Indian Coast Guard fleet has steadily grown over the years. It is among the largest in the world with plan to achieve the fleet strength of 200 ships. Given the herculean task to secure a nearly 7500 kms of coastline, the scope of its operational is so vast that coast guards often go beyond, embracing tremendous challenges as the frontier force.

As India resurrects its maritime philosophy, what are the challenges especially in the wake of increasing complexity of maritime security? The maritime security is such a complex web of concepts of sea power, marine safety, blue economy which stack up the dimensions of national security, marine environment, marine economy and human security.

Does ICG need to embrace combat capabilities over the Charters, keeping with the maritime projections and roles in such fast-changing environment?

In an exclusive interaction, V.S. Pathania, Director General (DG) of the Indian Coast Guard opens up with Manish Kumar Jha on a wide range of issues as ICG is destined to face and respond to such complex challenges.

DG Pathania is aware of the radical change and the much broader scope of operation as how the newer technologies are redefining and the way coastal security is monitored, maintained and enforced.

ICG will have greater responsibilities as India’s maritime zones expand to include entitlements in the Extended Continental Shelf. DG puts forth his roadmap what is needed to tackle such enormous areas and responsibility.  

So, how is ICG gearing up in using smart system and building capabilities in using new tech like autonomous underwater systems, UAVs and space technologies?

DG talks about his plan for such critical acquisitions of drones and space-based technology, working with agencies for developing satellite solutions for law M-SAR beacons.

On the critical coastal surveillance, ICG is ramping up Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN), comprising of Chain of Static Sensors having Radars.  

ICG’s international outreach is also shaping the crucial debate for the unified command of the Coast Guards.  Director General Pathania outlines the vital aspect of international collaboration. Recently, he held dialogue to boost regional co-operation between Indian Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard.

Today, it is all about the interoperability on strengthening the SAR apparatus, he emphasized. Engaging the international observers in such large-scale exercise not only entails in showcasing the SAR capabilities but also instills confidence amongst the littorals and FFCs in recognising India’s role as credible SAR service provider in the Region.

India’s thrust on building a credible marine economy is gearing up amid the rising maritime security challenges. The expanding role of ICG includes the vast stretch of 2.01 million square kilometers of EEZ and the Extended Continental Shelf. This is indeed enormous. The challenges remain for ICG to acquire greater capabilities –a combat capabilities. The sanctity of the Charter will evolve to shape the dynamics of maritime nation along with Indian Navy, going beyond frontier.

Excerpts:

Indian Coast Guard fleet has steadily grown over the years. It is among the largest in the world with plan to achieve the fleet strength of 200 ships. Given the herculean task to secure a nearly 7500 kms of coastline, could you tell us about your operational accomplishment as per the existing capabilities?

Since its inception, Indian Coast Guard has evolved rapidly into a proficient service. ICG has now progressed to emerge as one of largest Coast Guard with 159 ships and 76 aircraft. ICG is being functionally acknowledged by international agencies, legally empowered by the acts of the union as the primary maritime non-military law enforcement agency for oceans as also being cost effective, multi role employable and characterized by its motto “We Protect”. I believe that as a maritime armed force, we are responsible to the nation and to remain professional and vigilant to perform humanitarian, environment protection and law enforcement duties at sea, making sea routes safer for mariners. Accordingly, ICG platforms are uniquely built to primarily perform duties like maritime SAR, marine pollution response and maritime law enforcement at sea.

As far as Maritime Search and Rescue is concerned, our dedicated efforts have saved 11,293 lives at sea which translates to approximately one life being saved every second day. During natural calamities like Flood, and Cyclones, ICG has provided aid to civil authorities and evacuated 13,018 persons to safe locations.

Augmentation of Joint Coastal Patrol by ICG and Marine Police for enhancing Coastal Security is another accomplishment of ICG as a part of the Prime Ministers Vision Document. Accordingly, SOPs for JCP were formulated and Joint Coastal Patrol by ICG and Marine police are being undertaken.

Coast Guard is designated as the central coordinating authority for Marine Oil Spill Response by Ministry of Shipping in 1986, competent national authority for oil and chemical spill response under the South-Asia cooperative environment programme in 2018 and also designated as lead agency for responding to chemical pollution in MZI under crisis management plan revisited by cabinet secretariat in the year 2020.

We have established four Pollution Response Teams and formulated the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan. The 2015 edition of NOSDCP was revised to facilitate national preparedness and response to marine pollution including HNS incidents. Till date, we have responded to 97 oil spills in the region with 03 in foreign waters. In recent past, ICG operations ‘Sagar Aaraksha-I&II’ provided much needed succour to our neighbouring country in the line of Prime Minister’s vision of “Neighbourhood First Policy”. ICG has also assisted Mauritius in marine Pollution Response operations in the aftermath of ‘MV Wakashio’ incident.

 The recent cases of apprehensions with Narcotics and weapons are text book examples of ICG’s robust detection and response mechanism against drug traffickers. The last 08 years have proved to be a big setback for drug traffickers. ICG successfully seized about 5.5 tons narcotics worth approx Rs 11,755/- Cr in different operations bringing the total drug haul till date to Rs 13,989 Cr. In addition, ICG apprehended 153 foreign boats with 969 foreign crew in anti-smuggling operations.

What are the challenges especially in the wake of increasing complexity of maritime security? Does ICG need to embrace combat capabilities over the Charters, keeping with the maritime projections and roles in such fast-changing environment?

ICG with its lean strength of 159 ships, 76 aircrafts and about 15,000 personnel shoulders a huge responsibility to maintain Maritime Law and order in our vast area of responsibility which is about 1.5 times of landmass. The modern and unconventional Maritime challenges such as Maritime terrorism, Contraband & Narcotic smuggling, illegal human migration, Maritime pollution, IUU fishing.

The impetus of the GoI on Sagarmala project and thrust on improving the coastal shipping is expected to further increases the number of ships/ vessels in Indian SRR.

In addition frequency of natural disaster like cyclones and floods has increased in recent years which demands further strengthening of SAR organisation. Therefore our focus would be to remain prepared for every threat emanating from/ at sea, at times concurrently. We are deploying 45-50 ships and about 10-12 aircraft per day on an average to optimally discharge our obligation of ensuring safe and secure seas and preserve our national interests in maritime zones.

Accretion of state of art platforms including next generation ships and multi mission and multi engine aircraft would therefore be another focus area for us to sustain concurrent and relentless operations in future.

In addition, collective and focused effort of ICG in tune with 14 ministries which have stakes at sea is expected to result in a synergistic approach towards ensuring India’s maritime security.

Could you throw light on building capabilities in using new tech like unmanned systems, UAVs and space technologies?

Drones can significantly enhance search and surveillance capabilities and add fillip to the ICG’s operational efficiency. Drones, with the present technology, can be launched and recovered easily from ships and CG Stations and they can capture and transmit real time scenario to the controller during on operation.

Further, with customized payloads, the drones can be used during various other operations such as Boarding operations, pollution response operation, anti smuggling operations and can be used for maintaining peripheral security of Coast Guard bases.

There are myriad ways in which the ICG can make use of both conventional photography drones and the customised drones. Procurement of drones is under progress in ICG. Simultaneously, in order to concurrently augment maritime security, coastal security and peripheral security, ICG is exploring to use drones on lease basis and required directives have been passed to field formations. A technical demo of utility on drones at sea was conducted during recently concluded National Maritime Search & Rescue Exercise-2022.

As far as space based technology is concerned we have been working closely with agencies for developing satellite solutions for law M-SAR beacons and tracking of sub 20 m fishing vessels. 

How are you ramping up Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN), comprising of Chain of Static Sensors having Radars?

The Ministry of Defence has instituted several measures to counter threats emanating from sea. One of the key measures is to establish a robust electronic surveillance mechanism for the coastline. This has been achieved through establishment of Chain of Static Sensors in the form of Radars and steered by Indian Coast Guard. Phase-I of the project is completed and is being actively utilised for surveillance of the coastline by Indian Coast Guard.

As the Phase-I of the project was devised for providing surveillance to the areas of high sensitivity and high traffic density, the Cabinet Committee on Security has also accorded approval for setting up of Phase-II of Chain of Static Sensors project in order to achieve near gap free coverage of entire coastline.

As part of Phase-II of the project, it is planned to establish complete array of sensors at 38 locations in addition to 46 locations being established in Phase-I.

Further, retro fitment of Optronics at  21 sites covered by VTMS of Gulf of Kutch and Gulf of Khambat, provisioning of four mobile surveillance systems and necessary IT and networking hardware for  integrating Phase-I and Phase-II of Coastal Surveillance Network is also included in Phase-II of the project which is in advance stage of implementation.

On completion, the Coastal Surveillance Network is envisaged to augment our coastal surveillance measures and would be crucial in optimizing the response of our security agencies.

‘Digital Coast Guard’ project under ‘Buy’ (Indian) category is underway. What are the structural changes being pursed under the project?

The DCG project would help to create a state-of-the-art resilient IT infrastructure to infuse digitization process at every level of the organisation. The robust, reliable and secure network infrastructure envisaged to be created under the project would enable various formations to access IT enabled services 24x7x356 days and to share information across the lines quickly to accelerate problem response, coordination and decision making.

Through the project, efficient management of all surface & aviation ops logistics, finance and human resources functions across the organisation through digitization of present day processes will be realised. Overall, with the implementation of the project, a paperless ICG is envisioned with seamless fast access to data/applications by all ICG users, futuristic cyber security measures and digital empowerment to last of the man posted in the remotest ICG unit at par with one who is posted in metros.

ICG has established a ‘design center’ for building next generation ships. How is it unfolding as it is marked as significant in adding to the overall capability of naval warship to be built in India?

ICG has not established a ‘design center’ for building next generation ships. However, a dedicated directorate i.e. Directorate of Indigenisation, has been established at CGHQ to infuse indigenization efforts in ICG in line with ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ of GoI. Efforts are in hand to achieve 100% indigenization in ICG ship building activities from existing 60% in next 15 yrs.

ICG will have greater responsibilities as India’s maritime zones expand to include entitlements in the Extended Continental Shelf. How are you preparing and what is needed to tackle such enormous areas and responsibility?

India has submitted its claim for extended continental shelf in 2009. ICG therefore will have a greater role to play since an additional area of approximate 1.2 million square km would be added.

ICG as law enforcement agency will have to enforce the provisions of legal instruments to uphold the sovereign rights of exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of all seabed resources. ICG shall also augment its force level for ensuring implementation of relevant provisions in the area.

What is the objective of National Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise SAREX-22 with international partners? Could there be a unified command of Coast Guards?

India has acceded to the International Conventions which primarily advocate Safety of Lives at Sea such as UNCLOS, 1982 SOLAS, 1974 and M-SAR, 1979. Being a signatory to these safety instruments, GoI is mandated in establishing efficacious SAR mechanism as a coastal state capable of providing 24×7 SAR services. Further, the IMASAR and NMSAR manual also mentions about conducting real time exercises within the Indian Search and Rescue Region (ISRR) involving foreign participants. In consonance with the mandates of the international conventions, the National Search and Rescue Exercise Workshop code named SAREX, a biennial series of exercise is conducted by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) since 2003 with participation of foreign observers since 2016. The ICG has so far conducted 10 SAREX since 2003.

Involvement of international observers from Friendly Foreign Countries (FFCs) in such large events is considered essential towards compliance with International SAR construct as advocated by the International Maritime Organization. The interaction with international observers in such forum also promotes interoperability and understanding each other’s view point on strengthening the SAR apparatus. Engaging the international observers in such large scale exercise not only entails in showcasing the SAR capabilities but also instills confidence amongst the littorals and FFCs in recognising India’s role as credible SAR service provider in the Region.

 

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