All posts by Vijay Sakhuja

India Reinforces Maritime Domain Awareness but Challenges Remain

Six years ago, in November 2008, a group of Pakistan-based terrorists landed at unsecured waterfronts in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, and attacked public places such as hotels, restaurants, and a railway station. Although the Indian security forces were quick to respond, the attack, popularly referred to as 26/11, exposed three significant gaps in India’s maritime security apparatus: a. the porous nature of India’s coastline; b. the poor surveillance of the maritime domain; and c. the lack of inter-agency coordination.

Indian Navy's marine commandos in action during a mock rescue demonstration at the Gate of India during the Navy Day celebrations in Mumbai, India, 04 December 2010.
Indian Navy’s marine commandos in action during a mock rescue demonstration at the Gate of India during the Navy Day celebrations in Mumbai, India, 04 December 2010.

Post the 26/11 attacks, the Indian government undertook a number of proactive measures to restructure coastal security and push the defensive perimeter further away from the coast into the seas. The focus was on building national maritime domain awareness (NMDA) grid via a number of organisational, operational and technological changes. The Indian Navy has now set up the National Command Control Communication Intelligence (NC3I) network that hosts the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC).

It connects 41 radar stations (20 Indian Navy and 31 Coast Guard) located along the coast and on the island territories, and helps collate, fuse and disseminate critical intelligence and information about ‘unusual or suspicious movements and activities at sea’. There are plans for additional coastal radar stations to cover gap/shadow zones in the second phase; these are currently addressed through deployment of ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard.

The IMAC receives vital operational data from multiple sources such as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the long-range identification and tracking (LRIT), a satellite-based, real-time reporting mechanism for reporting the position of ships. This information is further supplemented by shore based electro-optical systems and high definition radars. Significantly, maritime domain awareness is also received through satellite data.

There are 74 AIS receivers along the Indian coast and these are capable of tracking 30,000 to 40,000 merchant ships transiting through the Indian Ocean. The AIS is mandatory for all merchant ships above 300 tons DWT and it helps monitoring agencies to keep track of shipping and detect suspicious ships. However the AIS a vulnerable to ‘data manipulation’. According to a recent study, the international shipping manipulates AIS data for a number of reasons, and the trends are quite disturbing.

In the last two years, there has been 30 per cent increase in the number of ships reporting false identities. Nearly 40 per cent of the ships do not report their next port of call to prevent the commodity operators and to preclude speculation. Interestingly, there is growing tendency among merchant ships to shut down AIS, and ‘go dark’ and spoofing (generating false transmissions) is perhaps the most dangerous. It can potentially mislead the security forces who have to respond to such targets and on finding none, leads to loss and wastage of precious time and human effort which adversely affects operational efficiency of the maritime security forces.

At another level, small fishing boats can complicate maritime domain awareness; however, it is fair to say that they can also be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the security agencies. Indian authorities have undertaken a number of steps, including compulsory identity cards for fishermen; registration of over 200,000 fishing boats and tracking them through central database; security awareness programmes, etc. Furthermore, Marine Police Training Institutes have been established. They are coordinated by the apex National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS) that is headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

thCAH3R4K0The Indian government has also drawn plans to reinforce the NMDA via multilateral cooperation. It is in talks with at least 24 countries for exchanging information on shipping to ensure that the seas are safe and secure for global commerce. India has placed maritime security high on the agenda through active participation in the Indian Ocean Rim association (IORA), the Indian Ocean Naval symposium (IONS), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus. Additionally, it is in talks with other countries to institutionalise intelligence exchange among the respective security agencies.

The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have been at the helm and have developed a sophisticated strategy that involves joint exercises, hot lines, exchange of intelligence and training with a number of navies. It will be useful to explore if the NC3I is suitably linked to the Singapore-based Information Fusion Centre (IFC) established at Changi Command and Control Centre (CC2C), which has received much acclaim as an effective MDA hub.

It is fair to argue that weak legislations can compromise maritime security. In this connection, it is important to point out that the Coastal Security Bill drafted in 2013 is yet to be tabled in the Indian Parliament. Unfortunately, the draft Piracy Bill placed before the law makers in 2012 lapsed due to priority given to other issues.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com.

This article is courtesy Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi and originally appeared at http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/india-reinforces-maritime-domain-awareness-but-challenges-remain-4764.html.

Chinese Submarines Taste Indian Ocean

PLAN Song-class submarine in Hong Kong
PLAN Song-class submarine in Hong Kong

A Chinese military website, ostensibly sponsored by the People’s Liberation Army, quoting Sri Lanka media has reported that a Chinese Type 039 diesel-electric Song-class submarine along with Changxing Dao, a submarine support ship from the North Sea Fleet was sighted berthed alongside at the Colombo International Container Terminal. Although the pictures of the submarine and the support vessel together in the port have not been published either by the Sri Lankan or the Chinese media, it is believed that the submarine arrived in early September just before the Chinese President Xi Jingping’s visit to Sri Lanka. The report also states that the submarine was on a routine deployment and had stopped over for replenishment. Further, a Chinese naval flotilla would call at a Sri Lankan port later in October and November.

In the past, reports about the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean have been announced in the media. For instance, the Indian media reported that a type-093 attack nuclear submarine was on deployment (December 2013 to February 2014) in the Indian Ocean and that the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (Foreign Affairs Office) had informed the Indian military attaché in Beijing of the submarine deployment to show ‘respect for India’. Apparently, the information of the deployment was also shared with the United States, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia.

A few issues relating to the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean merit attention. First, the Chinese submarine visited Sri Lanka and not Pakistan, a trusted ally of China whose relationship has been labeled as ‘all weather’. The reason for the choice of Sri Lanka could be driven by concerns about Pakistan domestic political instability, which had prompted Xi Jinping to cancel his visit to Islamabad during his South Asia tour last month. Further, the high security risks in Karachi harbour and Gwadar port add to Chinese discomfort.

In the past, there have been a number of terrorist attacks on the naval establishments in Karachi. In 2002, 14 workers of the French marine engineering company Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN) were killed and in 2011, attack on PNS Mehran left three P3C-Orion damaged. The recent report about an attempt to hijack a Chinese-built Pakistani frigate by a terrorist group linked to the Al Qaeda has only reinforced these apprehensions. The Gwadar port is perhaps not yet ready to take on submarines; besides, in the past, three Chinese engineers working in the Gwadar port project were killed in a car bombing and two Chinese engineers working on a hydroelectric dam project in South Waziristan were abducted.

The second issue that warrants attention is that the deployment of the Song-class submarine in the Indian Ocean would be the first ever by a Chinese conventional submarine. This could be a familiarization visit, keeping in mind that the Chinese do not have sufficient oceanographic data about the Indian Ocean. After all, submarine operations are a function of rich knowledge about salinity, temperature and other underwater data. It is plausible that the Pakistan Navy, which has a rich experience of operating in the Arabian Sea, may have shared oceanographic data for submarine operation with the Chinese Navy. Further, the submarine would also get an opportunity to operate far from home and it is for this reason that it was escorted by a submarine tender. It will be useful to recall that China had deployed a number of ships, aircraft and satellite in the southern Indian Ocean in its attempt to locate the debris of MH 370. These factors may have encouraged the Chinese Navy to dispatch the submarine to the Indian Ocean.

Third, if the Chinese are to be believed that they informed Singapore and Indonesia about the deployment of type-093 attack nuclear submarine in the Indian Ocean earlier this year, then the purpose for that was to address the issue of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) also referred to as the Bangkok Treaty signed on December 15, 1995, during the fifth Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. The nuclear submarine would have entered the Indian Ocean through any of the three straits i.e. Straits of Malacca, Sunda Strait and the Lombok Strait and transited through the SEANWFZ.

The ASEAN countries have been urging the five nuclear weapon states (NWS) – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – who operate nuclear powered submarines / warships carrying nuclear weapons, to sign various protocols of the SEANWFZ but have expressed reservations partly driven by the fact that the SEANWFZ curtails the movement of nuclear propelled platforms such as submarines. Indonesia has been at the forefront to ‘encourage the convening of consultations between ASEAN Member States and NWS with a view to the signing of the relevant instruments that enable NWS ratifying the Protocol of SEANWFZ’.

If the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean is true, it is fair to suggest that Chinese forays have graduated from diplomatic port calls, training cruises, anti-piracy operations, search and rescue missions, to underwater operations. Further, the choice of platforms deployed in the Indian Ocean has qualitatively advanced from multipurpose frigates to destroyers, amphibious landing ships and now to submarines. The Indian strategic community had long predicted that China would someday deploy its submarines in the Indian Ocean and challenge Indian naval supremacy in its backyard; these concerns have proven right. The Indian Navy has so far followed closely the Chinese surface ships deployments in the Indian Ocean but would now have to contend with the submarines which would necessitate focused development of specialist platforms with strong ASW (anti-submarine warfare) capability.  

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com.
 

Blue Economy: An Agenda for the Indian Government

Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India and Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius, during their meeting on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of the former in May 2014 in New Delhi, agreed to increase cooperation in ‘maritime security, renewable energy, and the blue-economy, including development of related infrastructure’. Earlier, Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure had stated that his country was ‘working closely with India on developing the Blue Economy concept’ and that both countries had accorded high priority to issues like ‘maritime pollution and overfishing that impact the Indian Ocean’.

Before going any further, it is important to understand ‘blue economy’. The idea of blue economy was argued during the Rio+20 preparatory meetings, where several Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) observed that ‘Green Economy’ had limited relevance for them; instead, ‘Green Economy in a Blue World’ was a good concept and most suitable for the sustainable development and management of ocean resources.

A number of countries have included blue economy in their national strategy and have published white papers and official documents. For instance, China has long followed this idea and has instituted Five-Year Development Plan for National Marine Economy which monitors progress of various marine sectors. China’s State Council has published a White Paper on the subject which notes that the Chinese maritime economy grew at 17 per cent annually in the 1980s, and 20 per cent in the 1990s. In January 2013, China released the 12th Five-Year Development Plan for National Marine Economy which notes that the marine economy is expected to grow at 8 per cent annually up to 2015, generate 2.6 million new jobs, and could be about 10 per cent of the national GDP.

Likewise, the European Union has announced its ‘Blue Growth’ strategy for sustainable development of marine and maritime sectors to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is estimated that it would result in nearly 5.4 million jobs and a gross added value of about €500 billion annually and generate sustainable jobs and growth. In the Indian context, the idea of blue economy is yet to develop. There are as many as 17 different agencies whose mandate includes matters maritime/marine; ironically, there is no synergy among them partly due to the absence of an overarching agency to facilitate dialogue among these agencies.

SeychellesDuring his first address to the newly constituted 16th Lok Sabha, President Pranab Mukherjee outlined major policy priorities of the new government over the next five years which included setting up of the National Maritime Authority (NMA), an apex body, to address coastal security concerns. This is a significant initiative and addresses gaps in coastal security and would help prevent terrorist attacks from the sea similar to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008. It is equally important to harness the seas to enhance the maritime power potential of the country. A multi-disciplinary maritime advisory body can help bring together a number of national / state bodies and can help formulate a maritime vision, draw up plans and coordinate economic, environmental and security activities in the maritime domain which can then work to ‘craft a National Maritime Security Policy’. This could then be integrated with the maritime strategy which would automatically ‘reinforce maritime security’.

Taking this argument further, Prime Minister Modi’s announcement to do away with the eight-member Planning Commission and set up a larger think tank that accommodates the states to do the ‘big thinking and thinking for the future’ could explore the possibility of constituting a group of specialists under a maritime think tank to develop a blueprint for growth of blue economy.

Mauritius and Seychelles are important island nations in the Indian Ocean and have made a strong case for blue economy as an important pillar of their national development strategy. As noted earlier, their leaders have passionately argued about their commitment to sustainable exploitation of living and non-living marine resources and deep seabed minerals to enhance food and energy security. However, these countries are constrained by a number of technological and investment limitations for the development of the maritime sector which is critical for their economic growth and look towards India or even China for support.

At another level, the high decibel security discourse in the Indian Ocean centered on asymmetric threats and challenges appears to have swamped the idea of blue economy and pushed it to the back burner. There is no doubt that security is critical for sustainable development of sea based resources, it will be useful for India, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka to jointly promote the idea of blue economy in the Indian Ocean and keep environment and ecology high on the agenda.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com. This article was cross-posted by permission and appeared in its original form at India’s National Maritime Foundation

Maritime Silk Road: Through a New Periscope

It was the Maldives’s turn to receive a sermon on the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) from China. Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen to participate in the 21st Century MSR, expand cooperation in tourism, trade and infrastructure, and enhance maritime cooperation. Apparently Yameen assured Xi that his country would “respond to the Chinese initiative.” Ali Hameed, former vice foreign minister of the Maldives, too had stated that the MSR was of interest to the Maldives. Earlier, Xi had approached Sri Lanka to consider the MSR, and Colombo indicated that it would actively examine the proposal. The MSR was also raised during Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to China a few months ago.

Unlike in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the MSR has sent the Indian strategic community into a tizzy. A number of articles, commentaries, op eds, discussions and sound bites have concluded that the MSR is nothing but a Chinese ploy to get a naval ‘foothold’ in the Indian Ocean and reflects China’s creeping influence in the region. These reactions are quite natural given that China has aggressively pursued the agenda of building maritime infrastructure in friendly countries such as Pakistan (Gwadar), Sri Lanka (Hambantota) and now the Maldives – that are seen as bases/facilities to support People’s Liberation Army Navy’s future operations in the Indian Ocean and also the Chinese attempt to ‘encircle’ India.

However, it will be useful to examine the MSR through the prism of maritime infrastructure development and explore if India can leverage the MSR to its advantage. China has developed a sophisticated concept of marine economy that has been facilitated by its long coastline. Nearly 40 per cent of the Chinese population, 5 per cent of cities, 70 per cent of GDP, 84 per cent of direct foreign investment and export products are generated within 200 km of coast. In 1998, the Chinese government published a White Paper on marine economy which identified twenty different sectors for the development of the national economy. The China Ocean Information Center announced that the marine output in 2013 grew 7.6 per cent year on year to 5.43 trillion Yuan ($ 876 billion) accounting for 9.5 per cent of the national economy. In essence, the coastal provinces have contributed substantially to the overall national strength in terms of economic growth and play an important role in developing an export-oriented economy.

Today, China figures among the top countries in shipbuilding, ports (particularly container cargo), shipping, development of offshore resources, inland waterways, marine leisure tourism, and not to forget it is one of the top suppliers of human resources who are employed by international shipping companies.

mahinda-rajapakse-backs-chinas-maritime-silk-road-projectChina’s shipbuilding capacity is notable and is supported by plentiful of cheap labour and domestic ancillary industry which is endowed with exceptional engineering skills. Seven of the top ten global container ports are in China and the Chinese shipping fleet of 6,427 vessels ranks second behind Japan with 8,357 ships. Similar successes are seen in China’s fisheries production which is projected to reach about 69 metric tonnes by 2022 and it will continue to be top world exporter with 10 metric tonnes by 2022. Likewise, China ranked third as a tourist destination in 2012. The coastal regions are dotted with marinas, water sport parks and beach resorts and Sanya, Qingdao and Xiamen are home to the growing yacht and luxury boating industry.

These capabilities have been built over the past few decades and has placed China among the major maritime powers of the world and top Asian maritime powers – beating both Japan and South Korea. China is leveraging these capabilities and offering to develop maritime infrastructure in friendly countries that are willing to accept the offer – which at times makes an attractive investment opportunity, and can help these exploit the seas to enhance economic growth, and ensure food and energy security.

There is a sea change in the maritime strategic thinking of China and India. While the former has harnessed the seas to build its power potential, the latter needs to undertake a strategic evaluation of its maritime potential. India needs to make major policy changes to develop maritime infrastructure, offshore resources and exploit these on a sustainable basis. Although India is pursuing the path of building a modern three-dimensional navy with nuclear submarines, a new appreciation of the multifaceted maritime economic activity needs New Delhi’s attention.

India lacks maritime infrastructure and technology to exploit offshore marine organic, mineral and hydrocarbon resources that are critical to ensure sustained economic growth – which is high on the current government’s agenda. It would therefore be prudent to understand the MSR through the prism of an opportunity.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com. This article was cross-posted by permission and appeared in its original form at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies