- The article will present the Bharat@100 dream, of a safe, secure, sustainable growth model
for all in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space.
- The demographic advantage that we have is extremely unique which also presents massive
challenges, in terms of providing meaningful engagement for the Young India.
- The UDA framework provides policy & technology interventions along with acoustic capacity
& capability building.
- The massive acoustic capacity and capability building exercise across varied stakeholders
and decision-makers would require a nuanced approach.
- India in the 21st century, is in a new avatar that many strategists and global pundits could
not have imagined
India in the 21st century, is in a new avatar that many strategists and global pundits could not have
imagined. The geographic location of India, in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space
is matchless. Geopolitically and geo-strategically, India cannot be ignored in any forum and we are
making significant strides to make our presence felt on multiple global parameters. The realization of
the maritime dimension is another major step towards building the India of our dreams. Even the
freshwater systems deserve equal attention, if India has to become a strong and prosperous nation.
The demographic advantage that we have is extremely unique which also presents massive
challenges, in terms of providing meaningful engagement for the Young India. The tropical waters
are known for massive biodiversity and other undersea mineral resources. However, these waters
also present sub-optimal performance for the sonars, deployed for acoustic survey and
corresponding good governance. The sustainable growth model will be extremely critical, to make
sure the so called development process, does not end up in concerns of severe degradation of the
ecosystem. The climate change risk is real and thus, the next set of growth plans must account for
sustainability and climate change risk. The site specific local R&D is inescapable, however it is
extremely resource intensive and thus developing nations are unable to prioritise Science &
Technology (S&T) in long term policy initiatives. The digital transformation requires sustained and
long term investments, and is possibly the only way forward for managing the challenges and
opportunities of the tropical waters. The ongoing fragmented governance mechanisms, makes it
extremely difficult and ineffective. The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework is a unique
concept to encourage pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts across the stakeholders,
namely national security, blue economy, environment & disaster management and science &
technology. The UDA framework provides policy & technology interventions along with acoustic
capacity & capability building.
The article will present the Bharat@100 dream, of a safe, secure, sustainable growth model for all in
the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space. It will articulate the way forward in achieving
this dream, when we attain, 100 years of independence. A comprehensive marine and freshwater
perspective needs to be built to manage the unique tropical water challenges and opportunities for
India in the ongoing geopolitical and geo-strategic scenario.
India is a stable democracy with firm commitment to the rule of law. The entire global community
recognizes the mature political system and civil society values established over the past 75 years of
Independence. The diversity and the civilizational legacy of over 5,000 years are unique, and could
be a critical asset in the future. We are presently the fastest growing major economy, the fifth
largest economy by nominal GDP and the third largest by PPP. India has had a rich maritime heritage
of the past and was recognized as a global super power, however the invasions from the north by
the Muslim rulers, brought in a continental mind-set. This was followed by the European invasion
from the maritime route that completely took away our maritime consciousness. The subjugation by
the European powers and the complete isolation during the Industrial revolution, further intensified
our continental approach towards governance and growth.
The oceans and the other freshwater bodies (largely ice), cover approximately 75% of the earth’s
surface and could be utilized for eclectic purposes like providing food and minerals, absorbing
greenhouse gases, generating oxygen, keeping climate change in check, determining weather
patterns and temperatures, and serving as highways for sea-borne international trade. The oceans
are an obvious primary option for other forms of global connectivity like communication (submarine
cables), energy (gas/oil pipelines), small island connectivity and others. Blue economy, is a term
often being used now, however as per the recent reports by the World Bank and the United Nations
(UN), there is no universal definition. It deals with twin trend of accelerated growth in the oceanbased economy and changes in the underlying ecosystem. With increasing pressure on the landbased resources and activities, the oceans and the water bodies can certainly provide sustainable
alternatives. The global ocean based economic value is estimated at US$ 2.5 – 6 trillion/year, and
over three billion people rely on the oceans for their livelihood.
India has a 7,517 km long coast line and along with another 14,500 km of potentially navigable
waterways and strategic location along major international maritime trade routes. However, the
contribution of India’s coast to the national trade activity is only 15%. India has the 18th largest
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with an area of approximately 2.3 million square kms. The possibility
of this area doubling in near future is extremely bright, as India’s case for extension is under active
consideration at the UN. The geostrategic location of India is everybody’s envy, on multiple counts.
India’s access to the most strategic international sea trade routes not only controls the global
economic engines, but also can choke the energy security for the biggest economic engines
High growth potential also brings concerns of security and sustainability. The Indian Ocean Region
(IOR), traditionally has been growing organically with minimal regulatory interventions. The regional
geopolitics has been extremely fragmented and thus, the extra-regional powers have had a free run,
in terms of meddling in the domestic politics of the nations and keeping them at bay to consolidate
their regional aspirations. The non-state actors are operating with impunity and more and more
nation states are using them as an extension of their foreign policy to ensure political instability and
diplomatic dominance. The climate change events and poor disaster management mechanisms are
causing, serious loss of life and property on a regular basis. Thus, a comprehensive mechanism is
required to ensure a safe, secure, and sustainable growth model that addresses concerns of security
from manmade threats, safety from natural calamities, sustainability across varied dimensions, and
an inclusive economic development plan.
The biggest challenge we have faced post-independence is the continental mindset among our
policymakers and strategic thinkers. It is only in the 21st century that we have started to witness
some progress in maritime strategic thinking; however, there is still a long way to go. The
contribution of the blue economy to the GDP is extremely negligible (< 4%), in-spite of having over
7,500 km of coastline and a vast number of freshwater systems across the length and breadth of the
country. The size of the Indian EEZ is almost equal to that of terrestrial India. Given the size of the
economy and the volume of imports & exports across sectors, our own fleet of carriers is minuscule.
The governance mechanism is a major cause for concern. Multiple areas in the blue economy and
maritime domain are not regulated and seem to be becoming a cause of concern, both from a
sustainability and security aspect.
The developing nations are not able to prioritize science and technology (S&T) for long-term indigenous capacity and capability building. The dependence on the extra-regional powers continues, at the cost of building an effective governance mechanism on the ground. The fragmentation continues, even among the stakeholders, ministries, local authorities, and practitioners within the nations and at the regional level.
The tropical waters present unique characteristics on multiple fronts. The siltation in the freshwater
systems is extremely high and adversely impacts any attempt at navigability of the waterways and
port management. The biodiversity is very high, but the local understanding of the biodiversity is too
low to manage sustainable practices. The most critical factor is the sub-optimal performance of the
sonar deployed for any acoustic survey underwater, irrespective of the application. The degradation
of sonar performance is of the order of 60% compared to the temperate and Polar Regions, where
the sonar were originally designed and developed. Underwater resource mapping or security threat
assessment cannot be effectively undertaken using this imported equipment. However, the west
continues to push its hardware at high cost using political coercion.
“Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)” is a term synonymous with good maritime governance. The
precise situational awareness allows for the effective deployment of human and material resources.
However, the ongoing MDA got highly publicised in strategic circles globally after the 9/11 incident
in the United States.
The underwater component of the MDA that may be referred to as “underwater domain awareness”
(UDA) remains only on the surface. The underwater survey requires acoustic capacity and capability
that are highly specialised and restricted in the open source. This, combined with the tropical
challenges, makes it extremely difficult to manage effective UDA in the IOR.
The modelling and simulation (M&S) have been effective in managing specific challenges, like the
tropical conditions. However, for effective M&S, the digital transformation and subsequent field
experimental validation are inescapable. Both aspects are extremely resource-intensive and demand
sustained effort over a long period of time. The developing nations, with competing socio-economic
budget requirements, are unable to prioritise such futuristic demands and thus remain trapped in
the false narratives of vested interest groups. The absence of a grand maritime strategy is probably
the key factor behind fragmentation and the lack of a governance mechanism. The Military Maritime
Strategy declared over one and a half decades ago will have no impact unless it flows from the
Grand Maritime Strategy.
India is now the most populous country in the world, with 5 million more people than China. The
interesting statistic is that 65% of the population is below the age of 35, with another 30 years of
working age. It is also important to note that 40% of the population is under the age of 20 and will
be seeking meaningful career opportunities soon. This is a unique situation, given that large parts of
the developed world are short of young people. While we develop the capacity and capability to
build infrastructure and know-how, we could also be exporting the same to the vast majority in
Africa and Asia. The unique tropical waters capability could be leveraged throughout the entire IndoPacific strategic space. The growing repulsion for China in the developed world could be offset by
our affirmative entry into the ecosystem. The developed world has a severe shortage of manpower,
and thus, it could be a great opportunity for us to export skilled human resources across the world.
The geopolitical and geostrategic realities also favour India in its leadership role. The global community today has the trust and confidence in our capabilities and the leadership to allow us to drive the regional structure. Diplomatically, we have positioned ourselves well to earn credibility as responsible nations rooted in the rule of law and a fair international order.
The information technology (IT) industry in India has grown phenomenally over the last few decades to manage the digital transformation that is required to establish a good governance mechanism. The talent pool is buzzing, with Indian professionals across the world leading the entire digital industry. The young India is being recognised by the entire global community today for its IT skills and ability to adapt to the new environment. The technical skills and ability to think have been the biggest assets for the migrating young Indian graduates across the world. The so-called brain drain of the 1990s is now being recognised as our biggest brand-building opportunity. Indian talent today is in a leadership role across the global giants and is being seen as the best pool. The technology companies in the developed world are relying heavily on the Indian talent pool.
The agility and innovation required to build an understanding of the tropical marine and freshwater systems can only be done by the start-up ecosystem. The frugal and minimally regulated ecosystem that we have could be our biggest asset going forward. The big corporations, along with the start-ups, can evolve an ecosystem that will have the agility of a start-up and the endurance of a corporate. The overly regulated ecosystem in the West and the developed world makes it unviable to bring about innovation, particularly for complex tropical waters. The M&S with field experimental validation will require a nebulous start-up ecosystem with frugal mechanisms in the beginning to build the structure.
The global community has formed multiple forums, like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and more, to deal with issues related to the Indo-Pacific strategic space. India is a prominent partner in the four-nation Quad formation, and given its strategic location, it can play a critical role in the group. India is well placed to build significant acoustic capacity and capability under the QUAD alliance and use it for multiple other aspects. The QUAD has recently announced the sharing of ocean data for nations in the Indo-Pacific for the public good. The Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF) is another platform for India to leverage economic interaction in the entire Indo-Pacific region.
The regional forums like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) are extremely potent for India to take the lead and drive the UDA framework. Such a move will automatically establish our role as regional leaders. The IORA and the BIMSTEC comprise of nations with huge demographic bulges, so meaningful engagement for the masses is a typical political agenda for the leadership. Thus, exporting skilling and knowledge enhancement to generate meaningful opportunities for the local communities and young population will go well.
The Honourable Prime Minister has announced the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision for 2015, and the entire Government of India is demonstrating aggressive intent to realise the vision. Megaprojects like the Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Inland Water Transport, Gati Shakti, Deep Ocean Mission, and many more have been announced to complement the SAGAR vision. The seriousness at the highest level is indicative of the priorities of the leadership. The Skill India and Atmanirbhar Bharat programmes have been made high-priority agenda items at the governance level. Digital India and Startup India are being driven in mission mode to ensure good governance.
The Capacity Building Commission (CBC), under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), is a new initiative to focus on policymakers, given the specialised domain expertise required among the decision makers. The CBC is extremely proactive and is making serious efforts to bring synergy among the varied ministries and encourage the pooling of resources. The honourable prime minister is repeatedly announcing the importance of the oceans and the blue economy, along with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in freshwater systems. India is well aligned with the geopolitical and geostrategic developments and also showing reasonable agility to restructure its internal policy constructs to align with the broad global perspective. Strong leadership being displayed has overhauled the entire government machinery.
The user-academia-Industry partnership is the key to such an opportunity and will require equal enthusiasm from all three partners. The marine and freshwater systems have the government as the main user, so as we are moving towards being a global power, the user realises the importance. Being the government, the policy support is assured. The demographic bulge is also ensuring education becomes a booming business opportunity, so academia is constantly looking towards upping the game by bringing new ideas. The industry has to keep pace with the global trend of harnessing the potential of the blue economy. The green is now getting too crowded, so the blue is in. A sector skill council dedicated to the UDA under the National Skill Development Council (NSDC) will be in order.
The digital transformation will be the key to bringing more situational awareness across multiple applications and sectors. The digital infrastructure will be versatile to allow cross-cutting data availability and enhanced analysis possibilities. Some of the important applications could be as follows:
Surveillance for Security The security establishment will require round-the-clock surveillance and monitoring of the underwater space for sub-surface intrusion. The advances in underwater robotics and autonomous underwater vehicles have made it extremely challenging for the security forces to detect any potential intrusion. The conventional deployment of warship-borne sonars is extremely resource-intensive and does not provide continuous monitoring. The sub-optimal sonar performance further ensures high asset deployment. Enhanced sensor technology and the platforms to carry the sensors to the required location will go a long way.
Undersea Mapping for Resources The tropical waters are known for their high biodiversity and rich mineral deposits. Mapping of these resources and effective and sustainable extraction are the fundamental requirements. The project-based approach is not only expensive but also inefficient. The fragmented approach needs to give way to a comprehensive resource mapping exercise done with a larger mandate and sustained initiative. Ecosystem-based approaches are the key.
Community Support The coastal and riverine communities need significant support to manage their livelihood practises in the underwater space. The uncertainty in their practises due to medium fluctuations and other ecosystem-related factors needs to be minimized. The financial institutions do not extend support to these communities as their practises are high-risk. Technology tools that can predict the ecosystem and provide precise interventions will go a long way in enhancing the livelihood for these communities.
Sustainability and Climate Change Risk The concerns of sustainability and climate change risk management can only be addressed with a qualitative and quantitative assessment of a long-term and comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). Such assessments can only be done using high-end data analytics and M&S tools.
Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) has now become the de facto governance tool for marine and freshwater systems. The data-driven policy interventions will go a long way in managing the challenges and opportunities in a nuanced manner. Real-time inputs and also precise prediction tools are the keys to effective interventions across applications. Communities and corporations can be better managed with such transparent governance tools.
The digital transformation will have several challenges, starting from high-end computational resource requirements to know-how, expertise, high energy requirements, field deployments, and more. The bigger challenge will be cyber security and ensuring enough confidence-building measures among the decision-makers to allow the digital transformation. Cyber security is a real threat and could put the entire digital transformation into knots.
Acoustic Capacity & Capability Building
The underwater medium only supports acoustic signals, and thus the acoustic survey is the de facto method for underwater domain awareness. The tropical waters require significant indigenous efforts to make sure that the medium impact is mitigated. The first and foremost aspect is the acoustic characterization of the underwater medium and establishing a one-to-one relationship between the application, the ecosystem, and the user.
The source-path-Receiver modelling is the most critical part of the M&S exercise. The source is the origin of the acoustic signal based on the specific application. A detailed qualitative and quantitative acoustic characterization of the source signal is the first step. The source signal varies from underwater radiated noise (URN) from underwater vessels like submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), and more. Even URN from surface vessels contributes significantly to the ambient noise in the ocean. The vocalisation of marine species could be another example of a source signal for bioacoustics analysis. Any underwater activity, both manmade and natural, has a unique acoustic signature and needs to be analysed for its origin and nature of manifestation. The path is the tropical underwater medium that will modify the source signal during acoustic propagation. The medium’s characteristics vary randomly on a diurnal and seasonal basis and could severely modify the source signal. A more precise characterization of the medium fluctuations will allow mitigation strategies to be more effective. The received signal at the receiver location will have to match the receiver characteristics to have any impact on it. The receiver could be a victim, like a marine species impacted by high-intensity transmission from any human activity, or a sensitive receiver trying to study the environmental impact on the marine species. The sonars deployed for monitoring underwater intrusions, extreme weather events, and disasters, as well as undersea resources, will require high-end signal analysis capabilities with detailed source-path-receiver characterization. Prediction of environmental impact assessments and climate change risk assessments will require precise source-path-receiver modelling efforts. MSP is a term used for such spatio-temporal mapping with real-time appreciation of the entire underwater domain.
The M&S effort will require critical validation using field experimental data analysis. To see, to understand, and to share is a three-step formulation to manage the entire field validation requirement and the subsequent actual data gathering and analytics requirement. The system consists of the sensors and the platform that will carry the sensors to the appropriate location for data collection. The acoustic sensors need to be of appropriate specifications for the application’s requirements. The platforms include static buoys and dynamic surface and subsurface vessels like ships, submarines, AUVs, UUVs, and others that will mount the sensors. These platforms should not interfere with the data collection process. The need to understand translates to the data analytics at multiple levels. The pre-processing to minimise the errors in the data itself starts with the sensor-related, deployment-related, processing-related, and the most important is the medium-related. The source-path-receiver model will provide the precise inputs needed for effective pre-processing. The clean data will have to go through application-specific processing to provide actionable inputs. Significant Digital Signal Processing (DSP) algorithms and data analytics tools will be deployed for the processing phase. The “share component will mean making the actionable inputs available to the user in real-time and in a user-friendly format. The user will vary from the ground-level operations team to the management and administration team to the high-level policy team. The information has to be made available in specific formats and on display devices that will allow quick action. These display devices could be large-screen or even hand-held mobile-based devices, depending on the application and the stakeholder. The acoustic capacity and capability building will include the availability of the input data from varied online sources for M&S and then the computational infrastructure, the DSP know-how to manage the tropical conditions, and the underwater field deployment hardware and platforms.
The massive acoustic capacity and capability building exercise across varied stakeholders and decision-makers would require a nuanced approach. The outreach, engage, and sustain approach is the only way forward.
The outreach will mean sensitising the entire ecosystem, which comprises policymakers, stakeholders, practitioners, academia, strategic thinkers, and more, on the nuances of the UDA framework. The outreach could be undertaken in the form of a structured construct with webinars, seminars, workshops, field interactions, training programs, and more. The outreach will allow the entire ecosystem to appreciate the relevance of the UDA framework in their ongoing efforts and how to make it effective. The engage will translate into the identification of specific areas of interest for each of the entities and then initiating the engagement strategy. The memoranda of understanding with the stakeholders will be specific and result-oriented. The students and young professionals will be offered UDA Fellowships to encourage them to take it up as a career opportunity. The UDA fellowships will be supported by the industry to build the user-academia-industry partnership in an effective manner. The integrated engagement plan will then translate to the sustain phase, where long-term projects for effective policy and technology interventions will be formulated and executed.
The entire way ahead will have to be undertaken at multiple levels. The ground level will include the local authorities and the local institutions getting involved to solve their local issues. Freshwater management, local community support, and many more such aspects will require UDA support. The state-level mechanisms will require user-academia-industry interaction to allow nuanced policy interventions. Education being a state subject will require the state government to get involved. The coastal states and states with big freshwater systems will have their own specific requirements, and based on the local issues, a customised construct will be formalized. The national level will have to address issues like security, the blue economy, the environment, disaster management, and others.
Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das
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.