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Securing our seas

Lt Gen AKS Chandele
Lt Gen AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd)
Managing Editor
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Threats to a nation’s security can emanate from land, sea, air, space and even cyber space. India has maritime boundaries with five countries, a coastline in excess of 7500 km, over a thousand island territories and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of approximately two million sq km. Maritime security undoubtedly forms an important component of our national security. However, inadequate attention has been paid to maritime security in the past, with successive governments laying far greater emphasis on overland and air threats. The Mumbai 26/11 attacks exposed our vulnerabilities and came as a wake-up call that forced the government to have a comprehensive relook at all aspects of our coastal and maritime security and institute remedial measures expeditiously.

With the gradual shift of power from the West to the East, Asia is rapidly emerging as the epicentre of global political and military power. Asian security environment stretches from the eastern Mediterranean in the west to the west Pacific littorals in the east. Due to its size, location and trade links, India occupies a very strategic position in the Indian Ocean Region. The seas surrounding peninsular India are seeing heightened activity in recent years, including the presence of naval forces from outside the region. China has embarked on rapid modernisation of its navy and has increased its activity in the region. Other littoral states too are enhancing their sea power significantly. As India’s economy grows, so will its dependence on the sea, in the form of shipping, trade, energy requirements and search and exploitation of marine resources.

Maritime security issues are both military and non-military, involving nation states as well as non-state actors. Whereas a direct conflict between naval forces of two nations is less likely, threats from non-state actors, particularly terrorists are on the rise. Add to that heightened clandestine activities such as drug and human trafficking and smuggling. Piracy is a growing concern to global shipping companies, causing loss of ships, cargo and extra cost in the form of anti-piracy measures. Environment is another security concern. Sea-faring nations also need to protect ports, off-shore platforms and other associated infrastructure. No nation can ensure total and foolproof maritime security over its area of interest alone. Not only is coordination required between the navy, coast guard, coastal police and intelligence agencies, but all nations within the region need to cooperate by sharing intelligence and resources. Understandably, maritime security is a priority issue amongst members of the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).

Total situational awareness, with the ability to timely identify potential security threats, is a pre-requisite for maritime security. Satellite imagery assisted by GIS and backed by sophisticated communications play an important role in providing comprehensive solutions for 24×7, all-weather surveillance and location information, essential for planning and executing the response to maritime threats.