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The 2nd Nordic Summit and key take aways – A New Perspective Based on the UDA Framework

By: Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi participated in the 2nd India-Nordic Summit on 04 May 2022 in Copenhagen, along with Prime Ministers of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The India-Nordic Summit was first held in 2018 at Stockholm, and this was an opportunity to review the progress on multilateral cooperation on the post pandemic economic recovery, climate change, sustainable development, innovation, digitization and green & clean growth. The maritime sector, prominently figured in the discussions with focus on sustainable ocean management and Blue economic participation of the Nordic companies, especially in India’s Sagarmala project and the Inland Water Transport (IWT) project. The Honourable Prime Minister also invited the Sovereign Wealth Funds of the Nordic countries to invest in India.

India in the 21st century, has seen a strategic policy shift towards the maritime domain and the Government of India has given very clear message to all its instruments to work towards the blue economic growth. Right from the ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR), declaration as a regional framework, to multiple other measures to support such ambitious vision, there has been numerous mega projects that have been announced. Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Gati Shakti, Inland Water Transport (IWT), Deep Ocean Mission are some such announcements. The maritime capacity & capability building has been a major focus area that is being pushed at all the Summit level interactions.

The Nordic countries have been world leaders in the maritime sector. They enjoy long maritime tradition, high level of competence, substantial focus on innovation & sustainability, mature skilling & education infrastructure and above all willingness to collaborate with others. These nations have been able to leverage their brand value and global network to reach out to the emerging nations. Though these nations are now facing significant headwinds from their Asian competitors, who are far more cost effective and flexible.

In the global matrix, India is being seen as aspirational with significant demographic bulge. The growth rate has to be high, and they have to ensure that the aspirational Young India is meaningfully skilled and knowledgeable to be able to contribute meaningfully to the growth story.

India with its geostrategic and geopolitical location and over 7,500 km coastline and equally large freshwater systems has no choice but to focus on the maritime domain and the blue economy for its leap into the next level.

The Government of India has announced multiple mega schemes like Digital India, Skill India, Start-up India and many more to support the capacity & capability building. In-spite of multiple efforts to collaborate with global experts and building strategic partnerships with leading nations, we are way short of the desired expectations.

It may be important to note here that we were a global maritime power in the medieval period and the entire world was looking at us for leadership. The Industrial Revolution and the continued onslaught of the European powers to subjugate us economically and culturally, ensured a complete collapse of our indigenous capabilities and erosion of the traditional knowledge.

The decision makers need to appreciate the difference between products and solutions. The western powers are only interested in selling their products and not providing us the desired solutions. Products should not drive the solution, but the solution should determine the required product. The tropical littoral waters of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) are very different from the polar deep waters of the Nordic region as shown in figure below. The knowhow developed by them is for their region and now they are trying to dump their excess to us as products. Customizing the same to our conditions is extremely cost intensive and thus unviable for them.

The demographic advantage we have needs to be utilized to build our own capacity & capability. We should build the solution customized to our waters and we only buy the specific hardware products required from them to build the system designed by us. Software customized to our conditions has to be our own.

The tropical littoral waters present very unique characteristics as far as underwater acoustic propagation is concerned and also as far as the sediment transport goes. The oceanic activities and the undersea resources need to be monitored before we can attempt any extraction or exploitation.

The sediment at the bottom of the water body both in the marine or freshwaters, will determine the navigability of the waters. The collective situational awareness, that we call Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) is the key for effective management of the challenges & opportunities.

The sonar performance in the tropical littoral waters gets degraded by 70%, compared to the polar region. The underwater acoustic propagation in the tropical littoral waters ensure such significant degradation, which is not factored in any of our decision making. The complete deployment mechanism goes out of gear when we deploy the same sonars with the same level of knowhow in our waters. From a strategic sense, the entire asset deployment in the tropical littoral waters is close to eight times due to such poor performance of the sonars for UDA. This will have serious repercussion on the effectiveness and economic viability of the project. Enhancing acoustic capacity & capability building backed by local site-specific Research & Development (R&D) is the key for effective sonar deployment.

The tropical littoral waters also are unique in terms of the sediment transport. The monsoons in the tropical waters are concentrated within three months, so the flow of water is extremely high resulting in high sediment flow and massive siltation. The navigability of the waterways and the ports is an unimaginable challenge to ensure continuous availability of water below keel. The heavy dredging equipment available with the western partners and the high cost of dredging activities is a significant motivator to push for dredging as the only solution. To give a sense of the enormity of the issue, during the monsoon from May to October, the Brahmaputra transports 95% of the annual suspended load at Pandu at an average daily rate of 2.12 million metric tons. It would need over 141,300 trucks – of 15 tons each – to carry this away.

 

Unless we embark on sustained local site-specific R&D to understand the unique sediment transport pattern in our region, we will not be able to deploy cost effective measures like sediment trapping, sediment diversion and many more. Many of the port management and waterways projects have become unviable due to excessive dredging cost in the absence of alternative and effective sediment management measures suited to our tropical littoral conditions.

The sediment transport study requires underwater acoustic survey using sonars. Precise acoustic survey is extremely critical for data analytics and we have to mitigate the sub-optimal performance of the sonar in the tropical littoral waters. The mitigation will require significant Modelling & Simulation (M&S) with onsite field experimental validation. Acoustic capacity & capability building, thus is the key to such efforts. The Nordic Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway are world leaders in Sonar Technology, however these sonars need to be customized to the tropical conditions with indigenous M&S algorithm development. 

The mega projects, particularly the ones funded by global financial institutions have a separate budget for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), however due to lack of appreciation for acoustic impact on the underwater ecosystem, these EIA studies are highly skewed. The underwater ecosystem is highly sensitive to the acoustic signal as sound is the only signal that propagates underwater. The marine mammals and multiple other species in the marine and freshwater systems depend on sound to perceive the environment around them. They use sound for multiple biologically critical functions like foraging, communication, navigation, breeding and more. The freshwater Dolphins in the Brahmaputra, Ganga and other major river systems in India are blind and use acoustic vision to perceive the environment around them. Thus, increasing activities in the underwater domain adversely impact their habitat and we refer to this as Acoustic Habitat Degradation. The Nordic countries are the pioneers in managing Acoustic Habitat Degradation in their waters, however they are happily pushing their products in our waters for commercial gains with scant regards to the degradation to our ecosystem.

 

The UDA framework proposed by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune encourages pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts across the stakeholders to support local site-specific R&D. The ongoing fragmented approach among the stakeholders is a major impediment to fund such resource intensive initiatives, particularly in developing nations, where multiple socio-economic sectors need to be balanced. The indigenous effort backed by Science & Technology (S&T), can be funded only with a comprehensive whole of nation approach. The UDA framework will bring policy & technology intervention along with acoustic capacity & capability building to manage the challenges and opportunities across stakeholders in a comprehensive manner. The mission mode focus like the Pradhan Mantri’s Digital India, Start-up India, Gati Shakti and many others should be accorded to the UDA initiative.

The blue economic potential in the country is immense and with the right acoustic capacity & capability building, it is possible to drive a massive economic turn around and GDP growth with effective implementation of the UDA framework. The Digital Ocean construct driven by the UDA framework will provide significant technology tools for better governance mechanisms. The technology tools proposed under the UDA framework allow data driven policy & technology interventions to support sustainable economic growth keeping the interest of the local communities. This truly will support people, economy and nature and all funds meant for encouraging initiatives such as these can be channelized.

This being the Decade of the Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development, declared by the United Nations, the UDA framework can truly support the global cause.

The Blue Bonds is another initiative proposed by MRC to back the UDA framework. The Sovereign Wealth Funds can channelize their money more effectively to support the three pillars of people, economy and nature. The blue bonds have a very unique structure of supporting economically viable projects that are sustainable in the long run. The UDA framework can truly realise the SAGAR vision of the Honourable Prime Minister with meaningful support from the Nordic nations to fast track our blue economic growth.

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About The Author

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.