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Surveillance: Coastal security: The way ahead

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The serial blasts in Mumbai in 1993, the infamous 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and the incidents of MVs Wisdom and Pavit drifting undetected onto Juhu beach as well as the sinking of MV Rak off the coast of Mumbai reinforces the common understanding that the Indian coastline is vulnerable to foreign intrusions. On the other hand, however, MV Nafis-I was detected and towed to Porbandar and handed over to the local authorities. This shows that there is a mix of failure and success in coastal surveillance. The Government of India has thus taken strong measures to rapidly improve the national coastal security architecture. These initiatives include:-

  • A tiered structure of coastal security involving the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), Marine Police of the states and Union Territories (UTs).
  • The creation of a ‘National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security’ under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary with representatives from all concerned ministries/ departments/ organsiations in the Government of India and the coastal states/ UTs.
  • Indian Navy, assisted by the Coast Guard, State Marine Police and other central and state agencies, was designated as the authority responsible for overall maritime security which includes coastal and offshore security.
  • Designation of the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief as the C-in-C Coastal Defence. Four Joint Operations Centres at Mumbai, Kochi, Vizag and Port Blair would be manned by the Coast Guard and the Navy with inputs from the concerned central and state agencies.
  • Designation of the Director General, Indian Coast Guard (ICG) as the Commander Coastal Command with responsibility for overall coordination between the central and state agencies in all matters relating to coastal security.
  • Creation of a 1,000 strong Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB) with an initial force level of 95 Fast Interceptor Crafts (FICs). The SPB is responsible for force protection, security of naval assets and co-located vulnerable areas and vulnerable points.
  • Creation of 73 coastal police stations, 97 check posts, 58 outposts and with assets comprising 120 (12 ton) and 84 (5 ton) boats, 10 inflatable boats, 153 Jeeps and 312 motor cycles. Manpower would be provided by the states/ UTs with training being undertaken by the ICG.
  • Procurement of 15 interceptor boats and establishment of three coast guard stations in the two states – Maharashtra and Gujarat. Nine additional coast guard stations on the western coastline of the country have been since approved.
  • A National Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence Network (NC3I) for real-time maritime domain awareness linking the operations rooms of the Navy and the Coast Guard, both at the field and the apex level.
  • A coastal surveillance network, to be implemented by the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways in coordination with the Coast Guard, consisting of a chain of static radar, Automatic Identification System (AIS), electro-optic sensors VHF sets and Met equipment interfaced with the Vessel Traffic Management Systems of major ports, Fishing Vessel Monitoring System, Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and NC3I of the Indian Navy, to provide a single composite maritime coastal picture up to 25 NM at the Coast Guard Headquarters, New Delhi.
  • Installation of Vessel and Air Traffic Management System for all offshore development areas by Ministry of Petroleum supported with Immediate Support Vessels for offshore security by Ministry of Petroleum and Indian Navy.
  • Ministry of Shipping has been mandated to streamline the process of compulsory registration of all vessels, and also to ensure fitting/ provision of AIS on these boats.
  • Department of Fisheries to issue biometric ID cards to all fishermen.
  • The Registrar General of India (RGI) has been mandated to issue Multi-purpose National Identity Cards (MNICs) to the population in the coastal villages including fishermen.
  • Standard operating procedures for all coastal States/ UTs have been finalised.

Post a vulnerability gap analysis carried out by the coastal states, Phase II of the Coastal Security Scheme would be implemented. The Phase II would see inclusion of another 131 marine police stations, 60 jetties, 10 marine operation centers, 180 (12 ton) boats, 35 RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats), 10 large vessels (A&N), 131 jeeps and 242 motorcycles added to the coastal security infrastructure. In addition, the Coast Guard Fleet of 15 Offshore Patrol Vessels, 15 Fast Patrol Vessels, 10 Inshore Patrol Vessels, 46 interceptor crafts and boats and a proposed doubling of force levels in the next 4-5 years would supplement the national effort of securing the coastal frontier.

From the foregoing, it is evident that a substantial investment has been made towards building a credible and deterrent security architecture to secure India’s coastal frontier. The worrisome issues are four fold. First, the core issue of responsibility, accountability and authority where a single point contact is not clearly established. The Indian Navy is responsible for coastal security, the Indian Coast Guard is responsible for coordination between the Centre and states, the Ministry of Home Affairs (border management) and Ministry of Petroleum are responsible for financial outlays, fitment of AIS on fishing craft is with the Department of Fisheries and the Ministry of Shipping is responsible for registration of all craft. In Sir Creek and Jakhau, both the Indian Coast Guard and the Border Security Force are deployed for surveillance and patrolling. Despite good intentions, it is a fact that accountability remains diffused.

The second issue is of operations. Whilst the surveillance infrastructure is professionally managed by the Coast Guard, operation of vessels and the equipment therein are with the state marine police trained by the Coast Guard.

The third issue is that of specifications for these sophisticated boats. For the 150 12-ton boats, under procurement by the MHA, the specifications for the propulsion package includes turbocharged engines with electronic control, Twin Screw Arneson Surface Piercing Drive (ASD), auto pilot steering, Rolla propellers and reversible gear box-technologies that neither the Indian Navy or the Coast Guard has till date. The hull is single piece GRP mould-not the easiest to repair-and the electronics package includes a navigation radar with console, GPS, echo sounder, satellite communications, VHF sets and various electronic alarms.

The fourth issue is on the specifications for the coastal radar network and the maximum speed of the boats. The maximum range of the shore based radars and supporting electro-optics is only 24 NM and such radars can usually detect boats at no more than 10 NM which is not adequate to offer any gainful alert to the response forces. Also, the MHA boats have a minimum speed of 25 knots maintainable for about 30 minutes only. So, it is not clear how any apprehension can take place even after detection if the ingress speed is anything over a modest 20 knots. Hence, both surveillance and response equipments require review.

Whilst positive steps have been taken, some course corrections need to be considered. These include:-

  • The perception of duality of responsibility, accountability and authority must be removed which possibly arises from the designation of the Director General, ICG as the Commander Coastal Command and the FOCin- C reduced to being C-in-C Coastal Defence.
  • For harbour and port security, ‘mounted’ sea marshals on new generation water crafts such as Jet Skis and high speed water scooters could be considered. These assets should be owned and operated by the Coast Guard.
  • Modern sophisticated long range coastal surveillance requires a network of high frequency surface wave radars with ranges of 250-400 km, X Band Over the Horizon Radars with a range of 120 km, sophisticated image intensifiers and hyper spectral imagery to enable 24×7 simultaneous staring surveillance of the Indian EEZ is now mandated. These assets should be owned and operated by the Indian Navy.
  • Build-up maritime air surveillance through extensive use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These assets would be owned and operated by the Navy but the data would be shared with the ICG.
  • Amphibious aircraft combine the capabilities of rapid surveillance and prompt response, whether for relief or arrest, meeting both constabulary and benign missions in a single platform and is thus a veritable force multiplier for the Navy.
  • Rapidly build-up a rapid reaction force of 900 fast interceptor crafts to protect 200 ports and a mainland coastline of 5,422 km. For the islands which have a total coastline of 2,094 km about 120 fast interceptor boats in the A&N island chain and about 90 fast interceptor boats in the Lakshwadeep Islands would be required. All these boats would be owned, operated and maintained by the ICG.
  • Semi-submersibles and remote underwater vehicles are threats looming on the horizon, having proved quite successful in Sri Lanka. Harbours need to be protected against such craft and this requires diver detection sonars, very high definition radars, image intensified optics, electronic support measures for interception of mobile and VHF data and voice communications, remotely operated underwater physical/ electric field barriers and a command and control system with heuristic capabilities. Therefore, the future requires a sophisticated and networked multi-spectral data fusion command and control engine which enables real-time maritime domain awareness.

In conclusion, the foregoing clearly establishes that giant strides have been made by the Government of India in making coastal security a national success. However, neither the government nor its agencies can rest on their oars as the future may open up new threats and provide better opportunity to an attacker and enhanced challenges for a defender in achieving their respective objectives. The administrative skill required is to outthink the innovative ingenuity of an attacker and thwart his evil plans through continuous improvements in leadership, organisation and coordination, induction of topical technology and apposite equipment and engendering a well-trained, motivated and committed work force.