In late December 2016, India completed Phase-I of its Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN) project that was begun after Mumbai 26/11, with the operationalization of a static sensor site on Sagar Island off the coast of West Bengal. Progress has also been made in integrating existing CSN sites with other tracking and sensor networks already operational along the Indian coastline. Attention, however, also needs to be given to indigenously developing the means to detect threats such as fiberglass submersibles that have very low detectability signatures. Given India’s strengthening coastal defences, non-state actors might just opt to up the ante by using asymmetric innovations in a bid to penetrate the same.


What CSN entails

The so-called Chain of Static Sensors project as CSN is also known, traces its origin to the recommendations made by the Group of Ministers constituted after the Kargil Conflict for overhauling India’s national security system. After much deliberation (read almost a decade) it was decided that the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) would implement this project by defining project requirements and undertaking a detailed vulnerability ‘Gap analysis’ in consonance with other stake holders, such as the Director General Lighthouses & Lightships (DGLL), Indian Navy (IN), concerned State Governments etc.


Accordingly, the CSN project is being implemented by ICG in two phases in collaboration with other stakeholders such as DGLL, IN, concerned State Governments etc. Under Phase-I of the network, static sensors have been set up at 46 different sites along the Indian coast, with 36 on the mainland, 6 in the Lakshadweep & Minicoy Islands and 4 in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This scheme is tailored to provide surveillance around areas of high sensitivity along India’s coast line.


Near gap-free real time surveillance covering up to 25 nautical miles from the Indian coastline would however be achieved only with the completion of Phase-II, which is expected to happen by 2019, when 38 additional remote sensor sites would be established as part of the CSN. These would be further complemented by some 8 mobile surveillance units to fill in for static sensor downtime. Each CSN site is equipped with the following:

-A 25 nautical-mile-range Terma Scanter 2100 HCP Frequency Diversity radar with a dual antenna for superior performance in monsoon weather,

-An ARGC-2400 active range-gated electro-optic sensor sourced from Obzerv Technologies with a range of up to 10 nautical miles in ‘fair weather’.

-A R40 Base Station from Saab Transponder Tech, which is the main component of a physical Automatic Identification System (AIS) shore station as defined by the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA). Its main purpose is to receive data from and transmit data to AIS transponder equipped vessels, travelling within the coverage area of the Base Station. This basically enables a CSN site to interrogate vessels equipped with registered transponders.

-A Marine Small Target Tracker that can positively identify vessels carrying class ‘A’ and ‘B’ AIS transponders.


Data Fusion

The data generated by coastal radar and other sensors at static sites such as the one on Sagar Island is transmitted to an ICG regional operating station in real time via a dedicated BSNL line to prevent interference. Due to the creation of a robust hierarchical network, real time data from CSN sites also flows to ICG Regional Headquarters and to ICG Headquarters in New Delhi itself.


The sensor data generated from this network is further supplemented with data from the National Automatic Identification System (NAIS). CSN is also being interfaced with the Vessel Traffic Management Systems (VTMS) of major ports. The data generated from these various systems all ride the National Command Communication Control and Intelligence Network (NC3I) of IN & ICG which links 51 Naval and Coast Guard stations. NC3I uses dedicated terrestrial data circuits, as well as satellite communications, which helps in networking stations in remote locations. The data coursing through the NC3I communication backbone is aggregated, correlated and then disseminated via the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurgaon. The 5,00,000 lines of indigenously written code on which CSN depends, incorporates hi-tech features like data fusion, correlation and decision support features thus facilitating better decision making. The entire NC3I Network has been integrated by Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore.


The NC3I network and IMAC are part of IN’s National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA) project. NC3I will function as the communication backbone of NMDA and IMAC will ultimately be rechristened as the NMDA Centre. Indeed, the end goal is to ‘achieve complete Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) so that all our (India’s) security agencies, state governments and central government have real-time pictures and data of Indian waters’.


NAIS itself is based on a network of 74 lighthouses fitted with the Saab supplied AIS which according to the company ‘provides real time merchant traffic information and the web server allows access to live data over internet’. NAIS also has suitable interfaces that facilitate the incorporation of radar, cameras and other sensors which is exactly what is being pursued by integrating it with the emerging CSN. And it has already been integrated with the Gulf of Kachchh (GOK) VTMS network. Ultimately CSN, NAIS and VTMS taken together will give what SAAB is calling a complete operating picture. Incidentally, Elcome Marine Services is SAAB’s India partner for this project and has delivered the whole network, very small aperture terminals, leased lines, installation, project management, design, and installation. It will also be maintaining the entire system in association with SAAB. It is further understood that some 21 VTMS sites in the Gulf of Kutch and Khambat will also be augmented with similar electro-optical equipment as the CSN sites under Phase-II of the project.



 As of today, despite CSN plugging into NAIS and various VTMS sites, the fact remains that it would only be able to identify boats above a certain size. After all, more than 3,00,000 small fishing boats operate along our coasts and several of these do not carry any kind of transponder whatsoever. Indeed, it was just such a boat (typically less than 25 metres in length) that was used in the suspected terror attempt off the coast of Porbandar in early 2015. So even if detected, final identification of friend from foe becomes a major issue for coastal security agencies when tracking very small vessels devoid of transformers and necessitates physical interdiction by ICG vessels. And that is one of main reasons why ICGS Rajratan was sent to physically tag the suspected Pakistani terror boat and investigate it.


An Indigenous Offering

Presently, an indigenous multi-sensor Integrated Coastal Surveillance System (ICSS) demonstrator is being fine-tuned by DRDO’s National Physical Oceanographic Laboratory, Kochi in collaboration with other DRDO laboratories with a view to fixing this problem. While NPOL is responsible for defining overall system configuration for the ICSS and managing interface control, a host of other DRDO laboratories are providing the varied sensors for this demonstrator project:


– The coastal surveillance radar for ICSS has been developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment Bengaluru

– The electro-optical sight is an offering of the Instruments Research and Development Establishment, Dehradun.

– An indigenous AIS has been developed by the Defence Electronics Application Laboratory (DEAL), Dehradun

-The integration software has been developed by the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Bangalore

– A diver detection sonar that can be integrated with ICSS has been developed by NPOL itself. NPOL’s diver deterrence system which emits high decibel acoustic pulses to disorient divers is also compatible with ICSS.


DEAL’s indigenous AIS transponder is likely to be much cheaper than imported alternatives & is suitable for small boats. A more production friendly ICSS unit is being set up at Balasore at the moment, subsequent to which it will be offered for Phase-II of CSN as an alternative to the mostly imported systems that make up Phase-I CSN sites on grounds of security, upgradability, as well as superior capability since it has a novel underwater detection element as well.


The need to deal with emerging threats

Indeed, it is time for India’s CSN to start thinking beyond ‘trackable but difficult to identify’ targets to ones that are extremely difficult to detect itself. As the US experience with semi-submersibles, narco-submarines and low profile vessels (LPVs) being used by drug cartels in the Americas reveals, there are several platforms out there which can be cobbled together by non-state actors from available materials in remote locations for covert operations that existing sensors will find rather difficult to. The erstwhile Liberation of Tamil Tigers Elam (LTTE) was actually quite proficient in the construction of LPVs and it is believed that some of its ‘boat builders’ may have been hired by South American drug cartels to help design and build such vessels whose cost can range from a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars. Such expertise could even flow to various perfidious actors in Pakistan or Bangladesh, given that it is known that terrorist organizations in South Asia do collaborate in unexpected ways.


It is perhaps time that all concerned stakeholders start brainstorming on ways to defeat such threats before they manifest themselves. Besides refashioning deployment procedures, attention will have to be given to garnering enough intelligence about networks that might be involved in the construction of such vessels, in order to neutralize the supply chain and expertise as it were. This in turn suggests that cultivating fishermen via outreach programs and making them an integral part of CSN is imperative, as is the need for multiple agencies to bury petty differences and share information in an actionable manner. Ultimately the real ‘soft upgrades’ in the security domain lie in getting the social network right as it were.


Featured Image Courtesy Bharat Electronics Limited

© Delhi Defence Review. Reproducing this content in full without permission is prohibited.