Indian Maritime Security After Mumbai


Captured Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab

Last week the Indian government announced that it had arrested Abu Jindal, an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba leader accused of masterminding the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai which killed at least 160 people.  His capture was only the most recent of a series of arrests and trials in India, Pakistan, and the US of people involved in planning or participating in the attack.  Those events spurred a major re-evaluation of India’s maritime security posture, but the efforts that India has undertaken to improve those capabilities demonstrate some of the inherent difficulties of applying the concept of Maritime Domain Awareness to missions like counter-terrorism.

Following the attack the Indian Navy was designated as “the authority responsible for overall maritime security which includes coastal security and offshore security,” effectively relegating the Coast Guard from its primary coastal security role.  Organizationally, a series of Joint Operations Centers were established with responsibility over the various coastal regions, with the intent to institutionalize information sharing between the Navy, Coast Guard, and local agencies.  The Navy and Coast Guard began acquiring long and medium range surveillance aircraft and UAVs for a new “three-tier aerial surveillance grid.”   The Navy also set up a new coastal security unit, the Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB), with the mission of  day/night operations and “seaward anti-terrorist patrols.”

Despite these efforts, it does not seem like India’s improved maritime security framework has been successful.  In 2011 the Indian Comptroller and Auditor General issued a highly critical report stating that the Coast Guard “remains ill-equipped to discharge its enhanced role and meet the challenges of today… Post 26/11, the response of ICG and government has been ‘ad hoc’ as can be witnessed by increased patrolling, increased funding, fast tracking procurements.”  The most embarrasing instance was when a ship originally abandoned off the coast of Oman escaped detection by India’s new “multi-layered coastal security” system and washed ashore in Mumbai during July 2011.  Even though Indian authorities claimed that patrols have increased, as of 2011 the planned Command & Control network, radars, and AIS receivers enabling them had yet to be fielded as planned.  Only 250 or so of the 1000 SPB billets had been filled, and none of the planned 80 interceptor craft had been purchased.

 Whether or not India’s efforts at improving Maritime Domain Awareness and interagency cooperation between the Navy and Coast Guard are successful, it still remains unclear how either entity would have been able to act against the attackers.  It was later revealed that the US had provided warnings to the Indian government warning of a seaborne attack and that hotels were potential targets in Mumbai.  It is unclear whether those warnings were disseminated to Navy or Coast Guard units at the tactical level, or whether that would have even made a difference.

 According to the lone culprit captured alive after the attack, the attackers left Karachi on the ship “AL HUSSEINI,” and then hijacked a fishing trawler named “KUBER” in Indian waters.  They killed all the crew but the captain, who was then killed after guiding them to Mumbai.    The attacker claimed that the fishing trawler that they had hijacked had been detected by an Indian Navy or Coast Guard vessel, but that Navy or Coast Guard patrol did not stop the trawler.  Being detected was the event that spurred the attackers to leave the trawler and start their final movement ashore in small inflatable boats.

Assuming that story is true and the trawler was seen by the Navy or Coast Guard, there still is not necessarily a reason that those authorities would have had to justify them interdicting and boarding the suspect trawler.  It is plausible that they could have been ordered to stop all suspect vessels, but it is not clear that the trawler full of terrorists would have met the criteria of a suspect vessel at first glance (it was just a fishing boat heading to Mumbai).  Without a good description or location of the boat, how would the Indian Navy or Coast Guard target it?  This instance demonstrates the difficulty of both achieving something like total Maritime Domain Awareness, and then applying that knowledge to drive successful operations.

How often did Indian intelligence and/or the various maritime security agencies get warnings of this type, and if so, would the operational result of that be instructions to interdict all vessels in a certain area?  How would the boundaries of such a search area defined?  How would “suspect” vessels be identified without an accurate description of the target?  How long could any maritime force sustain widespread interdiction of suspect vessels?  Even an unlimited number of maritime platforms and ship-tracking sensors will not make any difference in terms of differentiating the bad guys from the rest of the civilian traffic if the bad guys are able to blend in.  Realistically, the only way that the Indians would have been successful in stopping the attackers would have actionable indicators derived from analysis or penetration of those illicit networks such as the location or description of a specific boat.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

8 thoughts on “Indian Maritime Security After Mumbai”

  1. In subsequent reports it came out that the F/V was boarded after it had been taken over by the terrorist, and two Indian officers were killed. Had the boarding been monitored properly, the murder of the boarding officers would have alerted the operations center.

    1. Do you have a citation for that? Not saying that you’re wrong, but that is a useful data point to run down as to how the process for interdicting a terrorist attack like this at sea should work. I have seen mention of a Mumbai police officer being killed on the beach, but every reference I’ve seen only mentions the boat’s crew being killed.

      Having said that, the MDA or targeting problem faced by the Indians in this instance was almost impossible. Even assuming that they had some forewarning of some sort of a seaborne attack against Mumbai, and assuming that Fisheries had shared with Navy/Coast Guard that KUBER had been reported missing a few days prior (, there was very little data available to target specific suspect vessels. You can periodically establish a picket line and board everything, or max out surveillence assets to track many contacts, but that won’t work forever, and there would have had to be a triggering event to get a boarding crew on that vessel to determine something was wrong, and there wasn’t. If they in fact did board it…was that just random circumstance?

      The subtext to my article is that it doesn’t make sense to judge the Indian Navy or Coast Guard on their ability to stop these kinds of attacks…MDA doesn’t work that way. If intelligence was available such as knowledge that the KUBER had been hijacked, or clandestine intel sources saying that the attackers were moving from Karachi to Mumbai over a certain track over a certain time, then that knowledge could be fused with good MDA to drive an operation. Knowing where all the ships/boats are only matters if you know what is the actual target within an ocean’s worth of maritime activity is first.

      1. I did have a link, as I reported here,
        But the link is now broken
        This was the link:
        My impression from the report was that they stumbled upon the F/V and were not expecting trouble, but like a cop who pulls someone over when you make a routine stop, you should let the dispatcher know what you are doing, where you are, and provide a description of the vehicle (vessel) you have stopped. Then the dispatcher should expect to hear when they are done, and if it goes wrong the dispatcher can call for help.

  2. In case it doesn’t work for you, the relevant passage is as follows:

    According to Indian sources, Kasab told interrogators the trawler was intercepted 310 miles north of Mumbai, off Porbanda, by two Indian coastguard officers in a small patrol boat. Kasab allegedly revealed that the two officers were allowed aboard Kuber, when one of them had his throat slit by a terrorist and was thrown overboard. The other man was then forced to help the militants reach Mumbai, he said, but was executed when they reached their destination. Kasab reportedly claimed three speedboats met the fishing boat a mile and a half off Mumbai’s foreshore. When it was dusk they moved off with the attack teams aboard, transferring them later to two inflatable dinghies for the final run in. The young men carried large, heavy bags containing all their weapons and ammunition, coming ashore at three different places.

      1. The official report submitted by the police doesn’t mention any Navy/CG/maritime police encountering the attackers at sea or getting killed ( Most of the press accounts don’t mention any confrontation at sea, but I did find another account published on 30 November 2008 that laid out a similar story to what you saw. My hunch is that those were initial rumors circulating in the days after the attack, and weren’t later corroborated (the only body found onboard afterwards was one of the crew). I haven’t seen any afloat security force guys mentioned in any of the lists of victims.

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