Action Along the Coast

It is in India’s interest to further maritime cooperation in the IOR

Aditya Kakkar

As India prepared to usher in its 69th Republic Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc expressed satisfaction at the growth of bilateral relations including in the fields of maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region in a bilateral meeting on the eve of ASEAN-India Commemorative on January 25.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc

According to Indian news agencies, India and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will perhaps also discuss holding naval exercises near the Strait of Malacca. Recently, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States had elevated its engagement with India as part of its effort for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

While the ‘Indo’ in ‘Indo-Pacific’ refers to the Indian Ocean and not India, nevertheless, it is essential that India stays true to its 2015’s revamped maritime doctrine, ‘Ensuring Securing Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy.’ The document clarified India’s intent to be a ‘net security provider’ in its areas of interest. It defined the concept, as “…the state of actual security available in an area, upon balancing prevailing threats, inherent risks and rising challenges in the maritime environment, against the ability to monitor, contain and counter all of these.”

In 2017, India and Singapore concluded an overarching bilateral agreement for naval cooperation which gave India access to Singapore’s Changi naval base at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca. While the above examples are illustrative of India’s maritime ambitions and global expectations, the Indian Navy cannot fulfil its roles without sufficient capabilities and real-time intelligence.

The Indian Navy has an unenviable task of protecting India’s coastal borders along with being a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as naval posturing becomes one of the ways to strengthen a nation’s sphere of influence. India has a long coastline of 7,516km running through Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal and the Union Territories (UT) of Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Under the three-level coastal security scheme, the Indian Navy is responsible for patrolling beyond 200 nm.

Phase I of the Integrated Coastal Security Scheme was implemented at a cost of Rs 646 crore between 2005 and 2011. Phase II, with an outlay of Rs 1,580 crore is nearing completion. 46 coastal radars and 74 automatic ID systems have been installed along with colour-coding of boats by coastal states and UTs. Majority of fishermen have also been issued biometric cards. All agencies engaged in coastal and maritime security will soon benefit from Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) initiative to track suspicious vessels and boats through satellite imagery. The space agency will supply over 1,000 transponders by March this year to track sub-20 metres boats since automatic identification system (AIS) is already present for bigger vessels.

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