P-8I aircraft, for instance, will have COMCASA-protected equipment, which are much more advanced and secure than the commercially available ones.
The US has already bagged lucrative Indian defence deals worth over $21 billion just since 2007.