Coastal Security
From military to constabulary

A navy boat patrolling the coast
Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Mumbai/New Delhi: On the third anniversary of 26/11 attacks which falls in November, the government is expected to declare that India’s 7,516km long coastline is secure if not impregnable. Measures to bolster coastal security are in place; all stake-holders are working in tandem; and it would be nigh impossible for Pakistan or anyone else to again breach India’s maritime borders. In a pre-emptive move, the Union home ministry has already taken credit for making sea-borders secure. In a recent written reply to Parliament, it has claimed that police forces in coastal states and Union territories are well-trained, adequately-equipped and prepared to deal with terrorists’ threats. This is the government’s truth.

On the ground, the executors tasked with providing this security have a different tale to tell. Saying that ‘coastal security is not like a polythene bag inside which you put India with all the bad people remaining outside’, a senior official picks holes in the government’s claim. According to him, surveillance and detection is a multi-asset, multi-layered job. Only with a combination of shore-based, sea-borne, air-borne and space-based platforms and systems can one hope to get a comprehensive picture of what is happening or who is going where in the sea. However, he is quick to point out that even when you get the complete picture, there is still no guarantee that your coastal borders will remain impregnable. “After all, almost the entire land border of India has multi-layered fencing with sensors. It is also vigorously patrolled. Yet, there are frequent incidents of ingress (by terrorists, smugglers, illegal immigrants and so on) throughout the length of the border fence, and not just in Kashmir,” he says. “How does that happen?”

Coming back to the coastal security mammoth, International Hydrographic Organisation, which delimits the seas and ocean puts the area of the Arabian Sea at roughly 38.6 lakh sqkm. Since India cosiders the entire Arabian Sea as its area of interest, the job of patrolling (as well as sanitisation) of this area
is the responsibility of the Western Naval Command (WNC), which is Indian Navy’s largest command holding the maximum number of frontline warships and aircraft assets. A medium-size ship’s radar can detect an average-sized ship up to 20 nautical miles, which means an area of about 1250sqnm. A small ship’s radar can detect up to the distance of five to six nautical miles. If the Indian Navy was to rely entirely on sea-based assets for surveillance, then it would need an upward of 900 ships to hopefully cover the entire Arabian Sea. Forget WNC, the Indian Navy does not have such numbers or anything close to this.

It is the same story as far as the airborne platforms are concerned. Despite the fanciful sounding phrase Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) being in circulation for several years, Indian Navy’s air surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are hugely inadequate, to put it politely.

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