Home Articles Maritime awareness: ODA: An Imperative

Maritime awareness: ODA: An Imperative

<< Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is important in ensuring safety and security in waters. However, MDA in itself is not enough and needs to be integrated with Oceanic Domain Awareness (ODA) for effective and complete maritime knowledge >>

Modern naval strategy is fundamentally based on various means to locate potential enemy forces across the oceans, a problem complicated by the vastness of the maritime environment, the huge number of legitimate users, and the wide variety of means by which an enemy can exploit the oceans to his advantage. The oceans are complex medium whose nature provides ample opportunity for an enemy to avoid detection — weather, sea states and coastal land masses, all present considerable challenges to modern sensors. Peacetime economic use of the seas complicates this problem enormously. Oceans are the world’s foremost (and most unregulated) highway, home to a vast and wide variety of international neutral shipping that possess no apparent threat. Determining an enemy in such a crowded and complex environment is difficult during conventional war or in an asymmetric conflict such as the Global War on Terror (GWOT). It is undoubtedly a formidable task.

It is the asymmetric nature of terrorism that forms the core of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). In a conventional naval war, the enemy is relatively well-defined and almost universally a combatant. Pursuit of GWOT, where literally any vessel could be a potential enemy or weapon carrier, or when any maritime event can have an impact on the security of India, demands a much higher level of awareness than that normally required in a conventional naval conflict. This is recognised by the formal definition of MDA as articulated by the US government vide their document National Security Presidential Directive 41, 2004:- Maritime Domain Awareness is “the effective understanding of anything associated with the global maritime environment that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment of the US.” This is accomplished through the integration of intelligence, surveillance, observation and navigation systems into one Common Operating Picture (COP) that is accessible throughout the US government.

Unlike traditional naval operations, it is apparent that the goal of MDA is far more than simply looking for potential maritime enemies poised to attack India. The implications of “anything associated” with the maritime environment that can impact the security, safety, economy or environment, go far beyond a classic maritime threat. As per the US interpretation, these include smuggling of people or dangerous cargoes, piracy, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), identification and protection of critical maritime infrastructure, oil spills, weather and environmental concerns among other things.

Maritime events that could potentially impact India are not the only wide-ranging elements of MDA, but it is also essential that threats be identified as early as possible and far away from the coast. The global nature of MDA activities occurring overseas and in foreign ports is very much a part of MDA. For example, if a cargo is loaded in Aden and its ultimate destination is India (via several other international ports), the loading, transport, security and all matters associated with that container would be part of MDA. MDA must therefore be exercised over all oceans worldwide, and potentially cover all maritime interests that ultimately impact India. Putting in place an effective MDA is a herculean task – viewing the range of potential security challenges and enormous geographic area represented by the maritime domain. In India, a plethora of agencies possessing a wide range of operational and intelligence capabilities would require information fusion under the over-arching MDA.

Although many factors are considered in MDA, its core process is ultimately monitoring vessels and the vessels’ cargo, crews and passengers to rapidly generate geolocating information on vessels of interest. This is an analytical process that includes tracking, data base searches for unknown linkages and anomaly detection. Fundamental to this is the detection, monitoring, tracking of vessels. This tracking process comprises five elements designed to focus on a narrow area of tactical dimension where threats can be identified and isolated namely; maritime surveillance, detection, tracking, classification and identification and targeting. Targeting involves interpreting detection and identification of information fused with intelligence to sort vessel intentions and determine risk.

MDA’s core is applying the vessel tracking process to a layered defence model centred on the coastline of India, the ultimate goal of which is to detect potential threats early and as far away from the Indian coastline as possible. As there is no single high value unit to protect MDA, ‘layers’ are expanded to include an entire coastline with the overall goal of coordinated surveillance. Not all areas in these ‘layers’ are considered equally, but rather additional attention is given to areas that are potential targets for terrorists/ enemies.

The US has the 2,000 NM limit of the Maritime Detection and Identification Zone (MDIZ). It is based on the legislated 96 hour notification requirement for foreign vessels entering US ports. A vessel travelling 20kts will arrive at its destination in roughly 96 hours. MDIZ’s aim is to gather more timely information on the vessel as it approaches closer to the US coast. When entering the MDIZ, obtaining position of vessels every four hours is a norm, while in territorial waters the goal is to obtain positional data every three minutes. There are many systems that could provide a high degree of surveillance and tracking data, but the actual fusion of this data remains a problem area. In order to derive a comprehensive MDA picture, information needs to be fused, correlated, and analysed; and for it to be relevant to national security, it must be designed to operate cohesively at tactical, regional and strategic levels.

Strategic MDA
At the national level, maritime strategy is critical for long term planning, operational insight and providing national decision makers with support to establish priorities, determine strategies of interdependent organisations, allocate national resources and determine level of overall maritime threat. This is a difficult process during normal peacetime operations and is particularly challenging in the constantly changing asymmetric maritime environment that MDA is designed to address. MDA’s ultimate goal is to obtain a sense of global awareness that reaches beyond the confines of the tactical and regional levels. If MDA was simply a defensive strategy against a known military or terrorist threat, it could be obtained by forming defensive layers around India. But as an informational/ awareness system, its goals are far broader, seeking to understand all potential maritime threats to India, many of which could originate overseas in an inoffensive manner. Strategic MDA requires a broad perspective and capabilities at the highest levels of analysis, intelligence and policy. It requires the realignment of bureaucracy and the re-tasking of national assets towards the overall goal of global awareness. A centre for strategic MDA must have experience in multi-organisation operations and procedures that can transcend the gap between the military, law enforcement and regulatory agencies that are a part of MDA. In the maritime arena, this is possible through expansion of existing infrastructure, specifically developing such a fusion/ analysis point. Two areas of sensor technologies that have particular applicability to strategic MDA are satellite based sensing capability and a network of underwater surveillance sensors.

Structure of the Indian MDA
The November 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai has been analysed and security gaps addressed to formulate the MDA. The fundamental principle for the MDA has been the application of data fusing to get actionable intelligence inputs to measure, compare, identify, engage and prevent seaborne criminal activities. The number of different agencies at central and state level involved is 13, and therefore effective coordination is an issue. Some of the initiatives include:-

  • Launch of GSAT7 satellite in geosynchronous orbit by lSRO, with Rukmani terminals (ex Israel) placed on major warships for instantaneous data transfer to meet the requirements of the Navy. ISRO is also likely to put in place seven satellites under Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) by 2013 which would provide data within 1,000 miles of India.
  • Setting up of the National Command Control Communication and Intelligence network (NC3IN).
  • Setting up of a radar chain (X-band AIS receiver VHF and electro-optics) of 46 sensor stations being linked with the AIS inputs (covering the entire Indian coast), and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and Vessel Traffic Management Systems. Coastal plots are maintained by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Regional HQs to support the Joint Operations Centres (JOCs) set up next to naval Maritime Operations Rooms (MORs) in all naval commands and at New Delhi.
  • Setting up of Multi Agency Centres (MAC) for intelligence inputs and reports.
  • Registration of fishing vessels by states, and provision of battery operated Distress Action Terminals (DATs) for vessels below 300 tons. DG Shipping would provide smaller fishing boats with AIS transponders which has enforced ISPS code for port security with port security plans. Providing biometric/ recognition identity cards for fishermen which can be identified on a machine onboard surveillance platforms.
  • Setting up of a Marine Police force with 73 coastal police stations across nine states and provided with 5 and 10 ton craft which can patrol inshore waters.
  • A continuous synopsis of record of shipping with World Customs Organisation has been enforced and MARSEC security levels are exercised and coastal villagers educated on need to be vigilant by the Indian Navy (IN) and ICG.
  • The Indian Navy has instituted Marine Commandos Rapid Reaction Forces and a Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB) of 100 seamen who are being equipped with 80 Fast Interceptor Crafts (FICs) for protection of naval bases, VAs and VPs. UAVs and aerostats are also planned for induction.
  • Coordinated coastal and offshore asset patrolling has been strengthened by the IN and the ICG.
  • All steps for MDA are networked with the Indian Navy’s fleet of ships, submarines and MR aircraft.

The Government of India has put in place a formidable plan for MDA, and the individual systems are being set up prior to final integration and fusing of data. It is expected that the MDA would be fully functional by 2015.

However, in near future, it can be presumed that IN would aspire to acquire formidable sea denial and sea control capabilities. It is opined that the terms Sea watch/ denial/ control are likely to expand and transform into ‘Oceanic space watch/ denial/ control.’ The term Oceanic space denial/ control would embrace a cylindrical space in 3D+ dimensions; that is, the sea surface, the atmospheric volume above, the outer space at least up to low earth orbiting satellite heights, the water volume up to the sea bed, the sea bed itself and also security of the deep sea mining assets in the EEZ.

The above premise implies that a broader oceanic horizon is in fact inclusive of not only extensive and broader spatial operating arena, but also much wider and broader foray into the verticals below the surface to the sea bed and above, upto periphery of the atmosphere. Unless implications of this nature are anticipated and factored in, technological forecasts themselves would trail behind the rapid advancing pace of technology and the synergies being achieved due to harmonisation and adaptation of inter- and intra-scientific fields. Therefore, it is imperative that holistic perspectives into the information consciousness arena include the Oceanic Domain Awareness (ODA) and its connect with India’s security and MDA.

Scientific study of the oceans originated in the US essentially as a function of national security. Navy operations successfully addressed many challenging naval requirements; but oceanographic inquiry in support of naval needs also triggered unexpected results. In many instances the knowledge of the oceans that was acquired through directed studies – and through complementary lines of inquiry that were enabled by tools developed for naval oceanographic research – further impacted national security in ways that were not anticipated and which transcended tactical and operational significance and could be considered of more strategic consequence.

The primary impetus to the rapid development of oceanography during its 20th century days as a science is without a doubt the submarine and the fundamental changes that occurred when naval warfare became truly three-dimensional. Prosecuting submarines was feasible principally through the transmission of underwater sound, actively by sonar to echo-locate targets and passively by hydrophones and triangulation. The scope of oceanographic efforts in the pursuit of submarine opened all of the oceanographic disciplines (physical, chemical, biological and geological oceanography) to increased investment, research effort and importantly, to integration. Twentieth-century oceanography was fundamentally a security-based endeavour to reduce the opacity of the oceans to antisubmarine warfare in WWI, WWII and the Cold War, and harness that opacity for offensive submarine operations along with a host of other security based naval concerns.

Fundamental progress in basic knowledge of the ocean sciences has occurred due to advances in sensor technologies. Understanding of plate tectonics and sea floor spreading was discovered during large scale mapping of the sea floor after the World War II. This led to the revamping of theories of evolution and structure of the earth. Subsequently, the investigation of mid-ocean ridges carried out by submersibles and towed deep sea vehicles led to detection of many unknown forms of life in the hydrothermal vents and microbes below the seabed at great depths. In the past, ocean geologists, physicists, biologists and chemists have used an array of tools, from deep-sea drilling to instrumented buoys, to improve their understanding about the role the ocean plays in controlling longer-term climate change and weather.

Scientists have now commenced a long term exploration of the chronological variations in ocean systems both for very short and prolonged time periods. Advances in technologies that have spurred this study are primarily based upon:-

  • Availability of new sensors which can be placed and report about chemical, biological and physical characteristics.
  • Advances in computers and software that has enabled storing, retrieving and manipulating large volumes of sensor data. Realtime availability of data to large number of research communities for interpretation, modelling, simulation and prediction.
  • Advances in telecommunications through undersea cables and satellites allowing real-time control of sea based sensors and transmission of bulky sensor data.

Technologies (for example, robust sensors and infrastructure, autonomous vehicles) must be developed to enhance data collection in all weather conditions to support high-spatial resolution and near real-time forecasting throughout the open ocean and coastal zone. Providing accurate and comprehensive environmental information will require expanding observational networks to monitor, record and present real-time surface-monitoring data (for example, high-frequency, coastalbased radars). This expansion will require advancing sensor and technology development, particularly for autonomous and persistent observations, as well as for long-term observing systems; expanding real-time or near real-time data collection on environmental variables by incorporating observational capabilities of ships of opportunity (for example, fishing, cargo, and passenger vessels); and enhancing automated and autonomous bottom-mapping capabilities for change detection to improve rapid, full-scale survey scheduling.

Data collected by the observing systems must be accessible through a comprehensive national data network, either through a single system or a distributed network. Developing this data network will require new methodologies that address gaps in data collection, sharing and interoperability of technologies, and should permit integration of existing research into operational systems (for example, systems providing realtime navigation data to vessels). This data network should be able to link with other databases such as those focussing on ecosystem data, and developed in accordance with international standards for data exchange. The national data network will also provide the data needed for models simulating multiple scenarios to better understand potential impacts, weather events or man-made disruptions on marine operations, and to support operations restoration plans.

The coast and open ocean are critical domains for the security of a nation with sea as boundaries, both at home and abroad. National-security operations in the ocean take place globally and often require continuous, near real-time monitoring of environmental conditions using tools such as autonomous sensors, targeted observations and adaptive modelling. These capabilities, combined with improved understanding of the ocean environment enabled by other ocean science research activities, will support accurate ocean-state assessments and allow future forces to conduct joint and combined operations in near shore and deep-ocean operating environments, anywhere anytime. Thus, it can be surmised that the MDA focusses upon the maritime security environment specific to naval operations; the ODA focuses upon the overarching oceanic environment. Both are technology intensive and require sophisticated sensors and computational capabilities. MDA has tactical, regional and strategic components whereas the ODA is strategic knowledge based architecture. Both require elaborate data and information fusing interface with myriad of interconnected agencies. The MDA primarily needing vast inputs from commercial, intelligence and security agencies and the ODA from advanced research, academic and scientific communities.

MDA needs to be integrated within ODA for completeness of maritime knowledge, the lack of which can lead to serious consequences as has been brought out in a recent assessment of naval exercises and weapon firings in the US, where it was found that over 90 per cent of them were affected adversely due to imperfectly assessed or little known environmental factors. In an actual conflict, these would have led to mission failures. This along with the sinking of HMS Bounty off North Carolina due to the recent cyclone SANDY when it was 160 miles away from the eye of the storm, only underpins the gaps in oceanic knowledge that need to be bridged and the fact that ODA is an enabler for the future and an imperative for a nation like India.