Military & Aerospace

UAVs: A Potential Game Changer for Indian Coast Guard for SAR and Maritime Security
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Feb , 2019

The Indian Navy uses UAVs for maritime surveillance mainly Herons and Searcher IIs

In last forty years, responsibilities of Indian costal maritime security have been transferred to the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) from Indian Navy. ICG have recently come up with the plan of adding 50 new vessels and aircraft, with this addition, the force would have 200 sea going platforms in the next four years. Besides fulfilling its duties in assigned fields, may it be search and rescue operation or providing aid to fishermen at the times of distress like Okhi cyclone or Kerala flooding, Indian Coast Guard is also transforming from the day it was established on 1st Feb 1977 – as the maritime security is evolving every day and with that incorporation of necessary new technologies becoming evident. Presently with fifteen thousand plus active personnel, 175 vessels, 44 aircraft, 16 District Headquarters and 42 stations ICG, in cooperation with the Indian Navy is protecting 7,510 Km long coastline of India.

ICG area of responsibility extends far beyond territorial waters to EEZ for executing and coordinating Search and Rescue (SAR) missions in Indian Search and Rescue Region (INSRR) which is 6.1 Million Sq. Km that is twice the land mass of India and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is 2.01 Million Sq. Km. INSRR (West) covers the SAR operations in Western Seaboard. The INSRR (East) covers Bay of Bengal including portions of Palk Bay and Gulf of Myanmar. The INSRR (A&N) also covers the area adjacent to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are three Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) defined in INSRR. The MRCC located at Mumbai covers the entire western seaboard of Indian SRR. The eastern seaboard is covered by MRCCs located at Chennai and Port Blair.

With rise in trade across the world, oceans are becoming more crowed as more numbers of merchant vessels are increasing to cope up with the present requirement of trade. Considering Indian Ocean Region, more than 80 percentage of world’s seaborne trade transits through it and number of new ports are coming up, making this region more significant for India.IOR carries a particularly heavy traffic of petroleum products from the oilfields of Persian Gulf. As estimated 40 percent of the world’s offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean. Fishing fleets from Russia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan also use maritime resources of this region. ICG plays an important role in safe guarding this sea line of communication (SLOC) and fishermen at sea.

As the area of operation of ICG is vast and require immediate information at the time of execution – use of UAVs as per the recent law of Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) which legalized the use of UAVs in India – will bring more swiftness and operational efficiency.

The increased development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mainly UAVs, have added a new dimension to all operations in the maritime field. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is growing rapidly across many civil application domains including real time monitoring, providing wireless coverage, remote sensing, search and rescue and security and surveillance. Many research and experiments have been undertaken to utilize UAVs in maritime sector making them one of the important players in SAR operations.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is using UAVs to help with border control, pollution monitoring and the detection of illegal activities such as fishing and drug trafficking. Border patrol agents in Arizona have been testing UAVs to support maritime operations. The US Navy has used this technology to ensure near constant maritime surveillance in the seas. Sensors on these UAVs can identify and monitor ships from many miles away and automatically send that information to officials in near real-time.

UAV technology has already made a major difference on land when it comes to search and rescue and the technology has also advance in maritime domain. A UAV used by royal Australian navy and equipped with Visual Detection and Ranging (ViDAR) is able to automatically detect objects on the ocean in real time. ViDAR is used to improve the coast-effectiveness of maritime operations such as SAR.

These UAVs can also be used for monitoring fishing activities in the area. In ships the line of sight varies between 6NM to 15 NM, use of UAVs will increase the line of sight up to 30 NM. Similarly, UAVs with the night vision cameras can be utilizes to monitor movement of shoal of fish in low depth areas and with the tracking facility it can also monitor movement of suspicious boats.

ICG have four Remote Operation Centres (ROC), eleven Remote Operation Station (ROS) which are supported by 46 radar station across the length of Indian Coast for monitoring sea going vessels and to investigate any suspicious vessels. These stations have visibility up to 5 NM in clear atmosphere and hence can only provide limited visual of any ship at distress in deep sea. These stations can be used as a launch pad for UAVs which are also cost effective in terms of operations.

UAVs can be a game changer for ICG in near future. The most important success factor for search and rescues (SAR) operation are related to time – the abilities to provide assistance for fire-fighting onboard, man overboard, Oil spill – requires quick response to distress signal and immediate assessment of the situation. Sending UAVs at datum within few minutes will help us assessment of the situation and we can support the planning, handling, monitoring, first response and tracking of SAR operations, could drop rescue equipment to survivors and even monitor the body temperature of survivors at sea using thermal camera.

With more and more development and advance in technology, UAVs will become one of the major tools in SAR operations, monitoring maritime security and provide assistance in minimum time. Utilizations of UAVs will increase efficiency of Indian Coast Guard and ICG can have upper hand as compared to other stake holders in the Indian Ocean Region.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Nasima Khatoon

Research associate at International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore.

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