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Underwater domain awareness must for SAGAR

NewsUnderwater domain awareness must for SAGAR

The UDA framework addresses concerns and provides a structure that will seamlessly bring all the stakeholders together to complement the SAGAR vision.


‘We seek a future for the Indian Ocean that lives up to the name of

SAGAR-Security And Growth for All in the Region”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, March 2015.


The Indian Prime Minister, while delivering the keynote address at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, highlighted India’s perspective on the regional security dynamics, particularly in the backdrop of the emerging Indo-Pacific as a single strategic space. The SAGAR declaration in March 2015, is the highest ever declaration to define India’s regional outlook for the IOR. As we look deeper, it has the following aspects behind the broad vision:

  1. It acknowledges the security concerns that we face in the region due to the political instability and the socio-economic status of the IOR rim nations.
  2. It recognises the tremendous economic potential that exists for the nations in the region to harness.
  3. It emphasises the need for regional consolidation and bringing together nations in the region and prevent extra-regional powers from meddling with our peace and prosperity.
  4. It attempts to revive the rich maritime heritage we shared and rekindle the sense of pride in our rich culture and traditions.

The SAGAR vision, by way of its construct, amplifies the security and the growth aspects in equal measure. It also brings the outreach to the neighbourhood with a more nuanced approach, reminding ourselves and the onlookers about our rich maritime legacy. A civilisation with over 5,000 years of heritage and extended moments of maritime glory has to look at the future vision differently.

The government on its part has initiated multiple projects to build the maritime infrastructure to fast track the growth. Port-led growth supported by Sagarmala, the internal connectivity through the national waterway projects, multimodal connectivity systems, smart initiatives, digital India and more are some of the mega initiatives in the backend to support the grand SAGAR vision. Project implementations are being fast tracked and effective governance mechanisms are being put in place, to encourage effective realization of the vision. The realization of the SAGAR vision will entail multiple dimensions to be understood and handled.

The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is the fundamental requirement of any attempt at realising something as ambitious as the SAGAR vision. The crux of realising the SAGAR vision will be to ensure a safe, secure, sustainable growth model. The safe is safely from natural disasters given such a huge investment planned in the future and these regions are getting more and more vulnerable to natural disasters originating from the water bodies. The secure is security from any manmade threats. The IOR with its political instability and volatility raises significant security concerns and we have to build measures to contain such risks. The sustainable includes multiple dimensions of sustainability not limited to ecological. The growth of course will be important and cannot be undermined in any human effort. Blue economy needs to be given significant push with a holistic approach.

The ongoing MDA effort is limited to the security requirement and due to concerns of the highly classified data being involved, has remained military driven with minimal participation of the other stakeholders. The security-driven MDA suffers from another limitation of remaining only on the surface. The underwater component is a serious gap given the tropical littoral limitation. The underwater technology has been largely imported from the West with sub-optimal performance in the tropical littoral waters of the IOR. The site-specific RandD is a work in progress, as it requires enormous resources for field experimental RandD. The military budget alone cannot drive the massive requirement of the acoustic capacity and capability building needed in our waters. A more inclusive approach is inescapable.

The fragmented approach across maritime stakeholders, namely maritime security, blue economy, marine environment and disaster management, and science and technology has to be replaced with a structured approach to pool in resources and synergise their efforts. Far more focus is required to encourage the seamless interaction among the stakeholders to bring policy and technology interventions along with acoustic capacity and capability building. The unique challenges and opportunities of IOR need to be understood before we plan any way forward.

The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework proposed by the author and progressed by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), addresses these concerns and provides a structure that will seamlessly bring all the stakeholders together to complement the SAGAR vision. Let us look at some of the key challenges faced by us in the new global order. We will look at the internal and external issues separately.

The domestic issues include demographic challenge to channelise the energies of a young India towards productive engagement. The economic development has to maintain the higher growth rate for a long time, to be able to generate the resources for the ever increasing population. The positive engagement of the young population will also ensure minimal internal security concerns. On the one end, we find significant opportunities waiting for us, however the skilling and knowledge gap makes our youth unemployable. The most critical skilling and academic modules to facilitate acoustic capacity and capability building for realization of the UDA framework, are acoustic survey, underwater bio-technology and underwater ai and robotics. Not a single academic institution in the country runs these courses at any level.

The three modules have cross cutting applications across multiple mega initiatives of the Government of India that can potentially generate massive job opportunities across disciplines. Most of these opportunities are now being given to foreign vendors, who are trying to provide canned solutions that are not aligned to our waters. The start-up India initiative must encourage innovation to support the UDA framework.

These innovations can bring significant policy and technology interventions that will be home grown and customized to our waters. The start-up ecosystem will have the agility and ability to drive such niche technologies and facilitate scaling up at an unimaginable pace as required by a maritime nation of our size.

The external issues include the geopolitical and geostrategic developments in the Indo-Pacific strategic space. On the one hand, India is being given significant importance in the global power play and the on the other end, our maritime capacity and capability building efforts are still work in progress. The extra-regional powers are still having a free run in the IOR and are easily meddling in the domestic politics of our neighbourhood. India needs to step up, as a credible maritime power in the IOR to support all the nations in the region with a Science and Technology (SandT) driven UDA framework to manage the challenges and opportunities, unique to the IOR. The regional maritime governance will require a nuanced approach and India has to take the leadership role in the true spirit of the SAGAR vision. The UDA framework should be an agenda point in all the regional forums like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and many more. The Indo part of the Indo-Pacific must be understood in its strategic context and massive capacity and capability building initiative is required at an unprecedented scale.

The user-academia-industry partnership is most critical to seamlessly build on the UDA framework for supporting the SAGAR vision. The figure here presents a unique model that is relevant in the present times and can significantly boost the government’s initiatives on multiple fronts.

The figure presents a comprehensive user-academia-industry partnership model. Starting from the top, we see that the multiple fundamental project requirements, like Underwater Radiated Noise Management, Ocean Ambient Noise Modelling, Underwater Channel Modelling and many more clubbed as Acoustic Capacity and Capability Building, need to be initiated and fed into the funnel.

The funnel is supported on both sides by the core domain expertise on one end and the mega government initiatives on the other. The core domain expertise includes UW Robotics, Signal Processing, Modelling and Simulations, Data Science and more. The mega government initiatives include Start-Up India, Make in India, Skill India, Digital India and more that can comprehensively support the UDA initiative. The output of the funnel will be the effective policy and technology interventions along with the acoustic capacity and capability building requirements needed to push the SAGAR vision. The UDA and the SAGAR are not limited to the marine alone, and can equally serve freshwater systems as well.

The bottom and the right side of the figure present the multiple stakeholders who have stakes in this user-academia-industry partnership. They all can come together and drive this effort of national importance. The UDA for SAGAR is a critical component of the ongoing geopolitical and geostrategic requirement and deserves far more attention at multiple levels of decision making.


Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das is Founder & Director, Maritime Research Center (MRC), Pune.


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