Use of geospatial technologies for maritime security

May 2012 | No Comment

This paper is an attempt to look at the use of modern technology and the traditional maps to secure maritime security

S S Pendse

Tolani College of Commerce,
Mumbai, India

Mumbai, the commercial and financial capital of India has seen two major terrorist attacks in last two decades; once in 1993, when Mumbai rocked in a series of blast and second time in November 2008 when Mumbai faced a fidayeen attack where less than a dozen terrorists held the city at ransom for almost 60 hours. On both the occasions, sea was used to land the arms, ammunitions and men. The scale and magnitude of both these attacks have left us awestruck and wondering about how far we and our city and our security agencies are prepared to face this type of horrendous acts of terror.

The question that arises is what made it possible for the terrorists to make such a successful attack on our city? There are a series of reasons.

In November 2006, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had alerted security agencies that Indian nuclear power plants were highly vulnerable to terrorist attack. It was also mentioned that some LeT operatives were being specifically trained for sabotage of oil installations and these militants could use sea-routes to infiltrate into India. This statement was based on intelligence outputs. It was also added that the terrorists “planned to induct arms and ammunition through the sea-route. Other than the installations of oil and natural gas, establishments like those of, defense, communications and IT sector were also equally vulnerable.” In spite of such reports from security agencies, we have failed to foil such eventualities and protect ourselves. We failed to act on time. What were the reasons?

Lack of clear maritime policy

Forming a maritime policy involves coordination amongst 8 coastal states and 4 Union territories other than these 12 ministries and 8 departments of the Central Government. This results in delays, lack of understanding the gravity of the need of such policy, inability to provide integrated quick decisions and responses. This framing of a maritime policy is lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth.

Involvement of multiple agencies

Multiple agencies have been entrusted with the responsibility of guarding our maritime borders. These include the Navy, Cost Guard, State Police, and DG Shipping, further ads to the problem. Each has its own areas of jurisdiction, authorities, inadequate resources, training and manpower. For e.g The Navy and Coast Guard are authorized to stop or detail a vessel within territorial waters/contiguous zone if she is suspected of smuggling/fiscal violations. The Coast Guard’s western region, which polices the sensitive 3,300 kilometer coastline between Gujarat and Kerala, has a fleet of just 14 ships of various sizes and eight surveillance aircraft, where as the actual need is of at least 50 ships and 36 aircraft.

The state police machinery is not yet clear on their coastal jurisdiction and its role in maintaining the security along the coast under their control. Secondly police stations along the coast are understaffed and underequipped.

Intelligence failure

Another major gap is the failure of intelligence agencies and the police. Multiple agencies further cause problems. Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), is in charge of external intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is supposed to gather intelligence relating to internal security, and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), its premier investigation agency. Then there is the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), which collects technical intelligence from satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Besides, there are the intelligence units of the police, the armed forces and so on.

The question is co-ordination among these agencies and possibly to some extent interdepartmental rivalry which leads to complications.

Apathy of states

The state government of Maharashtra received 44 million INR in 1995 for four patrol boats. Boats were constructed but not used for surveillance due to the State Government’s unwillingness to bear the costs of operation and maintenance. In May 2006, the boats were declared unseaworthy. Similar cases have been reported in other states e.g. Karnataka received INR 22 million for two patrol boats in between 1994-95 and 1996-97, Kerala received INR 63 million for six boats, The boats were, however, not used for the intended purpose and, in February 2006, Tamil Nadu spent INR 45 millions to construct five patrol boats, which were lying unutilized at the Chennai harbor, Andhra Pradesh acquired “Sagar Rakshak-I and II” for surveillance of its coast, spending INR 18 million, INR 18 million was given to Orissa in three phases between 1993-94 and 2006, West Bengal received INR 36 million for four patrol boats All the State Governments did not effectively use any of these financial resources citing lack of funds for operations and maintenance or never put the boasts into operations.

Coastal security schemes

In 1993, the Union Government approved a three layered coastal security scheme called Operation Swan. It involved 1) joint patrolling along the most vulnerable coasts of Maharashtra and Gujarat by the Navy, State Police and Customs Forces.2) Setting up 73 Coastal Police Stations, 97 checkposts, 58 outposts and 30 barracks, with the cost to be borne by the omnibus Coastal Security Scheme. 3) Financing security support to littoral states by the Centre.

The central government formed another plan for coastal security for nine coastal States in 2005-06. After three years of the scheme, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in its review in January 2008, found that only 47 out of 73 sanctioned coastal police stations were operational. The core issue in the implementation of the Coastal Security Scheme” – was yet to start, due to the unavailability of boats (204 were sanctioned).

26/11 happened in spite of this multilayered coastal security mechanism. Lack of ‘actionable’ intelligence has been widely attributed as the main reason for this failure. But there are certain inherent inadequacies in the coastal security mechanism, making it incapable of preventing infiltration through the coast. These deficiencies are:

• Insufficient Manpower

• Poor Training

• Inadequate Infrastructure and Equipment

• Insufficient Resources

• Systemic Flaws.

There are certain sensitive issues that also need to be looked into. These terrorist although equipped with satellite phones also had detailed maps of their targets which would not have been possible without local help. Now the questions that arise is what is to be done. After 26/11 exposed such gaps in coastal security, the Union Government, on February 28, 2009, designated the Navy as the central authority responsible for the country’s overall maritime security. “The Navy will be assisted by Coast Guard, State Marine Police and Central agencies for the coastal defense of the nation,” Joint Operation Centers are to be set up at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair under the charge of Naval commanders-in-chief.

Use of geospatial technologies for maritime security

Maritime security has become a major concern for all coastal nations. A number of issues and questions emerged regarding our perception, preparation, mitigation and gaps in any maritime threat. To secure our maritime security we need to effectively use human intelligence and artificial intelligence. This supplemented by Topographic Maps, Hydrographic Charts as well as geospatial technologies like the GIS, Satellite imageries and Digital mapping, will go a long way to achieve this goal.

Artificial intelligence

To acquire artificial intelligence it is necessary that it has to be supplemented with the benefits and advances of information technology. These include GIS, GPS, Digital Mapping, Remote Sensing etc. which can be effectively used for planning and actual tactical deployment during such a disaster.

There are three basic steps in this process will include 1) Identification and gathering of information of sites susceptible to attack 2) Having a unified central command fully supplemented by C4ISTAR and 3) Coastal Surveillance.

First step towards preparedness includes:

– Identification of facilities and operations susceptible to attack.

– Identification of critical infrastructure like telecommunications; electrical power systems; oil and gas production, storage and distribution; banking and finance; water supply systems; emergency services.

– Accurate employment data tied to specific locations.

– Detailed and current “framework” data, including transportation, elevation, political boundaries, property ownership.

The second step will include development of a central command. The lack of a central command to respond in case of terrorist attack on Mumbai was a major lacuna during the operations in 2008. The C4ISTAR Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance would have been of a tremendous help.

The security agencies need to work with digital battlefield environment of today. They also need to effectively use the Geospatial information, based on intelligent digital maps and Geospatial data, enabling them to make effective command and control decisions in the field. Thus existing Geospatial data and technology at the defense forces, provides the very foundation for a unified C4ISTAR. The use of GIS and Remote Sensing can be effectively for used strategic planning and for actual tactical deployment during a disaster.

The third step is coastal surveillance. For an effective surveillance it is necessary to have maritime domain awareness and a Command and Control of maritime forces. The fundamental requirement is maritime domain awareness via identification, tracking and monitoring of vessels within their waters with help of technologies such as AIS. The AIS or the Automatic Identification System was developed as an advanced tool to assist navigation; this is an efficient tool to exchange positioning data among participating naval units and land control centers.

High resolution Satellite Imageries, Aerial Photography and LIDAR, incorporated with GIS mapping applications can be an effective tool to guard our coasts. Coastal surveillance systems must provide a means of detecting unknown vessels, allowing them to be identified and monitored, as well as providing ‘Command and Control’ to permit direction and interception. A combination of high performance coastal surveillance radar with sophisticated signal processing and powerful trackers and the radar output combined with AIS network, Patrol Boat Transponder system, and small craft/fishing vessel ‘Electronic Passport’ transponder tracks. The data thus gathered and analyzed could be sent to command centre via communication network and then relayed to the patrol vessels for necessary interception and action.
The development and advances in Digital mapping / Geographic Information System (GIS), and Information Technology have come up as effective tools in coastal security. But the capabilities of human intelligence cannot be undermined. It is only when man and technology come together they can make a difference to guard our country from any such incidences in future.

Human intelligence

Presently the coastal security can be categorized into five layers. These layers include the Fishing Co-operatives to Customs Department, Local Police, Coast Guard and finally the Indian Navy.

The Fishing Co-operatives can form the base for collecting the basic data on the number of boats, their registration and most importantly boat owners profiles. The societies issues papers to the boats and their crew which has to be countersigned by the Customs department for an entire season, but this is hardly implemented. The movement of the boats also can be monitored as these societies provide the required diesel to the boats every time the boats go out. Thus the society gets to know the movement. This in itself is a major source of information. Further the existence of VHF wireless and the GPS on board almost all the boats also aid in tracking the movement of the boats. If this communication is linked up with local police it will be of tremendous help. Fishing Co-operatives can be made use of as it is these people who can help to identify a foreign vessel from that of local.

• The local police are understaffed, undertrained and just do not have the necessary equipment thus have their own limitations. They are not geared to tackle any eventualities of coastal security. Presently police stations have copies of boats and photo passes, and, being local, can form an effective network for gathering intelligence. The police lack maritime training. Most policemen deployed on these duties are predominantly landlubbers with no exposure to sea training.

• The local people and fishing communities can become a major source for gathering intelligence and help in monitoring any suspicious movements of men and material. It is these local people who will provide with the required human intelligence and can identify an outsider. They need to be trained to use communication facilities to inform law enforcement agencies. The fishing cooperatives, local police and custom posts if work together, can go a long way in helping to provide coastal security.

• If this existing system is used effectively with proper co-ordination it might as well be an effective deterrent for any further attempts from the sea.

• With all said and done it is necessary to realize the fact that there are still marked flaws in our system. First and the foremost here is a need of strong political will to do something concrete. Secondly a strong and clear maritime policy (strategy), with clear-cut designation of duties and roles to be played by the respective agencies. There is also an urgent need to adequately equip and train the concerned staff. A network of local police, Fishing Co-operatives and Customs needs to be built up to gather intelligence and last but not the least co-ordination between intelligence agencies and the law enforcers.

• In other words to maintain our coastal security we need focus on WATCH i.e. Wherewithal (Resources), Attitudes, Technology, Coordination, Human resources.


Editor, Vessels to be registered under a uniform coastal security system

Jayanth. V, Maritime security: preparing for the unexpected, The Hindu, Tuesday, Sep 20, 2005.

Rao. Beefing Up Maritime Security to Thwart Terrorism, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Article 2857.

Shashikumar VK, Gaps in Maritime Security, Indian Defense Review, Issue, Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar 2009.

Shamsur Rabb Khan, Securing India’s Coastline, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Article 2487.

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