Dr. (Cdr) Arnab Das is a researcher, maritime strategist, and entrepreneur. He is the Founder & Director of the Maritime Research Centre (MRC) which is working on a unique concept of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) as its main focus. The last few years has seen surge in maritime activities on all fronts across India. Maritime governance is hence a critical aspect that merits attention. In this article, Cdr Das has proposed a holistic Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework to strengthen India’s security on the Oceans as well as to reap huge economic dividends.
The maritime domain has risen to be at the forefront of the 21st century global order. Amidst this, the Indo-Pacific strategic space has gained importance with an increasing number of nations beginning to maintain their strategic presence in the region. The strategic deployment of assets has political, economic, and military connotations. The Indo-Pacific strategic construct and the corresponding formation of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), puts India in a significant position within the global power play. The Indian establishment on its part has shown strategic intent in line with the global expectations. The “Security And Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR) vision of the Honourable Prime Minister, is the first major geopolitical declaration by India that diplomatically represents the country as the leader in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The Government of India, on its part, has further announced multiple mega projects like the “Sagarmala”, “Bharatmala”, “Inland Water Transport (IWT)” and many more to further the SAGAR vision. To manage the surge in maritime activities on all fronts across India, maritime governance is a critical aspect that merits attention. The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is a term that has the potential to enable enhanced governance, however the conventional MDA has remained security driven and failed to make headway into the other stakeholders. The second major drawback of the MDA has been that it has remained on the water surface especially given the vast undersea resources along with disruptive means available today to access the underwater domain. A comprehensive safe, secure, sustainable growth model that can address all the challenges and opportunities is therefore required. The Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune has proposed a holistic Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework in accordance with this perspective. The UDA framework encourages pooling of resources and synergising of efforts across diverse stakeholders, namely maritime security, blue economy, marine environment & disaster management, and science & technology. Furthermore, the UDA framework adequately addresses the policy, technology & innovation, and human resource development requirements which will enable India to project itself as a major maritime nation globally. India with its geo-strategic location and vast maritime frontiers, cannot afford to remain a continental nation anymore. Massive acoustic capacity building on multiple fronts is inescapable. “Maritime India with more Depth Underwater” is a promising way forward.
The concept of UDA arises from our eagerness to know what is happening in the undersea realm of our maritime areas. This keenness for undersea awareness from the security perspective, means defending our Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), coastal waters and varied maritime assets against the proliferation of submarines and mine capabilities intended to limit the access to the seas and littoral waters. However, the military requirement may not be the only motivation to generate undersea domain awareness. The earth’s undersea geophysical activities have a lot of relevance to the wellbeing of the humankind and monitoring of such activities could provide vital clues to minimise the impact of devastating natural calamities. The commercial activities in the undersea realm need precise inputs on the availability of resources to be able to fruitfully explore as well as exploit them for economic gains. The regulators, on the other hand, need to study the mechanism of exploitation to develop a sustainable plan. Additionally, with so many commercial and military activities, there is significant impact on the environment. Any conservation initiative needs to precisely estimate the habitat degradation and species vulnerability caused by these activities to assess the ecosystem status. Figure. 1, describes a comprehensive perspective of the UDA framework. It is imperative for all the stakeholders to recognize the developments in the undersea domain, make sense out of these developments and then respond effectively and efficiently to them before they take shape of an event.
The UDA framework, when symbolised by a cube as in Fig. 1, can be broadly categorised into a vertical and a horizontal construct. The horizontal construct represents the resource availability with respect to technology, infrastructure and, skill specific to the stakeholders. The stakeholders, characterised by the four faces of the cube, will define their specific resource and skill requirements, however acoustic capacity building will remain at the core foundation of the UDA framework. The vertical construct displays the hierarchy of establishing a comprehensive UDA. The first level or the ground level would be the sensing of the undersea domain for threats, resources, and activities. The second level focuses on making sense of the data generated to plan security strategies, conservation plans and resource utilisation plans. And finally, the third level encourages formulation and monitoring of regulatory framework at the local, national, and global level.
The broad UDA framework needs to be dissected into individual S&T areas that have relevance across multiple sectors and applications. In this paper we have attempted to showcase areas that are representative of the diversity of the UDA framework across the marine and the freshwater systems:
Underwater Radiated Noise (URN), Management
The increasing shipping traffic across varied sectors, starting from cargo in the high seas to coastal and inland waterways, has huge impact on underwater acoustic characteristics which makes URN management vital to military and non-military applications. The radiated noise from the marine vessels generates sound that overwhelms the low frequency spectrum of the ambient noise in the water bodies. The minimal attenuation of the low frequency noise undergoes in the underwater domain causes it to have a significant impact over thousands of kilometres. As a result, any underwater deployment of sonars for surveillance or marine mammal monitoring gets severely degraded due to poor Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). The shipbuilding and ship repair can also benefit from he various aspects of URN management and deliver ships with requisite URN levels. Opportunities in this domain exist from URN measure & analysis to prediction and deception/alteration. Given the size of the shipping fleet in the merchant marine and the naval warships, there is tremendous potential in this domain for technology as well as policy intervention. The figure-2 presents the multiple aspects of the URN management. It also seamlessly brings together all the stakeholders.
Under the banner of sediment management, the broad areas of concern are freshwater resource management, flood control, navigation for inland water transport, port management, deployment of military vehicles in water bodies and more. There is significant military requirement in terms of logistics and movement of military assets across water bodies. Maintaining safe navigation and all-weather access across these water bodies could be a major challenge. There has been significant focus on port led growth under the Sagarmala initiative and the multimodal connectivity across waterways. Nevertheless, these require extensive acoustic capacity building to ensure uninterrupted operations in our water bodies.
The fundamentals of sediment management consist of prediction and prevention of the siltation process, de-siltation and disposal of the silt. The tropical littoral waters have very high flow, which causes high siltation. De-siltation is integral to ensure the viability of projects. Acoustic survey and sediment classification are the key to the entire process. The volume of silt is a huge challenge from the perspective of removal and disposal. The disposal of the silt has become an impediment given the logistics cost and non-availability of dumping ground. Precise sediment classification can ensure economic viability of the entire de-siltation process given the significant wealth in the silt. Figure-3 illustrates the sediment management framework. The stakeholders can cohesively synergise and pool their resources to constructively manage sediments. The policy and technology interventions can be managed effectively with enhanced acoustic capacity building for sediment management.
Aquaculture and Digital Oceans
The aquaculture industry in India has significant potential within the blue economy. The tropical littoral waters are known breeding grounds for shrimp farming and given the high value of shrimps in the global market, it is a favourable prospect. However, shrimp farming is a high-risk venture due to disease outbreaks, environmental fluctuations, lack of scientific awareness and more. The small farmers are unable to sustain these ventures, in the absence of financial support from the insurance companies and banks. The inadequate policy support from the governments poses a challenge in growth for the un-organized sectors as well. India, with a coastline of over 7,500 km, has the potential to build this industry and help the community to engage in productive ventures. Digital oceans are the only way forward to develop a deeper understanding of the underwater conditions and fluctuations. The understanding of patterns in low-risk uncertainties and enhanced predictability of the entire process will encourage participation of financial entities to support such sectors. India has failed to take advantage of its vast tropical littoral waters due to lack of prioritizing of the digital ocean initiative. The acoustic capacity building contributes greatly to the Digital Oceans initiative, and appropriate management could translate to a significant export opportunity for the skill India initiative.
Along with this, there is a substantial strategic angle to shrimp habitats and generating deeper understanding of their soundscapes. They are known to be the loudest of the creatures with vocalization ranging beyond 200 dB ref 1 μPa at 1 m. There have been incidents in the past when a submarine has been acoustically swamped due to snapping shrimp vocalization.
The Indo-Pacific region is heading towards being a major maritime theatre for submarine deployment. The nations within the region have also acquired strategic submarines and the relevance of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) for submarine deployment is well recognized. There are multiple other aspects of UDA that also need to be prioritised for strategic security purposes ranging from maritime intelligence against undersea intrusions, effective deployment of subsea vehicles, mitigating the sub-optimal sonar performance to more demand high priority in the ongoing geopolitical and geostrategic developments.
The SAGAR vision of the Honourable Prime Minister can be further supplemented by effective realization of the UDA framework in a comprehensive manner. The Whole-of-Nation approach is extremely critical given the geopolitical and geo-strategic realities. Beginning with the IOR, and subsequently the Indo-Pacific region, India will benefit from the support of the UDA framework. India can play a leadership role in the region and ensure that the extra-regional powers are kept at bay with enhanced S&T superiority and local, site specific R&D. The UDA framework paired with a strong industry-academia connect and backed by policy interventions has the potential to empower India in developing itself as a global maritime force that can, not only stabilise its position amongst the growing geopolitical turbulences in the IOR but also support underwater sustainability initiatives with its skill building prowess.