India connects submarine cable to islands where some still live in the stone age

But others live on colossal military bases that extend the range of India’s armed forces

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India has inaugurated a submarine cable between the mainland and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, an archipelago 1350km from the nation’s east coast.

When the islands make international news it is often because of the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island, a speck of land that it is forbidden to approach because its residents appear not to have left the stone age and like it that way. Indeed, the island’s residents are openly hostile to visitors: a missionary who paddled onto the island in 2018 was murdered.

But the islands are also of enormous strategic significance, because they are sovereign Indian territory and closer to vital south-east Asian shipping routes than the rest of India. The nation has therefore built substantial military infrastructure on the islands, expanded them in recent times, and even floated the idea of permitting allies’ navies to access its ports just to show the world that it can get a lot of guns to the island in short order .

India’s home minister Amit Shah yesterday inaugurated the 400Gbps submarine cable to the islands, saying: “this will lead to great benefits like e-education, banking facilities, telemedicine and surge employment by providing a major boost to the tourism sector.”

Shah is probably not wrong, because the islands are remote and India is adopting e-government services at such speed that island residents will need good connectivity. It may even help tourism too, because a tropical island holiday just isn’t a tropical island holiday these days unless there’s really good WiFi in your resort.

But India’s military will surely also use the new cables because less latency will be very handy when doing things like working on India’s long-range missiles, assisting its Air Force (which recently acquired five new Rafale fighter jets from France) or managing its Navy which is one of only 15 capable of blue water operations and one of seven capable of projecting significant force beyond a nation’s own territory.

So once international travel resumes, by all means visit the Andamans. And as you read The Register while sipping on whatever cocktail takes your fancy, remember that the new submarine cable keeps you connected and perhaps also protected. Or exposed, depending on your view of things. ®

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