India and Mauritius Inaugurate New Base in Indian Ocean

Inauguration of Base

On February 29th, India and Mauritius inaugurated a joint airbase and pier on Agalega during a video conference. The island is about 2237 miles (3600 km) south of India, located in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean. Mauritian Prime Minister (PM) Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said that the new base will be helpful in “upgrading and reinforcing out maritime security” and that the site is critical for counterterrorism, privacy, and drug trade in the region. However, Jugnauth said that Mauritius will have overall control of the island, saying that “there has never been a project to turn Agalega into a military base.” The PM’s comments during the ceremony echo previous comments he made in 2018 when he said that “India would be allowed to utilize the facilities in Agalega subject to prior notification from the competent authorities of Mauritius.”

Agalega in relation to Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands such as Seychelles and Chagos Archipelgo (Diego Garcia)

Agalega and The Base

Agalega is located 671 miles (1,080 km) north of Mauritius and consists of two islands called the North and South Islands. The North Island is the larger of the two, at about 7.8 miles (13 km) long, while the South Island is about 4 miles (6 km). However, South Island is approximately 75 percent wider than the North Island at 1.78 miles (2.86 km). Agalega’s total population is approximately 300 local inhabitants as of 2021.

Both countries agreed to build the joint base after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the country in March 2015. India agreed to upgrade the sea and air facilities on the island to increase the ability for both the Mauritian Defence Force (MDF) and inhabitants to travel to and from the area.

Satellite image of northern part of Agalega’s North Island with Indian-built runway and facilities (Photo: X, formally Twitter/@_consecutive)

Construction of the new facilities began in 2020, with India building a new runway measuring 10,000 feet (3 km) as well as new hangers, barracks, and other buildings. The new runway is located to the left of the island’s old airstrip. India also built a pier measuring approximately 850 feet (260 m) long at St. James Port on the northern tip of the island near the village of La Fourche.

Analysis

The new joint base at Agalega will allow the Indian military to conduct surveillance and project power more efficiently in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean. For example, the Indian Navy will deploy its P-8Is to the island on a rotational basis to conduct patrols in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean. The P-8Is would more effectively patrol the area between the Mozambique Channel and along the East African coast by being based on the island. These patrols could monitor the channel and the shipping lanes for any acts of piracy that occasionally occur in the area.

Furthermore, the P-8Is could also conduct Anti-Submarine Warfare patrols along the East African coast to determine if People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) submarines are operating in the area. However, India could potentially deploy fighter jets, MiG-29, SU-30MKI, and Rafales, to the island on a rotational basis as well since they have inflight refueling capabilities. These aircraft would allow India to project offensive and defensive combat power in the area surrounding the island.

However, India’s ability to use the facility will depend significantly on whether Mauritius wants to continue the agreement. Jugnauth’s comments indicate that India will need permission from Mauritius before using the facility in any capacity. Furthermore, he also emphasized that the country would have overall control of the facility, which would be used mainly by the MDF. Mauritius’s control over the facility could allow China to prevent India from using the facility in the future since it could influence the country into denying India’s requests.

China could achieve this by gaining influence by co-opting Mauritian politicians and businessmen to push for the government to make decisions beneficial to the country. The country would do this to limit India’s ability to project power in the area but also to decrease the country’s influence in Mauritius so they could increase their own. Furthermore, China would also likely want to use the base in the same manner as India, and gaining influence in Mauritius would eventually allow them to use the facility.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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