India activates first listening post on foreign soil: radars in Madagascar

India has activated its first listening post on foreign soil that will keep an eye on ship movements in the Indian Ocean. A key monitoring station in northern Madagascar, complete with radars and surveillance gear to intercept maritime communication, was quietly made operational earlier this month as part of Indian Navy's strategy to protect the country's sea lanes of commerce.

The monitoring station, under construction since last year when India took on a lease from Antananarivo, will link up with similar naval facilities in Kochi and Mumbai to gather intelligence on foreign navies operating in the region. "A naval asset with limited anchoring facilities has been activated. It will facilitate possible manoeuvres by the navy in the region," a ministry official said.

While the station will also monitor piracy and terrorist activities, its primary aim is to counter the growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region. The station is India's first in southern Indian Ocean that is gaining importance due to increasing oil traffic across the Cape of Good Hope and the Mozambique Channel route preferred by super tankers.

The US already has a permanent military base with aerial assets and monitoring facilities in Diego Garcia, 1,400 nautical miles north-east of the Madagascar facility.

India is looking at developing another monitoring facility at an atoll it has leased from Mauritius in the near future. While the ministry remains silent, sources say some forward movement has recently been made on the project.

"With berthing rights in Oman and monitoring stations in Madagascar, Mauritius, Kochi and Mumbai, the navy will effectively box in the region to protect sea lanes right from Mozambique and the Cape of Good Hope to the Gulf of Oman," an official said.

The navy has already made its presence felt along the African coast with regular warships deployments to monitor piracy and terrorist movements. India also inked an agreement with Mozambique last year to mount periodical maritime patrolling off its vast coast. In 2003, the Indian navy provided seaward protection for the African Union summit at Mozambique.

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