Established as a territory of the UK in 1965, a number of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) islands were transferred to the Seychelles when it attained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago. The largest and most southerly of the islands, Diego Garcia, contains a joint UK-US naval support facility. All of the remaining islands are uninhabited.
Diego Garcia (the only inhabited island of this territory) was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the early 1500s. It is the largest of fifty-two islands which form the Chagos Archipelago, located in the heart of the Indian Ocean. The island's name is believed to have come from either the ship's captain or the navigator on that early voyage of discovery.
In 1965, with the formation of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), Diego Garcia was under the administrative control of the British government of the Seychelles. In 1976, the Seychelles gained independence from England and the BIOT became a self-administering territory under the East African Desk of the British Foreign Office. The Crown's representative on island, the British Representative (BRITREP), acts as both Justice of the Peace and Commanding Officer of the Royal Naval Party 1002.
Until 1971, Diego Garcia's main source of income was from the profitable copra oil plantation. At one time, copra oil from here and the other "Oil Islands" provided fine machine oil and fuel to light European lamps. During the roughly 170 years of plantation life, coconut harvests on Diego Garcia remained fairly constant, at about four million nuts annually. The plantation years ended with the arrival of the U.S. military construction.
Former agricultural workers, earlier residents in the islands, were relocated primarily to Mauritius but also to the Seychelles, between 1967 and 1973. In 2000, a British High Court ruling invalidated the local immigration order that had excluded them from the archipelago, but upheld the special military status of Diego Garcia.
On March 24, 1971 construction began on a U.S. Naval Communication Facility. This construction was accomplished by units of the U.S. Naval Construction Force (Seabees). Naval Communications Station Pre-commissioning Detachment arrived to prepare for operations in December of 1972 and on March 20, 1973 the U.S. Naval Communications Stations, Diego Garcia, was commissioned. The communications facility was later changed to Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station (NCTS) in October of 1991.
A major change to the island organizational structure occurred with the establishment of the Navy Support Facility (NSF) on October 1, 1977. Commanding Officer, NSF, assumed all duties and responsibilities previously assigned to the Island Commander. The nucleus for NSF came from the original Communication Station enlisted and officer allowances. All billets, other than those dedicated to communications support, were transferred to CO, NSF, who is responsible for maintaining and operating facilities and providing services and materials in support of several tenant shore activities and units of the operating forces. Following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Diego Garcia saw the most dramatic build-up of any location since the Vietnam War era. In 1986, Diego Garcia became fully operational with the completion of a $500 million construction program.
The 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait marked the most intense operational period in Diego Garcia's history. From 1 August 1990 to 28 February 1991, NAVSUPPFAC Diego Garcia achieved and maintained the highest degree of operational readiness and provided levels of support which outstripped all contingency planning. As the base population doubled almost overnight, with the deployment of a Strategic Air Command Bombardment Wing and other aviation detachments, workload base-wide increased from 300-2000% over peacetime levels with no personnel augmentation. Diego Garcia became the only U.S. Navy base that launched offensive air operations during Operation Desert Storm and Diego Garcia remains a vital link in our defense structure.
Mauritius and Seychelles claim the Chagos Archipelago and its former inhabitants, who reside chiefly in Mauritius, but in 2001 were granted UK citizenship and the right to repatriation since eviction in 1965; repatriation is complicated by the US military lease of Diego Garcia, the largest island in the chain.
* This article is partially based on public domain material from http://www.dg.navy.mil/2005/html/island_history.htm.
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