Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework for taking India into the New Global Order

Source: magzter.com

India in the 21st century, is in a very different standing – politically, socio-economically and also geopolitically. The aspirations of the young India has a very different dynamics and the nation & its leadership needs to recognize the demographic challenges and opportunities. The young energy needs to be channelized to participate in nation building rather than remain engaged in fierce competition for higher learning and job opportunities. Skilling and employability has be the focus, rather than degrees and certificates. The 5 trillion dollar economy dream requires massive participation by the youth and more importantly with far better awareness and abilities. 

The entire geopolitical and geo-strategic focus in the 21st century has shifted to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The nations in the region and also the extra-regional powers, all want to maintain their strategic presence in the IOR. The availability of undersea resources, movement of energy resources and other raw materials, movement for trade of all kinds and connectivity of all kinds has made the IOR the epicentre of global trade and strategic interactions. The pre-modern states in the IOR has also ensured large scale interference by the extra-regional powers to meddle in the domestic politics of the region and encouraging non-state actors to be used as the regular instrument of state power. Such political volatility generates substantial security concerns. The lack of regional consolidation and fragmental polity is highly detrimental to regional maritime governance structure. 

The Indo-pacific strategic initiative is a maritime construct and the centrality of India in the global power play demands a nuanced way forward in our own national thought leadership and capacity and capability building. The Indo-pacific strategic space is spread across the tropical littoral waters of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the South China Sea (SCS). The tropical littoral waters have their unique underwater characteristics that have a significant impact on the sonar performance deployed for any underwater survey requirement. The performance degradation is very severe to the extent of making it economically unviable to deploy such devices. The global underwater technology developments originated during the Cold War period, when the two super powers invested heavily to build effective sonars for military purpose.

The same sonars then penetrated to the other non-military applications and contributed to economic growth. However, these technology developments were restricted to the temperate and polar waters that are characterized by deep cold waters with different acoustic properties. The tropical littoral waters are characterized by warm shallow waters that demonstrate very high interaction of the acoustic propagation with the surface and the bottom, thereby causing poor sonar performance. Taming the tropical littoral waters require massive field experiments to manage the unique acoustic characteristics of the underwater propagation. These field experimental efforts are highly resource intensive and the socio-economically developing nations along with politically volatile nations are unable to prioritise science & technology to overcome these challenges. The extra-regional powers are too happy to push their hardware to these vulnerable nations with the bogey of security threats. 

The Indo part of the Indo-Pacific needs to be recognized by India and build maritime capabilities and capacities, to realistically participate in the new global order.

There has been substantial push by the Government of India (GoI) at the highest level to recognize the maritime challenges and opportunities. The Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision of the Honourable Prime Minister in May 2015, is a very significant declaration for a regional outlook. It not only recognizes the security challenges and the massive growth opportunities, but also calls for a leadership role for India in the IOR. The SAGAR vision has become central to multiple mega projects initiated by the GoI to realize the grand vision. Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Inland Water Transport and many more are the mega projects being driven by the GoI.

On one end we see massive initiatives by the GoI, however the skill development and the employability initiatives have not been able to keep pace with the Human Resource (HR) requirement at the mega scale it merits. The young generation and even the public at large are getting to know of these mega initiatives through news bulletins and policy papers, rather than concrete academic programs and research initiatives. Such mega initiative need deep understanding of the entire dynamics including policy, technology & innovation and human resource development. 

The Way Ahead

The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) aims at understanding the undersea realm of our maritime areas. The earth’s undersea geophysical activities have a lot of relevance to the well-being of our communities and monitoring of such activities provides vital clues to minimise the impact of devastations caused by natural disasters. The commercial activities in the undersea realm need precise inputs on the availability of resources for their efficient and sustainable exploitation. It also strengthens conservation initiatives for better estimation of habitat degradation and species vulnerability.

The strategic significance of the UDA capabilities for India cannot be gainsaid in the context of our emerging security environment challenges as also the government’s major diplomatic initiatives in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the larger Indo-Pacific construct as well as a new, alternative vision exemplified by the Quadrilateral Dialogue (the Quad). In our context, achievement of UDA has its own peculiar challenges: the tropical littoral waters demand much higher resources to even undertake acoustic surveys in small regions which many IOR developing littoral and island countries with their limited know-how and meagre resources. The canned solutions (largely hardware) from the developed world do not apply to the site specific tropical littoral waters and thus import of underwater hardware with minimal indigenous efforts have failed miserably.

UDA framework proposed by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC) is a unique concept to ensure safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the IOR.

It is very well aligned to the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision. The UDA framework is not a mere underwater appendage of the conventional MDA initiative. It comprehensively manages the maritime challenges and opportunities in the tropical littoral waters of the IOR. The UDA framework could be a critical diplomatic tool for regional cooperation and consolidation which, however, requires specialized capacity and capability building on all fronts, namely policy, technology & innovation and human resource development. Details on the UDA framework is attached at the end.

The larger Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), of which UDA is a critical component, has been the starting block for any attempt at effective maritime governance. The MDA framework was given substantial importance geopolitically post the 9/11 incident after which the US and its allies went on an over drive to achieve reasonable levels of MDA. In the IOR, the 26/11 incident was the trigger for massive MDA activities driven by the government of India. However, both these initiatives have largely remained security driven and have failed to engage with the other stakeholders. One of the major limitation of the conventional MDA framework is that it is restricted to the surface only and does not address the underwater threats.

The security driven formulation further adds to the limitation by minimizing the participation by the S&T providers and the blue economic entities due to concerns regarding highly classified military information. The Indo-Pacific is a strategic construct – an “imagined geography” like the other competing constructs – to manage the global commons through a rules-based approach to facilitate regional peace and stability free from coercive, disruptive agendas of other powers to facilitate prosperity of other regional countries and freedom of navigation and economic cooperation involving the non-regional countries.

The “Indo” in the Indo-Pacific has a significant meaning for India in its strategic vision in the rapidly changing geopolitical scenario and the emerging common challenges such as climate change, terrorism, state fragility et cetera.

The developments in the maritime domain for India in the last five years have been remarkable compared to the couple of decade’s before. However, the older, familiar approaches would need to be fundamentally revised in the context of rapidly shifting balance of power equations with implications for regional equilibrium. The IOR has attained strategic relevance for multiple reasons in the 21st century with its unique set of unprecedented challenges. The national UDA capacity building will advance India’s growth and strategic challenges in all the spheres described above.

Underwater Domain Awareness Framework

A conceptual framework, constituting the foundation for developing a national UDA policy, is represented by Fig. 1, The underlying requirement for all the stakeholders is to know the developments in the undersea domain, make sense out of these developments and then respond effectively and efficiently to them before they take shape of an event.

The UDA on a comprehensive scale needs to be understood in its horizontal and vertical construct. The horizontal construct would be the resource availability in terms of technology, infrastructure, capability and capacity specific to the stakeholders or otherwise. The stakeholders represented by the four faces of the cube will have their specific requirements, however the core will remain the acoustic capacity and capability. The vertical construct is the hierarchy of establishing a comprehensive UDA. The first level or the ground level would be the sensing of the undersea domain for threats, resources and activities. The second level would be making sense of the data generated to plan security strategies, conservation plans and resource utilization plans. The next level would be to formulate and monitor regulatory framework at the local, national and global level.

Fig. 1 Comprehensive Perspective of Undersea Domain Awareness

The figure above gives a comprehensive way forward for the stakeholders to engage and interact. The individual cubes represent specific aspects that need to be addressed. The User-Academia-Industry partnership can be seamlessly formulated based on the user requirement, academic inputs and the industry interface represented by the specific cube. It will enable more focused approach and well defined interactive framework. Given the appropriate impetus, the UDA framework can address multiple challenges being faced by the nation today. Meaningful engagement of Young India for Nation Building, probably is the most critical aspect that deserves attention.

Multi-disciplinary and multi-functional entities can interact and contribute to seamlessly synergize their efforts towards a larger goal. The fig. 2 shows a detailed structure of the enormous blue economic opportunities that open up given the UDA framework, not just for the marine areas but also for the freshwater systems like the rivers, lakes and more. The young India will do well to take a deeper look at the opportunities and prepare themselves to the specific skills and knowledge to be able to present themselves as employable for these new openings.

Fig. 2 UDA Framework Opportunities
Dr Arnab Das

Dr Arnab Das is a former Naval Officer and has obtained a PhD on Underwater Technology from IIT Delhi. He is Founder & Director of Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune and also runs a startup called M/S NirDhwani Technology Pvt Ltd (NDT). Both MRC and NDT focus on the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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