Maritime security is a two-ply concept. One is that on the surface of the sea and its atmospheric dimension, the other is in the dark depths of the oceans where submarines lurk posing threats to trade and commerce along the lines of communications and to onshore vital points and vital areas.
India’s maritime security periphery stretches from end to end of the Indian Ocean, its several chokepoints and the craving of some inimical nations to extend their area of influence into these waters.
The most obvious threats to national security and Indian national interests have been pirates who prey on international shipping along the crowded sea lanes that debouch into the Indian Ocean from the oil-rich Gulf and the Suez Canal.
For long pirates had a free hand off the coast of Somalia but concerted international efforts (with India in the lead) have ensured that piracy does not pay the rich dividends of the past.
India felt the repercussions when pirates, gunrunners, drug dealers, counterfeit currency peddlers and Islamist jihadis from Horn of Africa began operating close to Indian waters off Lakshadweep group of islands.
Equally ominous is the frequent visitations of Chinese nuclear powered submarines armed with sub-surface launched nuclear-tipped missiles as close to Indian shores as Colombo in Sri Lanka.
After the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in 2008 India set up a new security architecture in the maritime domain by erecting radar along the shoreline, accelerating the production and induction of fast attack craft for the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy and launching a satellite for the exclusive surveillance of the maritime expanse.
Network centric operations linking the surface combatants with surveillance aircraft have been set in place. Recent interceptions of Pakistani intruders along the periphery of the Exclusive Economic Zone gives hope of preventing a recurrence of more Mumbai-type attacks.
Nonetheless, it needs to be appreciated that maritime surveillance is very akin to looking for the needle in the haystack.
That is why, instead of flying futile missions over vast ocean spaces the Indian Navy has developed a doctrine of ‘area denial’ and ‘sea control’ so as to be able to concentrate its efforts to ensuring that maritime trade and commerce remains inviolate and Indian national interests are protected.
To that end it has maintained at least one aircraft carrier task force with multiple capabilities to deal with threats from the air, from other surface vessels, and from submarines.
The Indian Navy has also been placing greater emphasis on multirole platforms that will cater to this multi-dimensional threat.
It cannot also be gainsaid that given the paucity of equipment and platforms India is not able to achieve a holistic architecture of maritime security.
There are gaps that need to be plugged. STRATEGIC AFFAIRS has in its past editions advocated the setting up of static undersea sensors that will locate, log tell-tale engine/propeller sound signatures to enable the Indian Navy to pinpoint the exact presence of an enemy submarine with minimum of search.
With particular reference to the Chinese submarines knowing where they are would ensure quick counter-measures.
Admittedly it is a painstaking job but with a well connected network created between the underwater sensors, the mobile underwater platforms and the aerial surveillance systems a large measure of success can be assured.
For aerial maritime surveillance India has been using the German Dornier 228 aircraft since the late 80s.
With a crew of two and space for 19 operators manning surveillance equipment the aircraft is being licenced produced at the Hindustan Aeronautic Ltd factory in Kanpur.
In a precursor to the concept of Make in India, HAL has been manufacturing the fuselage, wing and tail assemblies for the parent Dornier company.
These parts are ferried to Germany where they are integrated and fitted with surveillance suites and onboard equipment.
The Dornier is being upgraded to New Generation (NG) status with a more powerful engine, five-bladed propellers, a glass cockpit with upgraded avionics and improved range beyond the 1100 km of the older versions.
Given the huge responsibility of patrolling the Exclusive Economic Zone, the Indian Coast Guard plays a very active role in the defence of the maritime domain.
Given that India has to maintain constant vigil against the machinations of China from the eastern direction and Pakistan on the west aerial surveillance is a delicate balance between available resources and threat perception.
The Dornier effort is bolstered by the current holding of three (two were destroyed in a midair collision over Goa in 2002) medium range Ilyushin Soviet-era maritime surveillance aircraft with an organic strike capability.
The USP of this aircraft is its ability to stay aloft for 13 hours and therefore is capable of sanitizing a large area through a zigzag pattern of patrolling at long distances from the mainland.
The cargo of sonobuoys helps improve situational awareness in the surface and undersea dimension. The added advantage being the ability to engage identified hostile elements even as the surveillance effort is underway.
It is in this context that the underwater array of sensors enhances the possibility of quick accurate location of hostile submarines-a long range ‘friend or foe’ detection mechanism.
This both counter checks and corroborates the information about undersea presence gathered by the inherent magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) probe attached to the tail assembly of the aircraft.
The Il-38 has been the mainstay of the Indian Navy’s ability to reach out to the outer edges of the Indian Ocean littoral on both sides of peninsular India for the better part of three decades. It is complemented in the strike role by the other Russian anti-submarine warfare aircraft the Tupulov TU-142M which carries sonobuoys, depth charges, torpedos, mines, bombs and anti-ship missiles.
The Indian Navy has been using the Il-38 as a test-bed for the indigenously developed (with Soviet collaboration) BrahMos cruise missile for long-range interdiction of surface vessels.
Currently, the capabilities of the Il-38s are being enhanced and modernized even as the state-of-the-art US-made Boeing P-8I Neptune variant is being acquired by the Indian Navy to replace the Tu-142 aircraft.
Three are operational and a total of a dozen have been ordered with the option to buy 12 more later.
The Neptune, a derivative of the US Navy Posoidon, is fitted with the proven Harpoon missile which complements its impressive anti-submarine warfare suite.
The Indian Defence Public Sector Undertaking Bharat Electronics Ltd has provided the data link that enables network centric operations with other components of the maritime defence network.
It has also provided the IFF interrogator for identification of friend or foe.
However, the 2220-km range and only four hours on station capability of the P-8I Neptune limits the Indian Navy’s ability to intervene effectively along the Indian Ocean rim.
Because the Horn of Africa is about 3,500 km from Mumbai and Madagascar is 5250 km from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala on the southern tip of India.
With the addition of aerial refueling the range and time on station could be improved.
It is largely a diminishing capability of projecting presence in vital areas of the Indian Ocean rim that India has to look to acquire amphibious or flying boat capabilities from Japan.
Here too an enhancement of range should be high on the list of capabilities to be incorporated in the version to be acquired by India.