Experts' Articles Geopolitics and IR Maritime Security

Strategic Security @100 – A New Perspective Based on the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework for the Tropical Waters of the Indo-Pacific Strategic Space

  • The specific and specialized technology required for deep sea mining and the added sustainability concerns can only be addressed with enhanced Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA). 
  • The acoustic survey being the only means for UDA, requires specialized acoustic capacity and capability building. 
  • Strategic security @ 100 refers to 2047 or whereabouts, not just when India celebrates the centenary of its Independence but also many other nations in the region that attained their freedom largely from the European powers. 
  • The primary threat and the resources are underwater and if we do not build significant acoustic capacity & capability to achieve effective UDA, we will never be able to attain strategic autonomy for ourselves.  
  • The digital transformation driven by the UDA framework will be the way forward for effective governance of the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space. 
  • Strategic Security@100 has to make sure we have been able to put in place a safe, secure, sustainable growth model for all in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space. 
Background

The Indo-Pacific region is gaining strategic relevance for varied reasons. The strategic trade route passing through the region makes it extremely sensitive from an economic standpoint. The energy resource movement from the middle east to the far east has significant strategic value. The raw material travels from the African coast to the far east and the return journey of finished goods further makes it a critical trade route. The political volatility in the region makes it a fertile ground for the extra-regional powers to meddle in the domestic politics. The non-state actors are operating freely and multiple states are using the non-state actors as the regular instrument of state diplomacy to export terror. The fragmented geopolitics of the region ensures no long-term regional consolidation takes place. The global thrust on sustainability and climate change risk management is another tool for the west to drive their agenda in the region and forever keep the local powers under their dominance. The Electric Vehicle (EV) drive requires a massive amount of rare earth material, which can only be replenished from the deep oceans to meet the targeted demand. The specific and specialized technology required for deep sea mining and the added sustainability concerns can only be addressed with enhanced Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA). The post pandemic era and the Russia-Ukraine war has added to the food security concerns for a large majority of the developing world. The oceans and the freshwater systems are a great source of food and we need to increasingly look towards the underwater domain to ensure no one remains hungry. The nutrient value of seafood is undoubtedly very high and has significant potential to address the universal food security concern.

"It is well known that 80% of the global population resides within 200 kms from the coast. Thus, what happens in the oceans and the freshwater systems has a massive socio-political dimension. It is deeply intertwined with the socio-cultural aspects and off-course has a socio-economic dimension."

The Indo-Pacific strategic space, by definition, is the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It is important to remind ourselves of the unique characteristics of the tropical waters before we even look at any way ahead. The tropical waters have three main uniqueness, namely the rich biodiversity that can be leveraged for numerous socio-economic benefits, if harvested effectively. The second is the abundant availability of resources like rare earth minerals and many others with very high commercial value. The last but probably the most critical aspect is the sub-optimal sonar performance. The acoustic survey being the only means for UDA, requires specialized acoustic capacity and capability building. The tropical waters cause degradation of performance of the order of 60%. The Sonar technology developed during the Cold War Era, was primarily for the military requirement of the two superpowers. However, their theatre of operations was the temperate and polar regions of the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap. The acoustic propagation in the temperate & polar waters are very different from the tropical conditions. The acoustic definition of shallow water is based on the multiple interaction of the acoustic signal with the two boundaries (Surface & Bottom) due to reflection, compared to deep waters, where the interaction is minimal due to refraction being the primary mode of propagation. The depth of Sound Axis (axis of minimum sound speed) is the major determinant for this aspect. The depth of sound axis at the equator is 2000 m, whereas it is 50 m near the poles. Thus, the import of sonars, irrespective of the application (military or non-military), without customization to the tropical conditions, makes no sense.

The powers in the Indo-Pacific region and the extra-regional powers are maintaining a very close watch on the developments in the region. The geopolitical and geostrategic interventions by the global powers are ensuring a complex strategic security scenario. Strategic security refers to the management of both the internal and external threat. The marine and freshwater systems are needed to be factored in the strategic security matrix. Strategic security @ 100 refers to 2047 or whereabouts, not just when India celebrates the centenary of its Independence but also many other nations in the region that attained their freedom largely from the European powers. The British maritime forces withdrew from the region in the next decade of the 1960s, and opened up the entire tropical waters for the local powers to manage on their own. The newly emerged global power (the Americas) moved in swiftly. The French still retain a large maritime under their control in the IOR. The colonial powers left the local nations with no resources and minimal strategic thinking capabilities to build their own vision. The local nations continued to get manipulated by the European powers, in terms of their maritime hardware and technical knowhow. In the absence of the customization to the local tropical conditions, this hardware presented sub-optimal performance. The situation is far better now, both economically and politically, thus it is time we come together to shape our own regional strategic vision.

Global Power Play

The post-Cold War shift of the Naval theatre to the tropical waters has been a significant strategic transformation. The global powers have invested heavily to tame the tropical challenges. The American establishment understood the littoral challenges towards the end of the last century and littoral ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare), became a significant strategic priority. The start of the 21st century saw the academia-led Shallow Water Acoustic Measurement (SWAM) exercise in the South and East China Sea. The project, referred to as ASIAEX, was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The University of Washington and five other US Universities came together to undertake massive scale Modelling & Simulation (M&S) for the tropical waters of the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS) in the phase-1. The phase-2 was planned for field experimental validation and the project leaders realized that it will face significant diplomatic backlash. Thus, they included multiple universities from the region and it became a group of twenty institutes, including the original six from the US and rest from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and others. The Americans gained significantly from the outcomes of ASIAEX and post that they made it a regular practice to deploy acoustic arrays and underwater drones to collect data and validate their M&S efforts. Every vessel of opportunity would carry these arrays and drones and provide inputs to the US underwater research establishments.

The Chinese side of the story is even more interesting. The Chinese probably knew very well the intentions of the US establishment. The seemingly academic initiative to enhance human understanding of the tropical waters had a direct connection with their strategic security vision. Effective deployment of marine assets in tropical waters requires a very high degree of UDA. The Chinese participated in the ASIAEX, probably because they wanted to learn from the Americans how to conduct deployments of such scale and high-tech M&S efforts. Chinese researchers from their Navy, Commission for Science, Technology, and Industry for Defence (COSTIND), National Defence University (NDU) and others regularly went to University of Washington and others for higher learning. In Dec 2015, the Chinese declared what is called the Underwater Great Wall (UGW) project. The project was driven by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), and translated to a massive underwater sensor network deployed in the disputed South China Sea. It could be compared to the US Point Sur Light House project of the erstwhile Cold War Era. The Naval Post Graduate School (NPS) Monterey California driven project was a state-of-the-art facility to enhance their understanding of the acoustic underwater propagation.

"The Cold War Era facility contributed remarkably towards effective UDA in that period. It is important to note here that a facility like the UGW, needs at least two decades of work and we can clearly see a connection with the ASIAEX."

In Jan 2016, the Chinese seized an underwater drone deployed from USNS Bowditch. This was a very strategic period when Mr. Donald Trump was about to take over as the US President and he was forced to depart from diplomatic protocol and make a statement against this kind of messaging by the Chinese. The Chinese were very clear in their timing and messaging. They wanted to tell the American establishment that they will no longer tolerate any more data collection in their waters. The Trump-era saw repeated and aggressive confrontation between the American Navy and the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea, in the name of “Freedom of Navigation.” The Chinese continue to deploy massive research resources even in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and build their understanding of the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. It is important for us to appreciate the structured and planned initiative on part of the Chinese to develop the acoustic capacity & capability building for managing the challenges and opportunities of the tropical waters.

The complexity of the tropical waters and the specialized effort required to generate reasonable UDA, can be explained by the recent accident of a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine of the US Navy. USS Connecticut (SSN-22), a Seawolf class nuclear powered fast attack submarine got badly damaged when it struck a seamount while on patrol in the South China Sea on 02nd Oct 2021. It was a major embarrassment for the US establishment, given its rising strategic competition with China. China is increasingly challenging the west as a submarine supplier to the developing world.

"The Indo-Pacific region is seeing massive scale submarine proliferation with multiple smaller powers with still evolving capabilities and economic capacity, acquiring submarines. Acoustic capacity & capability building will become a significant requirement for many of these countries to ensure safe deployment of submarines, considered to be the most complex platform to operate."

The Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan (S-42) went missing on 15 Nov 2017 with 44 crewmen during a routine patrol in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. On 21 Apr 2021, KRI Nanggala (402), an Indonesian submarine went missing during a routine exercise in the Bali Sea with 49 crewmembers. Both these fatal accidents reflect serious concerns of maintenance and lack of resources for regular upkeep. Many of these nations also saw serious competition for the military budget within a democratic setup.

India wants to play a leadership role in the IOR and beyond. The Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision of the Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, points towards a clear strategic direction to present itself as a leader. However, it is extremely critical for us to understand that the SAGAR vision without a comprehensive and inclusive UDA framework has no meaning.

"The primary threat and the resources are underwater and if we do not build significant acoustic capacity & capability to achieve effective UDA, we will never be able to attain strategic autonomy for ourselves and also present ourselves as a viable alternative to the western powers. The acoustic capacity & capability building is not just for ourselves but also of a standard that can be exported to our neighbouring nations, replacing the west."
Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework

The UDA framework provides effective policy & technology interventions along with acoustic capacity & capability building requirements to manage the challenges and opportunities of the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region.

"The UDA framework encourages pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts across the four stakeholders namely strategic security, blue economy, environment & disaster management, and science & technology. The most important aspects here are the prediction of an event and initiating action to either prevent the event or at least minimize the loss of life and property."

The Modelling & Simulation (M&S) effort allows effective prediction of a varied set of possible events and then warning the stakeholders well in time. The strategic inputs can allow significant policy interventions to manage the ecosystem in a comprehensive and inclusive manner. The real-time surveillance of the underwater space with far more effective detection ranges and accurate classification inputs will allow neutralization of the adversary and their associates in the form of non-state actors. Sub-surface assets are very hard to detect and classify in the tropical waters, thus effective Littoral ASW can be better managed with enhanced UDA. Resource mapping in the underwater space requires very specialized efforts, with multiple sensors to detect and classify undersea minerals and living species for blue economic exploitation. The effective resource management will be a big challenge along with maintaining sustainable development goals and minimizing climate change risk. The extreme weather events and other disasters originating from the underwater need to be predicted and managed to minimize loss of life and property. The digital transformation in the underwater space is the only viable way forward for effective governance addressing the challenges and opportunities of all the four stakeholders. Science & Technology (S&T) will be the main driver and we have to make sure that we are able to scale up the traditional knowledge and practices using these modern tools. Site specific local underwater inputs, particularly for the tropical conditions, are extremely critical. The figure-1, below presents the schematic view of the UDA framework.

Fig. 1 Schematic View of the UDA Framework

The figure 1, has two components for analysis namely the horizontal and vertical construct. The four faces of the cube represent the four stakeholders and their application specific requirements. They all may be unique, however they are bound by the core of acoustic capacity & capability, given the sub-optimal performance in the tropical waters. The acoustic propagation in the tropical waters impacts all the four stakeholders and they all need to pool in their resources and synergize their efforts for M&S and field experimental validation to improve sonar performance. The vertical construct elaborates on our real-time appreciation of the ground realities. The local site-specific inputs, particularly in the tropical waters, is extremely critical. We need to start with sensing the ecosystem with application specific data/sample collection. The analysis includes pre-processing including noise filtering, mitigation of the tropical distortions, sensor and platform specific error removal and more. The pre-processed clean data is then processed based on the application specific requirements to generate action-oriented information. The top layer of regulations must be derived from the real and site-specific data driven inputs. Long term data analytics can provide us nuanced policy inputs that are comprehensive and inclusive. The comprehensive means that we have been able to address the concerns of a wide range of applications and inclusiveness translates to the aspirations of a wide range of communities and stakeholders.

The multiple smaller cubes within the larger cube represent the large number of smaller applications within the bigger category of stakeholders. Every big problem can be solved by identifying the smaller issues that make-up the bigger problem. Focusing on the smaller issues, one at a time will allow effective attention to details. The students and young professionals can pick up these smaller issues to address the challenges and opportunities in a nuanced manner. They can easily relate to the stakeholder requirements and present themselves as more employable by associating with real world problem solving. The government can use this as a structured governance mechanism to allocate priority. The duplication of efforts and resources can be easily managed using this structured approach. The fragmented approach can be avoided and multiple stakeholders can address the binaries like security vs development, development vs environment, science vs economy and more. Innovation and field experimental R&D can be prioritized with better resource allocation. Geopolitical fragmentation can be effectively managed with a clear regional roadmap articulating the challenges and opportunities. The digital transformation driven by the UDA framework will be the way forward for effective governance of the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space.

Acoustic Capacity & Capability Building

Sound is the only signal that propagates efficiently underwater, thus acoustic survey is the only way for generating the desired Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA). The acoustic signal propagates as pressure waves and is highly sensitive to medium fluctuations. The acoustic propagation is directly impacted by temperature, pressure and salinity. Temperature is the most dominant of the three and till the time the temperature variation exists, the other two parameters do not have any impact. The sonar performance is impacted by two main factors, namely the ambient noise at the receiver location that determines the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) and the second is the Underwater Channel Fluctuations that modifies the original signal at source, during its propagation through the underwater medium. A qualitative and quantitative assessment of these two parameters will be the most critical component of the acoustic capacity and capability building. The impact of the ambient noise and the underwater channel will depend upon the characteristics of the source signal and thus a comprehensive Source-Path-Receiver analysis will be important.

An important consideration, when we talk about acoustic capacity & capability building is the definition of shallow vs deep waters. The erstwhile Cold War era definition of the shallow waters was based on the Hypsometric considerations. The continental shelf, on an average extends to 200 nautical miles (nm), upto which we find a gradual slope and immediately after that there is a sharp fall. The edge of the continental shelf is observed to be having a depth of 200 m and thus the areas of water depths below 200 m were considered shallow waters and more than 200 m is considered deep waters. The polar and temperate waters fitted very well with the hypsometric definition of shallow vs deep waters. However, the acoustic definition of shallow vs deep waters has to be based on whether or not the acoustic signal makes multiple interactions with the two boundaries (surface and bottom). These interactions with the boundaries will ensure significant modification of the acoustic signal based on the site-specific boundary characteristics. The depth of Sound Axis (axis with minimal sound speed) determines the reflection or refraction of acoustic signal while propagating in the underwater medium. The acoustic signal oscillates around the sound axis and thus, if the actual depth of the water column is significantly high compared to the depth of the sound axis, there will be minimal interaction of the acoustic signal with the two boundaries. On the other hand, in case the depth of sound axis is equivalent to the actual depth of the water column, then the high interaction of the acoustic signal with the two boundaries will ensure substantial distortion during acoustic propagation. The depth of sound axis near the equator is 2000 m, whereas the depth of sound axis at the poles is 50 m. Thus, acoustically the actual depth of water column cannot be a measure for shallow vs deep water considerations. In the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), even depths of 1500 m, demonstrate shallow water behavior. 

Ambient Noise Mapping  : The system performance of any sonar is measured in terms of its detection capability and classification accuracy. The detection of a target is directly proportional to the SNR, thus the ambient noise at the receiver location is an important parameter that needs to be estimated to initiate any SNR enhancement measure. Modern day signal processing algorithms allow statistical noise filtering techniques even within the same spectral band; however, the most critical requirement is precise noise estimation. Thus, ambient noise characterization is an important component of the acoustic capacity & capability building.

Ambient noise characteristics vary based on the spectral band. The lowest frequency band below 1 kHz, is dominated by the shipping noise. The shipping traffic is well distributed and ever increasing since the industrial era.

"The real data recording (reported by Donald Ross) available since 1950, reveals that the low frequency ambient noise has been doubling every decade. Since shipping traffic is directly related to the global economic growth, G V Frisk in his research has connected the Global GDP, to the Shipping Traffic Volume and to the Ambient Noise since 1950. "

These two studies match and the 3 dB per decade rise in low frequency ambient noise due to distant shipping is a well-established fact. The Automated Identification System (AIS), provides the detailed shipping traffic inputs from across the world along with the static shipping information. This online input is useful for the signal processing algorithms to compute the low frequency ambient noise at source and then once it is combined with the acoustic propagation model for the specific location, the ambient noise at the receiver can be estimated accurately. Once the model is validated, we can simulate the low frequency ambient noise for any region with real-time output.

The next band of frequency from 1 to 15 kHz, is dominated by the wind noise. The wind data is available from online sources and there are established models to estimate ambient noise due to wind. Since high frequency wind noise is a localized phenomenon, acoustic propagation is not an important consideration. There are other sources of ambient noise including biological noise due to vocalization by the marine species. These noise sources are spread across the spectral band, depending on the vocalizing species involved. Snapping Shrimps and Big Whales are known for their very high intensity noise generation that can impact sonar performance. However, such noise is localized and does not have an impact beyond the local boundaries. Industrial activities like seismic survey for oil & gas industry, underwater construction, deep sea mining and others can also cause ambient noise distortions, however they are not very significant and are transient in nature that can be identified and mitigated. Normally, we refer to the identifiable noise types as interference and not ambient noise. Typically, only distant shipping, wind noise and biological noise are referred to as ambient noise.

The Snapping Shrimp noise that has a spectrum in the band 3-15 kHz is highly intense and can swamp a submarine. Their habitat is known to be the tropical waters and their vocalization pattern varies based on multiple triggers. There are over 14 sub-species of Snapping Shrimps known in the tropical waters of the IOR, with each of them having a unique vocalization. A detailed mapping of habitat and soundscape for Snapping Shrimps was undertaken by the US Navy way back in the early Cold War period. The outcome of the study was alarming for the navies operating in the tropical waters.

Underwater Channel Modelling :   The underwater channel model, particularly in the tropical waters, is an important aspect of acoustic capacity & capability building. The source signal can potentially get modified to an extent that its amplitude, frequency, and phase can become unrecognizable post its propagation through the underwater medium. Mitigation of the medium impact will require precise and real-time estimation of the underwater channel. The tropical underwater channel presents unique characteristics and is highly sensitive to the site specific underwater medium parameters.

The underwater channel estimation depends on the frequency, depth of water column, bottom profile & bottom type, surface conditions and Sound Velocity Profile (SVP). The SVP in turn depends on the temperature, salinity, and depth. The underwater channel behaviour is highly sensitive to the site-specific local conditions defined by these parameters. The tropical waters present unique diurnal and seasonal variation and thus the underwater channel fluctuations are significant, impacting sonar performance. The underwater channel estimation must receive online and real-time feed of these parameters and run models to provide the output. The underwater acoustic propagation has been modelled based on Ray theory and Wave theory, based on these parameters and the appropriate selection of the model is critical. The ray model is relatively simple; however, it is valid only in limited situations at high frequencies. Whereas the wave model is accurate and can represent complex situations, but requires massive computational infrastructure and detailed inputs at high resolutions to provide accurate and real-time output. The input parameters vary in all the three dimensions namely range, depth, and time. Sometimes, for ease of computation, we ignore the variations across the range and call them range independent models. The table-1 below provides the variation of the model based on the specific criteria. It is important to appreciate that choosing the appropriate underwater channel model is very critical. Multiple aspects impact the selection of the channel model and thus a deeper understanding is the key.

Table-1 Evaluation of Underwater Channel Model for varied Applications

Source-Path-Receiver :     The source-path-receiver model is the fundamental formulation to ensure a realistic assessment of the application specific underwater domain. The source signal is the signal at source based on the application ranging from the sonar signal, radiated noise of a vessel, vocalization from a marine species, industrial noise and more. The source signal has to propagate through the underwater medium, referred to as path and undergo modification based on the medium characteristics. The receiver is the entity that will finally face the impact of the source signal post modification during its journey through the path. The underwater channel model will allow good understanding of the path modification. The sonar receiver will require high quality signal, as close to the source signal to provide accurate outputs. The receiver could also be a vulnerable marine species as a victim of the high source levels. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will require a precise source-path-receiver study. The ambient noise at the receiver location will have to be factored before we commence the data processing, irrespective of the applications.

To See, To Understand and To Share :    The Modelling & Simulation (M&S) effort has to be field experimentally validated at critical sites that represent statistically meaningful data points. The field validation will require specialized infrastructure and deployment capabilities. The three-step formulation is the most optimum way forward. To See translates to the sensor and the platform for field data collection. The sensors with appropriate specifications and dynamic range will be important to collect error free data. The sensors have to be deployed using the surface or subsurface platforms to make sure high-quality data is collected. The sub-surface platforms will include Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Underwater Gliders (UG) and also static buoys. To Understand will include the entire data handling from pre-processing to applications specific processing and also post processing. Starting with the data recording related errors to the environment and also deployment related errors need to be mitigated. The tropical waters present very unique ambient noise and underwater channel characteristics. The pre-processing should be able to clean the data from any potential distortions. The post processing will identify any processing related or deployment related errors that can be corrected in the future recordings. To Share will mean, making the actionable input available to the users and the stakeholders in real-time and also in the appropriate format for prompt action. Displays, mobile apps, hand held displays and others may have to be configured along with networking infrastructure, to share the actionable inputs. The customized formats based on the user requirement will be a very critical aspect.

Strategic Security Dimensions

The entire strategic security interactions are now being seen in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. Submarine proliferation has become an important trend, but also raises significant safety concerns as well. Submarine deployment is a paradigm change for any Navy and the acoustic capacity & capability building has to factor the manyfold complexity it introduces. In this section, we briefly attempt to list down the varied dimensions of the UDA framework specific to the strategic security perspective.

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)   :  ASW, particularly in the tropical waters, is a complex and intense form of tactical and strategic involvement for any Navy. The uncertainties in the tropical deployments are yet to be fully understood and thus, there is a requirement to continuously enhance our UDA. The site-specific local characteristics need to be modelled before any mitigation strategy is even attempted. The following aspects merit attention.

Detection :    When we discuss detection of underwater targets, we need to factor both the noise at the receiver and also the underwater channel impact. Detailed Modelling & Simulation (M&S) using the ambient noise mapping and underwater channel modelling. These models have to be validated with massive real-time field experimental data. Prediction models for detection will go a long way to evaluate the sonar performance and also fine tune the sonar prior deployment. Even design validation of sonar can be undertaken using these digital tools. Tactical and strategic decisions can be undertaken using these tools, once they are reasonably evaluated for accuracy and precision.

Vulnerability : The detection is not the only critical aspect for deployment of a warship, their vulnerability to being detected by the adversary is equally important. The strategic platforms cannot be detected at any cost even if they have to compromise on their detection capabilities. The known acoustic signature of a warship can be fed into the digital model and their vulnerability in the entire 3D space can be computed using the underwater channel model and the ambient noise map across all the frequency bands. A very comprehensive and inclusive model will be required.

Effectiveness of Weapon Systems :     The effectiveness of the weapons systems will also have to be predicted using the digital tools. The underwater parameters will have to be fed into a model and the algorithms will provide the precise and accurate inputs for effectiveness of the weapon systems.

Acoustic Signature Management :    Signature management is singularly the most critical aspect of a warship compared to the merchant vessels. At every stage of the warship the stealth needs to be evaluated and measures instituted to ensure compliance to the stealth standards. Stealth based deployment strategy, stealth based maintenance strategy, stealth based acquisition and many more have to be part of our tactical and strategic framework. The entire acoustic signature management has the following steps:

Measurement & Analysis  :   The first step is the precise measurement & analysis to generate the database and corresponding benchmarks. The measurement & analysis will require a very nuanced regime definition against which the entire analysis will be undertaken. The stealth-based deployment, stealth based maintenance, stealth based acquisition and other factors will have to be answered at this stage. This will also allow us to generate a deeper understanding of the Underwater Radiated Noise (URN) with the machinery fit and layout. The structural design and other aspects will get validated against the stealth benchmarks.

Prediction :    The first stage of measurement and analysis will allow us to build an effective relation between the machinery fit & layout with the URN. The field validation of the prediction models will also make out models more robust and reliable. Thus, now we will be able to predict new vessels belonging to our adversary based on the recorded signatures. Significant details relevant for counter offensive can be extracted from these prediction models. These models are not only for the signature at source, but also accounts for the ambient noise and underwater channel model for the location and the specific time of operation.

Deception :   The own signature needs to be altered to avoid detection by the adversary. Thus, with detailed understanding of the own signature and also strong prediction ability of the adversary platforms, we can introduce noise augmenters on board our critical platforms to avoid detection & classification by the adversary sonars. In a real-world scenario of conflict these efforts have to be extremely accurate and precise.

Transboundary Rivers :   The threats are not limited to the marine systems alone. There are significant possibilities of threats originating from the freshwater systems, particularly the transboundary rivers. Even the internal security scenario is such that there is a possibility of threats emanating from within. Internal security management is far more complex as these elements are within and massive waterfront intelligence is required. The following aspects merit attention.

Vessel Monitoring :      The Inland Water Transport (IWT) has become a major focus for the Government and there is significant socio-economic and socio-political value to progressing such projects. It brings effective & efficient connectivity across the country and also allows socio-cultural exchanges between communities. However, it also exposes vulnerabilities originating from the water bodies, including direct threat of sabotage, sustainability & climate change risk concerns, disruption of navigability and more. The Automated Identification System (AIS) has become a de facto tool for monitoring vessels in the marine environment. The AIS data has become very valuable even for monitoring security and sustainability related concerns. High end data analytics on the AIS data has allowed identification of dark ships engaged in illegal and subversive activities. The River Information System (RIS) is a similar system being considered for the river systems, however it is not getting the priority it deserves from a strategic security perspective. RIS data combined with sediment bed load prediction models can ensure underwater domain awareness across varied applications.

Sediment Transport & Classification :   The tropical waters present very unique sediment transport patterns. Navigability, water resource management and hydrology management is a serious concern. The west driven solutions for river management fail because of these unique characteristics. Indigenous effort is required and we have to build digital tools to make sure that the prediction models are effective and economically viable in a developing country like ours. Sediment transport study should also include sediment classification, to optimize the resource deployment for acoustic survey and data analytics. The sediment classification has three broad components, including sediment bearing pressure, benthic ecosystem management and also abiotic content mapping. Each of these three components have massive relevance to a wide variety of applications. Any construction activity in the water bodies will require sediment bearing pressure inputs. Movement of our security forces across water bodies will require such inputs. The benthic ecosystem is the most critical part of the entire ecosystem, however due to lack of appreciation, the activities such as dredging and others are ensuring irreversible damage to the entire sustainability initiative. Solid Waste Management (SWM) has become the most important but worst managed dimension of public governance. Most of these are ending up in the water bodies and making sure of the freshwater contamination of an unprecedented scale. Abiotic content in the sediment can also manifest as a security threat of varied dimensions. However, there is also the possibility of wealth as well that can have significant economic value.

Way Ahead

The entire Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) initiative has suffered systematic neglect and severe lack of understanding at all levels. The traditional Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) has suffered two main limitations. The first is the security driven formulation with least participation by the other stakeholders namely blue economy, environment & disaster management, and the science & technology. The results are that it always lacked talent and resources. The second is that it has remained west driven, so the erstwhile Cold War era technology and knowhow of the temperate and polar region is being pushed to the tropical region with least customization. The west does not have the human resource now to deploy in the tropical waters for site-specific field experimental R&D and customization. It is conveniently being ignored that the present-day strategic interactions are being seen in the tropical waters. The site-specific tropical uniqueness has not been appreciated by anyone. There has been an attempt to extrapolate temperate/polar understanding to the underwater domain with disastrous results. The ongoing MDA has remained on the surface and with no connection with the Indo-Pacific strategic space, where it has to be deployed. It is time we get real and address MDA more comprehensively and inclusively. The strategic security issues also play up in the freshwater systems and we have to find ways and means to monitor the entire underwater space. The present multipolar world demands a safe, secure, sustainable growth model. It cannot be driven by one stakeholder (Security) and unquestioned resources cannot be made available to just one stakeholder, at the cost of socio-economic and sustainability concerns.

The security forces and the political leadership have to accept the changed reality and make sure that the way forward has to be pooling of resources and synergizing efforts.

"The UDA framework by design, encourages collaboration and synergy. Digital transformation is the only way forward for enhanced ocean governance. The science & technology requirement for driving the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in the tropical waters will require a very nuanced way forward. The entire policy intervention, technology intervention and the acoustic capacity & capability building has to make sure we are all aligned. The national and local policy intervention has to be aligned with the global and regional frameworks. The technology has to be relevant to the ground realities with extensive field experimental validation to map the unique site-specific characteristics. "

The acoustic capacity & capability building has to be inclusive to bring all the coastal & riverine communities onboard to facilitate growth for all. User-Academia-Industry partnership has to ensure a seamless and coordinated approach. The academia has to make sure their students are employable to contribute to the issues of the future. The user should be able to define his requirement with clarity and the industry must have a broader and long-term vision.

We propose a three-step formulation to drive the UDA framework for ensuring a nuanced strategic security vision for our centenary celebration. Strategic Security@100 has to make sure we have been able to put in place a safe, secure, sustainable growth model for all in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space. Outreach, engage and sustain is the only way forward.

Outreach will translate to sensitizing the entire community about the nuances of the UDA framework and on boarding them into the initiative. Multiple workshops, seminars, round tables and strategic interactions will have to be planned with clear focus and deliverables. The following aspects merit attention:

Internal Capacity & Capability Building is an internal introspection for each and every establishment involved in security. These may include Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, Paramilitary Forces involved in water front security, Marine Police and more. Each of these organizations will have their specific mandate and have to align themselves to the emerging trends. They have to identify the gaps and plan their capacity & capability building accordingly.

Ecosystem Review and Re-structuring is a serious attempt at identifying the ecosystem, including the policy makers, supporting agencies like R&D establishments, PSUs training institutes, industry partners, auditors, regulators and others. All of them have to be on the same page and be aware of the challenges and opportunities. Pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts will be the key to success.

The UDA framework as an Enabler is an important aspect that merits attention. We have to develop mature systems and capabilities to drive the entire ecosystem in a comprehensive and inclusive manner. Optimizing the resources and learning, will be the key to drive the entire governance mechanism effectively. The digital transformation will be the critical step forward, however, it demands far greater appreciation and nuanced approach. The regular interaction among the security forces and their supporting and enabling agencies will be important.

Engage will mean, translating the outreach to more concrete action. The engagement has to be at multiple levels starting from Young India to stakeholders and policy makers. The following initiatives will be in order:

UDA Fellowships will be an affirmative action to involve the Young India and the young professionals to develop deeper appreciation and understanding of the entire UDA framework. The multi-disciplinary and multi-level fellowships will prepare the students and young professionals for the future engagement with an employable skill set and adequate knowledge. The fellowship will focus on real world problem solving with direct involvement of the stakeholders and policy makers. The hands-on skilling, community engagement and field experimental research will be the core deliverable.

Stakeholder Engagement has to be very specific to their own operational and strategic requirements. A structured engagement plan to meet their skilling, innovation and knowledge gaps will have to be formalized. Short training programs, deputations of their staff and customized learning modules will have to be designed and executed. UDA fellows can be deployed in the stakeholder premises for short exposure and also as a force multiplier.

Associate for Policy Makers is an important initiative that will bring fresh ideas for the decision makers. They will require a backend team to manage Modelling & Simulation (M&S) exercise for well informed decision making. The UDA fellows can be deployed along with some key officials for providing them the backend support, where the modern tools can be used for effective and efficient decision making. The digital transformation and the emerging technology tools require a nuanced induction into the mainstream.

Sustain will transform the engagement to deeper penetration and systemic transformation. The UDA framework addresses the three aspects of policy & technology interventions along with acoustic capacity & capability building. The three critical aspects to sustain this initiative are enumerated below:

Infrastructure Building is the key both in terms of hardware and software. The digital transformation will require a massive computational and data collection mechanism. Specific Science & Technology (S&T) research projects on a turnkey basis have to be designed and executed. Multi-disciplinary research and innovation team will not only work on these projects, but they will be the next set of leaders to drive these initiatives in future. The UDA fellows will graduate to be the team members of these long-term projects.

Policy Drafts & Frameworks will be the interface for the technology with the systemic transformation. The data driven policy and the translation to real world intervention will be the most critical deliverable. Community involvement and nuanced frameworks that ensure a balance between people, economy and nature will be the key to success. Policy makers will have to be involved at every stage and they need to fund long-term initiatives that provide continuous feedback and intervention inputs.

Center of Excellence (CoE) will be the most sustainable institutionalization of the entire UDA framework. The CoE comprising five centers, ranging from research, academia, skilling, innovation and policy will operate under one umbrella. The CoE will be unique to the specific sector to ensure focus and not get diluted by the cross-sector priorities. The organizational structure and control also have to be managed appropriately. The CoEs could include strategic security, sustainable blue economy, coastal governance, freshwater management, mobility and more.

Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das

About Author

Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das, Director and Founder of MRC, Pune. Dr Das is an ex Naval officer with 2 decades of active services and PhD holder from IIT Delhi with specialization in Underwater Acoustics. He has worked on several projects and has a plethora of publications to his credit.

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