Three Pakistani boats with 20 Pakistani crew members, sailing well within Indian waters near Jakhau on the west coast of Kutch districtwhere they had no business to be- were intercepted and seized by the Indian Coast Guard on 24 February 2011. While the detained men were brought to Okha, for interrogation by various investigating agencies, the incident is yet again a reminder of the threat to homeland security that India faces. “There has been a sea change in the government’s approach to coastal security after this tragic incident”, said Raksha Mantri A K Antony, referring to the 26 November 2008 attack by Pakistani terrorists on various high-profile targets in Mumbai. He was addressing a meeting of the parliamentary consultative panel of his ministry on 22 December 2010.
Stating that “government was making all out efforts to ensure security of the coastal regions of the country”, the minister further said that the government was giving top priority to modernisation of shipyards “so that state-of-the-art warships can be built indigenously to global standards…In future, all vessels of the Indian Navy will be built indigenously and the private sector will play a crucial role in this endeavor.” Elaborating on the policy initiatives on shipyards and ship- building for the armed forces, he added “We must keep a high premium on the quality of the delivered products….our market share in global shipbuilding must be improved substantially on a priority basis.
Our shipyards have no option but to build state-of-the-art infrastructure for constructing high technology warships and submarines.” Asserting that the Defence Ministry has improved the results in the delivery of warships and submarines, he specified that from a total of 120 vessels for the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and coastal states in the financial year 2009-2010, 85 were delivered in the current financial year and that by March 2011, a total of 127 vessels will be delivered. Among several initiatives to strengthen security of the coastal areas against the threat of terrorists from sea since November 2008, one of the major steps has been the integration of all maritime stakeholders, including several State and Central agencies into coastal security.
With Indian Navy establishing four Joint Operation Centres (JOC) at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair, which are manned round the clock by Naval and Coast Guard teams, all coastal security operations are now coordinated from these four centres. In addition, the state Marine Police and other agencies such as Customs, Intelligence Bureau, Ports etc are also networked with these centres. Besides the four JOCs, each coastal district also has its own Operation Centre for coordinating activity within their districts. In a focussed drive, awareness campaigns have been carried out to enlist the support of the fishing communities by way of joint motorcycle rallies by the Navy, Coast Guard and State Police in each coastal state, covering all coastal districts.
Villagers and fishermen in almost every coastal village have been made aware of the threats from the sea and the measures they could take to contribute to coastal security. Efforts for coastal surveillance have been increased by stepping up closely coordinated patrolling by Naval and Coast Guard ships and aircraft along India’s entire coastline. The Marine Police of each coastal state and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) units deployed at all major ports are being assisted by the Navy and Coast Guard for coastal patrols. Because of better surveillance and alertness, ships straying into our waters are being immediately noticed and interrogated. Realising that the Marine Police and CISF are not fully trained in maritime tasks, the Indian Navy is providing training assistance to all coastal states.
A couple of thousand Marine Police and few hundred of CISF personnel have already undergone training at INS Chilka, the premier sailors training establishment of the Indian Navy. In order to periodically review the readiness of the security agencies and the state administrations in thwarting threats from inimical elements, the Indian Navy has conducted coastal security exercises in every coastal state in conjunction with the Coast Guard, Marine Police, Customs, Immigration and Port authorities. Both West and East coasts, as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been covered. During these exercises several contingency scenarios are simulated, including hijacking of fishing craft, landing of terrorists on the coast, stowaways on ships etc.
All agencies with a stake in coastal security participate in these exercises with a view to improve coordination, achieve integration and finally improve the coastal security mechanism. With Gujarat being a high priority target for Pakistani terrorists and the seas around it having numerous offshore oil platforms and other vital installations, requiring increased monitoring, patrolling and surveillance, the Coast Guard’s Regional Headquarters (North- West) is supported by a District Headquarters at Porbandar, and three Coast Guard front-line stations at Okha, Vadinar and Jakhau. These are further being strengthened with the setting up of Coast Guard stations at Pipavav and Veraval. The Regional Headquarters will exercise operational control over a number of ships and aircraft such as offshore patrol vessels, hovercraft, fast patrol vessels, interceptor boats, light helicopters, twin engine helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. All these operational platforms are equipped with modern surveillance systems, sensors, weapons and communication equipment.
Interacting with this writer, Vice Admiral A K Singh (retd) stated that piracy has spread to the Arabian Sea and needs to be eliminated ruthlessly before the pirates join hands with sea-borne terrorists. Hopefully, the proposed Indian Navy and ICG coastal stations in the Andaman & Nicobar islands, as also the Lakshadweep & Minicoy islands, along with coastal radar stations will become operational soon. More importantly, given the problems of co-ordination between multiple maritime agencies (Indian Navy, ICG, Customs, Marine police, port authorities, offshore rigs, lighthouses, fishermen associations, police etc), Indian Parliament needs to replace the post-26/11 government directive on coastal security with a more comprehensive legislation which unambiguously indicates single-point command, control and accountability, and also empower the single-point authority (and the Indian Navy and ICG personnel at sea) to deal with the complex task of neutralising emerging threats in our waters and ports.
The Defence Ministry has repeatedly been reiterating that the Government is fully committed to the modernisation of the Navy and that funds will not be allowed to become a constraint in this direction. However, it also places the onus of utilising allocated funds, optimally and judiciously on both the Navy and Defence Finance together. Emphasising adherence to timelines and quality standards to meet indigenisation requirements Mr Antony stated “Our efforts to modernise the Navy through indigenisation can proceed at the desired pace, only if the shipyards embrace modern ideas and technology. This will enable the shipyards to produce the best quality ships in a shorter timeframe and at competitive costs. The Navy and the shipyards must interact closely with the other agencies to meet contractual timelines and adhere to the best quality standards.” Defence Ministry is trying its best to suitably fine tune the procurement process from time to time to bring in more transparency, efficiency and accountability.
The Annual Review of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) is one such step in the direction. However, according to A Critical Review of DPP-2011, published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, in January this year, despite recommendations by the Group of Ministers and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the new document, like its previous versions, has not focused on strengthening the acquisition structure and enhancing the quantity and quality of acquisition functionaries.
DPP-2011 does not focus enough attention on bringing about parity in the categorisation process, adopting a more dynamic offset policy, enhancing foreign direct investment in defence, and eliminating the practice of discrimination between the public and the private sectors. In the absence of reforms in these areas, DPP-2011 may not be able to achieve its stated objectives of expeditious procurement and greater involvement of domestic industry in defence production. While there has been reasonable progress in integration of agencies and procedures, procurement of boats and other specialized equipment needs to be doggedly pursued to ensure the level and extent of security required to be achieved and maintained.
—Col Anil Bhat ( retd) an independent defence and security analyst, is Editor, Word Sword Features.