Satellite images show a hive of construction activity in the area near the original jetty, located north-west of the new runway. A large number of buildings, mostly sheds and accommodation for hundreds of Indian construction workers, have come up, in two separate settlements. While some of these buildings could be temporary, a few could be retained for future use.
Apart from the inland structures, satellite imagery from December 2020 also shows two new jetties. These jetties are much longer in comparison to the one that already existed on the island and stretch closer to the deep water.
The Detailed Project Report suggested the creation of jetty infrastructure for berthing and movement of ships of length 149 m and drawing draught of 9 m.
The development of support infrastructure for the base, such as maritime and air traffic control buildings, hangar, passenger terminal for the runway on the island, desalination plant, as well as electricity, water and sewerage systems, will take place over the next few months.
The project remains shrouded in secrecy, with both India and Mauritius keeping the details of the agreement on the base under wraps.
In 2018, the Vice Prime Minister of Mauritius, Fazila Jeewa-Daureeawoo, told the country’s national assembly that the agreement with India was “subject to confidentiality and cannot be disclosed in part or in full”.
In 2017, when he was asked by the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly if India will base troops at Agalega, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said it will have to “ask for permission from Mauritian authorities”.
The infrastructure coming up at Agalega is critical for increasing the presence of India’s air and surface maritime assets in the western Indian Ocean, including waters close to the southeastern coast of Africa, an increasingly important region where the Indian Navy’s engagements have been relatively limited.
Indian Navy’s long-range maritime surveillance aircraft, P-8Is, will be able to take off from the 3,000 metre-long runway on the island.
India had recently deployed P-8Is in this part of the Indian Ocean for a joint patrol with the French Navy from the Reunion Island, located between Mauritius and Madagascar.
India also has access to military facilities of Japan, France and the United States — all three have bases in the western Indian Ocean — under the logistics exchange agreements it has signed with these countries.
The facilities in Agalega will also support the Indian Navy warships deployed in the western Indian Ocean as the Navy is increasing its presence in the region around Mauritius and Seychelles under its mission based deployments.
India’s Maritime Security Strategy, released in 2015, lists the south-west Indian Ocean, including the Mozambique Channel (the SLOC used by shipping transiting the Cape of Good Hope) and the east coast of Africa, where China has been investing heavily, as one of the primary areas of interest.
The base could also be used for staging Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations, which have become an important feature of Indian diplomacy — INS Jalashwa is currently on its way to Madagascar (not far from Mauritius) with assistance to deal with the crisis triggered by a severe drought.
New communications and intelligence infrastructure will come up on the island, improving India’s situational awareness in this part of the Indian Ocean amid increasing Chinese presence, including a base in Djibouti.
Mauritius is already part of India’s maritime domain awareness project with multiple coastal surveillance stations functional throughout the island chain.
With India’s project to develop military and logistics infrastructure on Seychelles’ Assumption Island, located in the south-west Indian Ocean, hitting a roadblock, the base at Agalega has become critical for the Indian Navy’s increased presence and engagement in the western Indian Ocean.