NEW DELHI: Seventy-five years of India’s Independence have got us far enough and there are reasons for us to celebrate our achievements. India today is the envy of everyone and we must give credit to the efforts of our forefathers for their vision and untiring efforts to make the dreams come true. However, as we count our achievements, we must also take stock and look ahead. An objective assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities (SWOT) is critical to keep the momentum going and provide a safe, secure, sustainable growth model for the future. In this article we are looking at the entire underwater domain to connect the dots for effective governance mechanism. The underwater domain connects multiple aspects of human wellbeing for ensuring safe, secure, sustainable growth for all. Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) thus becomes the key for navigating security and growth for all in the oceans and the freshwater systems. UDA will allow effective governance across multiple sectors.
NEW GLOBAL ORDER
The new global order is defined by a truly multi-polar world with India, China, Russia and the European Union (EU) emerging as counter balance to the American Hegemony. The geopolitical and geo-strategic realities have ensured that the theatre of strategic interactions, has shifted to the Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific by definition is the tropical waters of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. Thus, it is indeed a maritime construct and any global power that wants to be counted, needs to develop its maritime capacity and capabilities. The unique tropical littoral conditions need to be recognized and it is important to note that the significant technology and capabilities developed during the Cold War period, were suited only for the temperate and polar regions. The sonars used for UDA, were developed during the Cold War era, and these equipment, when deployed in the tropical waters, suffer performance degradation of the order of 60%. The post-Cold War era, socio-political and socio-economic conditions, do not allow unquestioned investment for technology development for security requirement. Even environmental accountability has become far more politically demanding for the security agencies.
Domestically, India has seen a significant shift towards the maritime domain and major announcements have been made to present an aggressive maritime outlook at the policy level. The Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision of the Prime Minster is a major apex level announcement to indicate a regional dimension to our foreign policy, and also the maritime mindset. It recognizes the security concerns and the blue economic opportunities. The Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Gati Shakti and many more are some of the mission mode mega projects announced by the Government of India, to complement the SAGAR vision. The recent commissioning of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, the Indigenous Strategic Submarine project, Indigenous Shipbuilding Program, both at the Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and the private yards and many more are some of the initiatives to bolster the strategic maritime security capabilities.
Let us carry out the SWOT analysis to understand, where we stand and then we attempt to provide some way ahead in terms of managing the challenges and opportunities for the future.
STRENGTHS: The new global order puts India at the centre of the entire global power play. The global powers are continuously seeking a major role for India in the strategic matrix. The SAGAR vision and the other mission mode projects are keeping India, well aligned with the new global order. Being a nuclear powered nation and with nuclear weapon capabilities, puts us on the high table, as far as global decision making is concerned. The demographic advantage with unimaginable talent pool contributing significantly to the global strategic and technological developments further strengthens our claim for higher glory. The institutions of higher learning have produced technocrats and managers, who are leading multiple entities globally. Strong leadership and political stability further bring lot of synergy in decision making and policy convergence. The vast coastline and the equally massive freshwater systems, provide huge possibilities for trade, transportation and resource exploitation. Government of India has already announced mega initiatives like Start-up India, Digital India, Make in India, Deep Ocean Mission and more to give the policy support for the emerging requirements.
WEAKNESS: The underwater domain is managed by over 20 authorities and agencies under the Central and state governments, with serious lack of coordination and synergy. The lack of indigenous technology and knowhow has prompted the stakeholders and practitioners to seek help from the West. The West, particularly the US and the Europeans have developed massive product lines during the Cold War era, suited to their temperate and the polar region. Now they want to monetize their heavy engineering infrastructure and dump these products on us. The Nordic countries that are at the forefront of pushing such products are completely unaware of the tropical conditions and with their limited manpower, have least abilities to deploy experts to build solutions, customized to our conditions. The decision makers are not able to define what we need, so we are getting what they have, rather than what we want. The academia and research institutes have remained theoretical and failed to provide solutions to real world problems suited to our site-specific problems. Field experimental research and development (RandD) requires higher resources and strong policy mandate.
THREATS: The West continued to meddle in our domestic politics to bring policy mandates that discouraged us to build enhanced governance mechanism. The capacity and capability building remained hostage to their narratives, and did not allow us to build our indigenous site specific solutions. We kept on disregarding our own traditional wisdom to adapt to the western systems. The policy interventions were short sighted to allow imported technologies at the cost of indigenous development. User-academia-industry partnerships were not seamless to build a cohesive framework. Focus on the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) lacked a nuanced approach, overlooking the underwater domain completely. The security driven MDA, further alienated the other stakeholders to participate and contribute. The emerging economy status and democratic governance mechanism can never prioritize unlimited security budget. Thus, capacity and capability building remained limited. The non-state actors bring a lot of asymmetry in their capabilities, particularly the disruptive technologies available to them. The underwater threat, thus is a serious issue that cannot be countered by the conventional means. The siltation in the tropical region is another major limitations, when we want to use these water bodies for navigation and water resource management. Sediment management in the tropical waters require a focused approach. Rapid urbanization and unregulated industrialization are bringing huge water quality concerns.
OPPORTUNITIES: The tropical waters present unimaginable underwater resources both in the marine as well as freshwater systems. The trade and transportation opportunities will not only bring economic benefits, but also allow sustainable alternatives. The decongestion of the road network will bring efficiency and rapid growth possibilities. The indigenous effort is inescapable to build customized solutions to the tropical conditions, however in the long run, such unique capabilities could be leveraged as a diplomatic tool to ensure our leadership claim in the entire Indo-Pacific region. The superiority in technology and knowhow, will allow us to wean our neighbours from the extra-regional powers. The economic benefit from exports, is unimaginable and with our own domestic requirements being high, brings significant economy of scale and strategic benefit diplomatically. The demographic advantage can also be leveraged with proper skilling and knowledge assimilation for our Young India. Opportunities, the UDA initiative can provide is unimaginable, and it is important to channelize the energies of the young India into meaningful nation building activities. The skilling, innovations and knowledge assimilation can also be exported to the entire Indo-Pacific strategic space with vast strategic advantages.
The SAGAR vision after seven years of its announcement, has remained on the surface with minimal penetration underwater. The policy and technology interventions along with the capacity and capability building have not be able to build a comprehensive framework to encourage pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts across the four stakeholders and multiple policy making levels. The four stakeholders are maritime security, blue economy, environment and disaster management and science and technology.
The UDA framework proposed by the Maritime Research Center (MRC), Pune provides the seamless policy and technology intervention along with the acoustic capacity and capability building, required to manage the challenges and opportunities in the tropical littoral waters of the Indo-Pacific region. It encourages pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts across the four stakeholders for enhanced governance. The figure presents the comprehensive UDA framework. The four faces of the cube represent the four stakeholders, with their own specific requirements, however the core requirement is acoustic capacity and capability building to minimize the sub-optimal performance of the sonars deployed for acoustic survey. The smaller cubes represent the specific projects that Young India can undertake to build on the acoustic capacity and capability building required. The policy interventions can also be based on the specific cubes that represent multiple areas of interest. A structured policy intervention is possible using the proposed framework. The vertical construct presents the, to see, to understand and to share aspect. The well informed policy intervention is possible only with deeper understanding of the local site specific realities. To see, will mean the sensors and the platform that will carry the sensors to the required location. The deployment in the tropical waters will require deep understanding of the local conditions. To understand, translates to pre-processing to clean the data from distortions and noise related to the environment and sensors. The tropical conditions become very critical in this step and we need to address the challenges with specific focus on the Modelling and Simulation (MandS) and field validation. The application specific interpretation will require high performance computing infrastructure to ensure real-time processing. To share, will mean real-time availability of actionable inputs for the user and the policy makers in a user friendly manner. Displays and hand held devices will have to be configured to allow quick decision making and immediate action on the ground. Technology gaps can also be identified and specific interventions planned based on the state-of-the-art Science and Technology (SandT) tools available across domains and disciplines. Appreciating the traditional knowledge and then mapping on to the present day requirement using modern SandT tools to scale up. Underwater Archaeology will also require serious UDA effort, to generate the deep understanding of the traditional knowledge.
India@75 has been a glorious journey, and now when we look ahead, we need to prioritize the UDA framework that can bring a seamless and structured approach to building the maritime India of our dreams. Domestically, and on a geopolitical level, we need to make sure the SAGAR vision is realized in a nuanced manner. The UDA framework needs to be included as a major agenda point for the IORA, BIMSTEC, G07, G20 and others, if India wants to be serious player in the Indo-Pacific strategic forum. Internal capacity and capability building at multiple levels also needs to prioritize the UDA framework.
Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das is Founder & Director, Maritime Research Center (MRC), Pune.