Much more should be done to make India’s coasts secure
The Indian Navy conducted its maiden national level Coastal Defence Exercise Sea Vigil from 22-23 January 2019. The exercise witnessed the simultaneous activation of the coastal security apparatus across the country involving maritime stakeholders at the centre and all the 13 coastal states and Union Territories.
The exercise was undertaken along the entire coastline and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of India. Multi-agency teams were deployed in all coastal districts “to undertake security audit of various vulnerable locations such as Fish Landing Centres, as well as major, minor and intermediate ports, lighthouses, coastal police stations, control rooms and operations centres,” informed the Indian Navy.
A coastline of 7,516.6 km bordering Bay of Bengal in the East, the Indian Ocean on the South and the Arabian Sea on the West, makes it imperative for India to review its coastal security and preparedness. Coastal defence is one complex construct as it involves activities both at sea and at shore. Porous borders along the International Maritime Boundary Line bordering Pakistan have made ports located on the western coast relatively a little more sensitive to subversive activities. There are around 133 ports located along India’s western coast, spread over five states and two Union Territories.
The Indian Navy along with the Indian Coast Guard, Marine Police and other Central and state agencies is responsible for securing maritime domain. State Marine Police carries out coastal patrolling close to shallow waters. The state’s jurisdiction extends up to 12 nautical miles in the shallow territorial waters.
After the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008, several measures were announced by the government to strengthen coastal and maritime security along the entire coast.
A multi-tiered patrol and surveillance mechanism through the coastal radar chain and other systems was adopted with a focus on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA.)
As part of coastal security mechanism, a surveillance system, called Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN), comprising Chain of Static Sensors having Radars, Automatic Identification System (AIS), Day/Night Cameras and Met Sensors at 46 locations along the coastline and islands has been established by the Indian Coast Guard. In order to achieve near gap-free surveillance of the entire coastline, 38 additional radar stations and eight Mobile Surveillance Systems apart from VTMS connectivity at Gulf of Kutch and Gulf of Khambat, are being installed under CSN phase-II, the Indian Coast Guard shared. There is an enhanced coordination through Joint Operation Centres (JOCs). Greater emphasis was laid on intelligence and operational coordination making it the focus area.
In June 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih jointly inaugurated an Indian-built CSRS. The joint inauguration had come as the two countries signed six agreements. India and Maldives have also signed a technical agreement on sharing white shipping information between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force. Coastal surveillance radars have also been set up in Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Seychelles.
Committees like National Committee on Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS) headed by the cabinet secretary have been set up. Similarly, several different committees have also been established at state and district level.
Abhijit Singh, senior fellow and head, Maritime Policy Initiative Observer Research Foundation, who is also a former Indian naval officer, said, “The coastal security situation is somewhat better than what it was in 2018, but challenges remain. Ports in particular are still vulnerable, with the rise in ‘grey zone’ activity in the littorals.” The ‘grey-zone’, he explains “is a metaphorical state of being between war and peace, where an aggressor (usually a non-state actor, with or without the backing of a state) aims to reap gains associated with overt military aggression without crossing the threshold of armed conflict against a powerful adversary.”
As per the Indian Navy, some of the other steps adopted to strengthen coastal security are “issuing of ID cards to all fishermen with a single centralised database, registration of over two lakh fishing vessels operating off the Indian coast and equipping fishing boats with suitable equipment, to facilitate vessel identification and tracking.” Fishermen also possess GPS receivers to determine their locations.
The Indian Navy and Coast Guard also conduct coastal security awareness campaigns in coastal districts of the country. In the Western Naval Command itself, nearly 70 such campaigns have been conducted in 2014 alone. During these campaigns, the navy said that the fishermen are warned against crossing the International Maritime Boundary.
In addition to this, National Command Control Communication and Intelligence (NC3I) Network facilitates real-time information sharing. The NC3I aims at improving coastal surveillance. It links 51 stations, including 20 of the navy and 31 of the Coast Guard, with a nodal Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC).
Inaugurated at Gurugram on 23 November 2014, IMAC is a joint initiative of Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Bharat Electronics. The IMAC is the centre where data from various sensors and databases is aggregated, correlated and then disseminated to various stations for enhanced awareness. The software on which the coastal surveillance is carried out incorporates hi-tech features like data fusion, correlation and decision support features.
On December 2018, the then defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurated the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) Gurugram.
The IFC-IOR serves as a hub of information sharing analysis with several countries which have white shipping information exchange agreements with India. The IFC underlines India’s status as the ‘net security provider’ bringing together nations to safeguard the IOR.
Also, in 2018, India signed ascension pact to the 30-member Trans Regional Maritime Network giving it an access to information on ships passing through the IOR. The multilateral construct is steered by Italy. India already has bilateral White Shipping Agreements with 36 countries. While IMAC caters to India’s coastal security, IFC is a global initiative and projects India as the ‘guardian of the sea’ when it comes to the Indian Ocean.
The IOR is vital to world trade and economic prosperity of many nations as more than 75 per cent of the world’s maritime trade and 50 per cent of global oil consumption passes through the IOR. However, maritime terrorism, piracy, human and contraband trafficking, illegal and unregulated fishing, arms running, and poaching pose myriad challenges to maritime safety and security in the region. Response to these challenges requires enhanced situational awareness of the maritime activities in the region to help security agencies function effectively.
Apart from inking agreements, setting up centres and establishing committees, the world’s seventh most powerful navy possesses one aircraft carrier, one amphibious transport dock, eight Landing ship tanks, 11 destroyers, 13 frigates, one nuclear-powered attack submarine, 1 Ballistic missile submarine, 14 conventionally-powered attack submarines, 22 corvettes, 10 large offshore patrol vessels, four fleet tankers and various auxiliary vessels and small patrol boats. Besides these ships, the Indian Coast Guard operates around 90-100 armed patrol ships of various sizes.
The navy operates 11 guided-missile destroyers from three classes: Kolkata class, Delhi class, and Rajput class.