Maritime surveillance goes hi-tech

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Published: December 8, 2014 12:03:41 AM

Indian Navy has set up a next-gen intelligence system to beef up its surveillance and patrolling duties

At the click of a mouse, the Indian Navy will be able to track the movement of ships and fishing boats plying in the waters all along India’s 7,500-km-long coastline. It has set up a Command Centre in Gurgaon which will receive real-time radar feed and pictures taken by high-definition cameras, satellites and maritime surveillance aircraft. The footage will be exactly the same as captured by 46 coastal radar stations now operating in remote areas of the country.

Called the Information Management Analysis Centre (IMAC), the command post will enable the Indian Navy and other stakeholders in coastal security to take effective action in case a rogue ship or boat is detected.

This R450-crore project, also known as National Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence Centre (NC3I), was launched soon after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, when Pakistani terrorists managed to reach the city undetected due to gaps in coastal surveillance. The Command Centre, which is the nodal centre of the NC3I network,  will go a long way in plugging these gaps through round-the-clock surveillance by radars, high-definition electro optic cameras and satellites, according to Admiral Kishan Pandey, assistant chief of naval staff communication, space and network centric operations.

An officer sitting at his console in the Gurgaon centre can access real time information on his computer screen about traffic of ships and boats in his designated zone, be it waters of Chennai or remote islands in Andaman & Nicobar. In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, at least 46 coastal radar stations at strategic locations in all the nine littoral states continuously monitor sea lanes. These stations in turn relay information to six core centres located in Gandhinagar (Gujarat), Mumbai, Chennai, Port Blair, Visakhapatnam and Kochi.

With the main centre at Gurgaon becoming functional, which is 80% indigenised, the officer will also get the information or visual data as seen by his counterparts manning the radar stations. All the stations, core centres and main command posts are connected with a high-tech computer network through especially-developed Coastal Surveillance and Decision Support software system designed and managed by the Navy.

The ‘Decision making or Decision support software’ as it is called has been bought from the US-based company Raytheon, but has been customised by the in-house naval IT software experts in developing their own algorithms. “It is hack-proof after being certified by Scientific Analyst Group under the wings of DRDO,” Pandey explained. The software has incorporated data about fishing boats and trawlers engaged in their trade in Indian waters through Automatic Identification System (AIS) chips. However, 30,000-odd small fishing boats are yet to be issued these chips as fishermen are demanding them free of cost. The state governments, through their respective fisheries departments, are likely to complete this process in the coming months.

There are more than 200,000 small and medium-size fishing boats and 60,000 to 70,000 boats venturing out into the sea to catch fish every day. The AIS covers boats weighing more than 300 tonnes or those that are 20 metres long. The Navy is urging the state governments to issue AIS to smaller boats to ensure that all boats out in the sea are identifiable.

Information about all merchant ships, be it Indian or foreign, passing through Indian waters or close by is also part of the software as it is now linked to the World Shipping Register. This will help the officer concerned to track the movement of the ships and take steps if any of them deviates from its path or is found sailing in a suspicious manner.

The Navy and Coast Guard, with the help of state governments, are going to install transponders in all private boats of Indian fishermen to locate their position in the sea. These transponders will be connected through the NC31.

The Navy will install 1,000 transponders in private boats of Gujarat fishermen as a pilot project. The installation of more transponders will depend on the success rate. The 350-km coastal area from Karwar to Bhatkal and Mangalore will be monitored closely due to vulnerabilities.

According to defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who had recently inaugurated the Gurgaon centre, “There is no radar station in these areas and hence in past some years, terror exports would take place from these regions especially in Bhatkal. Apart from that there is no such radar station from Ratnagiri to Goa. Even, Goa was becoming a smuggling centre some 30 years ago. These areas must come under the surveillance to minimise anti-national activities.”

The IMAC is envisaged to function as the nodal centre for collecting inputs from various static sensors and radars that were installed along the coast under the Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN) as well as from satellite imageries. Its tasks include analysing these inputs and disseminating them among concerned agencies to ensure a gapless surveillance of the entire coastline. The centre forms part of the National Command Control and Communication and Intelligence Network (NC3IN) which connects 20 naval and 31 coast guard stations along the coast that have been jointly developed by the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL). The BEL has set up the coastal radars that are running on X and S band.

The IMAC at present has the ability to track marine vessels operating between the Malacca Strait and the Persian Gulf and can trigger off an alarm if any ship’s movement is deemed suspicious.

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