Acoustic Capacity Building in the Indian Ocean Region
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Issue Vol. 31.2 Apr-Jun 2016 | Date : 11 Sep , 2016

The fractured maritime mandate in India and the involvement of multiple agencies and ministries for matters maritime, make it complicated to achieve synergy. The UWR, Goa is a defence facility under the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Earth Sciences is mandated to provide R&D support for ocean related aspects, then we have the Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Science and Technology as other players. It is known that there are close to 17 agencies and ministries of the Government of India involved in maritime issues. The huge resource and support required for UDA is possible only when all these agencies come together for a long term commitment to enhance our UDA in the IOR. A comprehensive Maritime Strategy formulation with clear focus on UDA is the only way forward to synergise the efforts of all the possible players involved. The ‘Make in India’ initiative can be leveraged to contribute significantly to the Blue Economy with a clear maritime focus backed with an effective Maritime Strategy translating to enhanced Acoustic Capability in the future.

The Blue Economy

There has been significant discussion on the Blue Economy in the recent past1. Starting with the European Union (EU), many nations have declared the blueprint for their Blue Growth strategy. The economic downturn across the developed world has raised the urgency to propose innovative and competitive measures to go into new areas for economic, social and environmental growth for the future.2

The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro (also called as ‘Rio+20’), the participating nations pressed for concepts of the Green Economy for ‘sustainable development and poverty eradication’. The island nations countered the Green Economy push and called for more in-depth attention and coordinated action on the world’s oceans and seas. The economic values of the seas or oceans whose potential got labelled as the ‘Blue Economy’.3

The small but important island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles in the IOR have made a strong case for a Blue Economy. Their leaders have shown firm commitment to sustainable exploitation of living and non-living marine resources and deep sea-bed minerals to ensure food and energy security. These nations are constrained by their size, technological and infrastructure limitations for the development of the maritime sector.4 They look towards India and China for support in developing their Blue Economy, critical for their economic progress and national growth. If India fails to respond adequately in the IOR and play a leadership role, the Dragon in waiting can easily take its place in the IOR. That may well become a strategic failure and security concern for India.

The hegemonies of the global powers need to be countered with the regional framework of sustainable economy and ecology…

The panic in the policy circles regarding the security concerns in the IOR has taken away much of our attention from the Blue Economy potential. Matching the Chinese naval expansion, or for that matter a military response to the Chinese economic aggression in the IOR may not be the most prudent one. The security concerns need to be balanced with a nuanced economic strategy that is able to exploit the potential of the Blue Economy in the IOR. India may do well in getting together with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) nations to formulate an effective Blue Economy blueprint and engage the small nations in the IOR with a constructive economic agenda.5 The hegemonies of the global powers need to be countered with the regional framework of sustainable economy and ecology. Technology and research will play a critical role. No individual nation in the IOR has the capacity and capability to generate resources to meet the requirement. Regional cooperation is inescapable, and India does have a chance to play the leadership role with its young and dynamic human resource.

The ambitious Blue Economy for the IOR is probably becoming inescapable and critical for reviving the fledgling economy and generate jobs for the masses. The competitiveness of the nations in the IOR with respect to the West is possible only with “enabling and cross cutting technologies” with local on-site customisation. The tropical littoral waters of the IOR have very unique characteristics and the products and services need to be evolved for a smart and sustainable knowledge-based maritime economy. The technologies have to evolve for a sustainable management of the Indian Ocean, with enhanced understanding of the marine environment to balance the increasing pressure of human activities and the growing vulnerability of our coastal areas.6

Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA)

The starting point for any initiative towards effective Blue growth and governance with a coherent and systematic approach would be Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). MDA is rooted in the ability to effectively monitor what is going on at any moment in the entire maritime space. The MDA as defined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), is the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or the environment. The maritime domain has been defined as, “all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway, including all maritime-related activities, infrastructure, people, cargo and vessels and other conveyances.”7

A more specific underwater version of the MDA has been defined as the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA).8 The concept of UDA in a more specific sense will translate to our eagerness to know what is happening in the undersea realm of our maritime areas. This keenness for undersea awareness from the security perspective, means defending our Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) against the proliferation of submarines and mine capabilities intended to limit the access to the seas and littoral waters. A recent example to quote would be the torpedo strike by North Korea in 2010 on a South Korean (ROKS) Naval ship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors out of the 104 personnel onboard.9 However, just the military requirement may not be the only motivation to generate Underwater Domain Awareness.

The earth’s undersea geophysical activities have a lot of relevance to the well-being of the human kind and monitoring of such activities could provide vital clues to minimise the impact of devastating natural calamities. The pertinent example, could be the tsunamis in the recent past. In 2004, large parts of Asia were devastated by the earthquake in the Indian Ocean followed by a tsunami. The event was termed as the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, killing over 2,30,000 people in 14 countries with Indonesia being the hardest hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.10 The event did wake up governments in the developing countries of Asia and even international agencies to improve monitoring systems and install tsunami early warning systems in the region.11

The collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery in Canada is a typical example of how unregulated and unmonitored marine habitat can impact human livelihood and well being…

Again in 2011, an undersea earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Tohoku in Japan caused destruction and casualties. However, even though this tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) earthquake compared to the earlier 2004 tsunami that was triggered by magnitude 9.1-9.3 (Mw) earthquake, the loss of life (over 15,500 dead) and property could have been minimised due to better monitoring and early warning and response systems12. Man cannot fight nature’s fury, however, better preparedness could minimise the damage caused by such disasters as clearly demonstrated by these two events in 2004 and 2011.

The commercial activities in the undersea realm have recently been bound by regulatory obligations for seismic explorations. The corporate entities are required to comply with prescribed acoustic noise levels to ensure conservation of environmental and biological habitat for marine species.13,14 There could be several factors that may contribute to the collapse of a particular species and eventually an entire eco-system. Thus, precise understanding of the species specific and ecosystem level changes in the habitat is critical.

The collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery in Canada is a typical example of how unregulated and unmonitored marine habitat can impact human livelihood and well being.15 Overfishing with the use of modern automated fishing gear and sophisticated boats led to complete collapse of the fisheries and the Northern Cod bio-mass fell to one per cent of its earlier level, forcing Canada’s federal government to declare a moratorium in 1992, marking a significant change in the ecological, economic and socio-cultural structure of Canada. Over 35,000 fishermen and plant workers from over 400 coastal communities became unemployed.16

The underlying requirement of all the events discussed above is to know the developments in the undersea domain, make sense out of these developments and then respond effectively and efficiently to them before they take shape of an event. The Underwater Domain Awareness requires a multi-faceted and multi-tiered system that includes infrastructure and expertise from marine science, defence and management fraternity. The UDA at its heart, involves the core competence of acoustic sensing, supported by non-acoustic means to disseminate the information to multiple stakeholders like the security, earth sciences, industry and environmental agencies.17

UDA Technology Development

Maritime technology or more specifically technologies enabling Undersea Domain Awareness (UDA) saw the maximum development during the Cold War era to meet the military requirements of the two superpowers. Massive investments were made by both the sides to maintain technological superiority and the political compulsions of the Cold War did facilitate allocation of such funds for the military. The Submarine threat and countermeasures to keep the submarine at bay and monitor movement of these stealthy platforms in their own waters resulted in massive efforts to develop underwater surveillance. Technology was the only enabler. Underwater sensor technology, underwater studies to minimise the impact of the environment, deployment mechanisms and engineering solutions, metallurgy to sustain long-term deployments and intelligent systems to minimise human interventions got added impetus.18

The Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) was a massive Cold War infrastructure created by the US for its military necessity to track the Soviet submarine threat…

The post Cold War period brought a very new construct to the entire maritime strategy concept. The massive military spending characteristic of the Cold War era became politically unsustainable. Budget cuts became the norm and any ambitious military technology development project was not easy to get approval. More importantly, even environmental clearance for technological trial were scrutinised and was many a time rejected for the larger good. Public opinion shifted from unquestioned military build-up towards economic growth and navies have become mere policy instruments of the state.19 No more are Navies playing the sole role of a war-fighting fleet. Increasingly, we are seeing Navies being deployed for constabulary role, humanitarian relief assignments, environmental protection and monitoring and diplomacy. Worldwide we are observing that the concept of holistic maritime strategy, wherein a nation coordinates all its maritime activities and provides a framework to the maritime stakeholders like the navy, shipping, resource mining, fisheries and environmental control in pursuit of a grand strategy. Exclusivity of the Navy in the maritime domain is being replaced by the role of a facilitator and navies are even acquiring technologies and hardware to be able to meet this re-defined mandate.20

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The specific UDA technology enablers are the underwater sensors that capture the data along with the noise and the environmental distortions, the algorithms that process the signal to minimise the noise and the channel impact followed by the precise information extraction for the specific application. The underwater medium is known to be extremely harsh and thus, requires special engineering solutions for deployment and sustenance and also high quality metallurgy to withstand corrosion and bio-fouling.

Strategically, it may always be advisable to possess the technology to produce the sensors to ensure uninterrupted supply even in adverse political situations (resulting in sanctions and embargos), however, operationally it is possible to import this technology for specific deployments though at high cost. It may be noted that this technology is extremely specialised and very few nations worldwide produce underwater sensors. The algorithms for minimising the channel and ambient noise distortions cannot be imported and every maritime nation with significant undersea stakes needs to get involved in oceanographic studies to understand the underwater environment in their waters to be able to optimise the sonar performance in their waters.

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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

Vice Adm DSP Varma And Cdr (Dr) Arnab Das

Vice Adm DSP Varma Adviser to DRDO and Cdr (Dr) Arnab Das Commander in the Indian Navy.

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