India’s vulnerability from external threats have historically been land based. With the growth of sea power, this underwent a change in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, when Portugal and Spain pioneered European exploration of the globe. British naval supremacy following a series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries left Great Britain as the dominant colonial power, and the subsequent subjugation of India. Through the seas, Britain dominated much of the world trade, which in turn meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions. Sea power, hence became an essential attribute for gaining dominance in world affairs and this remains true till date. While sea based invasions of the Indian land mass are unlikely, threats emanating from terrorist groups could well emanate from the sea. Maritime security in the Indian context must cater to these aspects.
In March 1993, India faced its first maritime terror attack in Mumbai which killed 257 people. The attack was masterminded by underworld criminal Dawood Ibrahim. Unfortunately, no lessons were learnt from this attack, as highlighted by the report of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Reforming the National Security System, which was set up to give policy recommendations on the subject. The then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government noted (in February 2001) that “India’s long coastline and coastal areas have remained largely unprotected and unguarded”. The report went on to recommend the strengthening of the Coast Guard and the establishment of a specialised Marine Police in all coastal states and island territories
When terrorists struck again on 26 November 2008, using the sea route for the second time to inflict carnage and destruction, it became apparent that nothing much had been done to implement the recommendations of the GoM Report. The then defence Minister, Shri A.K. Antony initiated certain steps to enhance maritime security, which included making the Indian Navy as the nodal authority for all maritime security, both coastal and offshore, strengthening of the coast guard and marine police and establishing a national command, control, communication and intelligence network for real-time maritime domain awareness (MDA). But much still remains to be done.
India remains vulnerable to sea based attacks, due to the growing complexity of the maritime security environment as well as continuing concerns over statesponsored cross-border maritime terrorism maritime. What is required is MDA for development of a comprehensive operational picture in near-real time to allow the control of surveillance and response assets and rapid response to events. As of now, the Indian Navy has set up the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) with the Coast Guard, to function under the National Security Advisor (NSA). This joint operations facility is the nodal centre of the National Command Control Communications and Intelligence Network (NC3I Network), which links 20 Indian Navy and 31 coast guard stations, located along the coast and on island territories, providing coastal surveillance information. Considering the traffic that daily navigates the oceans, as also the large numbers of small boats that dot the Indian shores, this is indeed a stupendous task. This would involve exploiting communication technology, satellites, registration of all fishing boats, issue of ID cards to fisherfolk, security awareness programmes among the lay public, civil military cooperation and international cooperation of a high order. But India’s economic development hinges on the fact that its territory remains free from terrorism. Therein lies the challenge of securing our coastline from external threats.