India opens coastal radar chain to plug surveillance gap


Mumbai: Nearly four years after ten Pakistani terrorists struck at Mumbai, India Saturday opened its surveillance radar network clusters that cover the coasts of Maharashtra and Gujarat to plug the gaps in the security apparatus exposed by the daring 26/11 attacks.

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Defence Minister A.K. Antony inaugurated the clusters at Mumbai and Porbandar, marking a major step forward in the security mechanism for India’s 7,500-km coastline.

He promised to get the project to provide a gap-free coastal surveillance completed both on the mainland and the islands by mid-2013.

The static sensors project of coastal surveillance network will be pioneered by the Indian Coast Guard and augment the force’s shore-based electronic surveillance capacity along the coastline of these two states that witness high traffic density and are too close to Pakistan across the Arabian Sea.

“As the western coastline is a highly sensitive one, we decided to operationalise this chain in Maharshtra and Gujarat ahead of the completion schedule of the project. Our objective is to have this mechanism available for immediate utilisation,” Antony said at a function to mark the opening of the radars.

Under the Maharashtra cluster, the sensors are operational with radar stations fitted at Tarapur, Korlai, Tolkeshwar and Devgad and envisages real-time surveillance cover up to 25 nautical miles.

Antony said the project will act as a “force multiplier” in the coastal security apparatus.

“With its help, the maritime forces will surely be able to devise an objective-based, rapid and effective response mechanism against perceived threats. The maritime forces will utilise their surface and air assets in such a way that they can derive maximum benefit from this surveillance network,” he added.

The government had signed the contract with the state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) in September 2011 at a cost of Rs.602 crore ($108.5 million) considering the strategic nature of the turnkey project and with an aim to develop indigenous capabilities in the field.

Under Phase-I of the network, static sensors will be put up at 46 locations along the Indian coast, including on island territories. The mainland radars are expected to be operationalised later this year, while those on the islands by mid-2013.

Antony conceded that some gaps may still exist and towards this end, the Coast Guard had carried out a “gap analysis”, based on which a second phase of the project will be implemented and 38 more locations would be added to the network so that “there are no gaps”.

The minister also noted that linking up of the National Automatic Identification System Network (AIS) and Vessel Traffic System (VTS) of Gulf of Khambat with the Coastal Security Network would help the security forces in identifying a friend or foe in the Indian waters.

“We are also intensifying efforts to achieve complete Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) so that all our security agencies, state governments and central government have real-time pictures and data of our waters,” he said.

Striking a note of caution, he, however, said with the project coming up along the coast, any interpretation that the coastline would be completely secure would be a misnomer till such time that complete physical verification takes place.

He also stressed that the “fast-changing coastal security scenario and the varied threat perceptions require proper coordination and alertness among all the stakeholders.

Referring to the role of fishermen in coastal security, Antony said it is of singular importance and “we must ensure maximum community participation to further strengthen our coastal security”.

Recounting the various measures taken by the government post-26/11 attacks on Mumbai, Antony said: “We have increased the capacity of the security forces in terms of surveillance, patrolling at sea, intelligence gathering and manpower. However, a robust coastal security mechanism requires various arms of the government to work in perfect tandem.”

He also noted the need for “adequate legislations, in accordance with international conventions, to give our security forces enough legal back up”.

Antony was accompanied to both the events by Defence Production Secretary Shekhar Aggarwal, Indian Coast Guard Director General Vice Admiral M.P. Muralidharan and BEL chairman and managing director Anil Kumar.