Thursday, June 13, 2024

Coast Guard: Maintaining The Sanctity Of Our Seas

By Kamal Shah

From rescuing marooned fishermen and saving vessels in stormy waters to checking to smuggle of contraband and piracy as well as ensuring there are no security breaches by enemies of the state; the Coast Guard truly is our frontline in defending our waters. The enormity of the task comes to the fore in this in-depth interview with Director-General VS Pathania and we can truly be grateful to the men and women who serve so selflessly in keeping the country safe.

Q. What is your vision for the Indian Coast Guard?

Ans: The Indian Coast Guard is a comparatively young and yet a highly dynamic Armed Force of the Union, which has been known for adopting technically, advanced equipment since its formative years. Presently there is rapid advancement in technology and newer versions of equipment and software are launched, my efforts are focused on the need for the organisation to be future ready in every sense of the phrase and adopts rapidly to sustainable and indigenous solutions. Our mantra for future readiness will be ‘Innovate Indigenous Ideas’ and be a step ahead to provide professional and dependable safety and security solutions in the maritime domain. 

Another focus area would be marine environment protection; we all know that the very existence of humanity depends on the health of the oceans around us. As an immediate measure, we have embarked on a war footing to progress towards ‘Plastic Free Oceans’. We are collaborating with different organisations and Ministries to seek their assistance in harnessing this goal. As part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day being conducted on 21 September 2022 which coincides with the Azadi ka Amrut Mahotsav we are arranging a large human effort all along the 7500Kms long coastline to collect plastic waste and dispose it responsibly. However, this is an annual event being organised by ICG, this year we have enhanced the scale to include NGOs, NCC and various other Central and State Agencies for achieving coastal cleanup at larger scale while enhancing awareness among the citizens.

IA&D Editorial Director Kamal Shah interacting with DG Coast Guard VS Pathania in his office

Q. What is ICG’s plan for its equipment portfolio? What are some ongoing projects you can share and potential procurements that, the ICG has in mind?

Ans: Presently, ICG has a strength of 159 ships and 74 aircraft. The ongoing projects include setting up a Pollution Response Team in the North East Region, an ACV training school in North West Region and maintenance facilities for ships & aircraft strategically along the coast. Apart from this, ICG is also considering the setting up of a new Region South West at Mangaluru to meet the expanding demands that have evolved from the well-planned focus of the Government on the ocean economy. Some of the acquisition projects being processed presently include Fast Patrol vessels (FPVs), Air Cushion vehicles (ACVs), New Generation Offshore Patrol Vessels (NGOPVs) and Interceptor Boats (IBs). Additionally, we are looking towards induction of following aviation assets:-

(a) ALH Mk-III: The Contract for supply of 16 ALH Mk-III to ICG was concluded with M/s HAL, Bangalore. These helicopters are equipped with State of Art technology and are capable of surveillance, interdiction, and standoff support for ship boarding parties and Pollution Response from shore as well as ships. The helicopters are also equipped to undertake Search and Rescue (SAR) and Causality Evacuation at sea.  As on date, 13 helicopters have been inducted in ICG and are operating from Bhubaneswar, Porbandar, Kochi and Chennai. The remaining three helicopters will be accepted by ICG by Jul/Aug 2022 and will be based at Chennai.

(b) TEHH: Efforts are ongoing to develop Heavy Helicopters for ICG {14 Twin Engine Heavy Helicopters (TEHH)} as approved by CCS. These helicopters would be  in the 10 – 12 Tons All Up Weight Category and will be capable of accomplishing Maritime Surveillance, SAR, Mass  Casualty evacuation and Pollution Response missions up to 200 Nm from coastline. Induction of these helicopters will enhance ICG capability to undertake multidimensional operations even at the fringes of the AoR. 

(c) MMMA: ICG is progressing a case for procurement of 6 Multi Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMMA).This will assist in filling the gaps in the surveillance area due to restrictions on endurance of the present aircraft fleet, and will increase the reach of ICG for effective surveillance in entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and part of Indian Search and Rescue Region (ISRR).

(d) DOR MLU Programme: Towards enhancing the capabilities of the present fleet of aircraft and keeping pace with technological advancement while addressing obsolescence issues, ICG has concluded a contract with M/s HAL for the Mid-Life Upgrade of 17 Dornier Aircraft. This upgrade includes fitment of state-of-the-art system/sensors including Glass Cockpit, Mission Management System, Pollution Surveillance System (PSS), 12.7 mm AV Gun, Five blade propellers etc., which is in consonance with the envisaged growth of the ICG and to meet the future challenges. The first two Dornier aircraft are presently undergoing the upgrade.

(e) ALH Mk-III (Repeat Order): Further, on completion of the deliveries of 16 ALH Mk-III, ICG would be progressing a case for procurement of 09 more ALH Mk-III to augment the deficient requirement of Rotary wing fleet. 

Q. How does the ICG plan to equip itself with new/upcoming platforms and systems? ICG’s long-term plan?

Ans: ICG with its lean strength of 159 ships, 74 aircraft and about 15,000 personnel shoulders a huge responsibility to maintain maritime law and order in our vast area of responsibility, which is about 1.5 times of the landmass. The modern and unconventional maritime challenges such as Maritime terrorism, Contraband & Narcotic smuggling, illegal human migration, marine pollution, IUU fishing, illegal harvesting of prohibited marine species and other asymmetric threats pose a wide array of challenges, which tests not only our capability but also our resilience.

Accordingly, to mitigate these maritime responsibilities, ICG will be resorting to indigenous procurements with focus on IDDM projects so that we are cost effective, self-reliant and ready to adapt to future developments in the domain. We have a vision of becoming a 200 ship and 100 aircraft strong maritime force by 2030. Here I would like to clarify that the focus is not on the number of assets but the capability of those assets, which would set standards for the maritime industry and offer a cost effective option to other Maritime Agencies of the world. 

Q. How do you see the Coast Guard Aviation shaping up while it recently inducted the indigenous Advanced Light helicopter Mk-III? What other aerial assets do the ICG intend to acquire?

Ans: The modernisation of ICG Aviation is an integral part of the major revamp of coastal security apparatus. Accordingly, a Contract for supply of 16 ALH Mk-III was concluded with M/s HAL, Bangalore out of which 13 aircraft have been delivered and remaining 03 will be delivered by Jul/Aug 22. The indigenous Advance Light helicopter Mk-III has strengthened ICG reach and capabilities. These Helicopters are force-multipliers when embarked onboard ships and enhance the range & capabilities of the ships multi folds because of their speed, endurance and surveillance capabilities. Further, despite the repetition, as stated earlier ICG intends to acquire following:-

  • TEHH (Twin-engine heavy helicopters
  • MMMA (Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft)
  • DOR MLU (Mid Life Upgrade) Programme 
  • ALH Mk-III (Repeat Order) 

Q. Is it a good idea to go ahead with a 100% indigenization in ICG, and is it a practical possibility?

Ans: The GoI initiative of Atmanirbharta, which translates, to 100% indigenisation is an extremely positive step towards self-reliance in the defence sector. I am sanguine that the hurdles envisaged in the implementation of the policy could be easily overcome, given the talent pool and capability of our industry, in particular DPSU/PSU, startups and MSMEs. Presently though, 100% indigenisation has not been achieved in shipbuilding due to various technical and IPR issues, we are working with the industry with firm timelines to find alternative solutions and the future looks promising.

Q. How has the ICG contributed to the mission of self-reliance so far, and how it plan to accelerate it further?

Ans: ICG is committed to self-reliance and in line with this mission; the latest ICG OPVs have been designed and built by M/s Goa Shipyard Limited keeping in tune with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. In the aviation field, a contract for the supply of 16 Advanced Light helicopters (ALH Mk-III) was concluded with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in March 2017, which are scheduled to operate from four ICG squadrons. 13 helicopters have been indigenously built and already inducted hitherto and displays our resolve for self-reliance.

Q. How would you rate the performance and quality of the Indian private sector with regards to meeting the ICG’s operational and technological needs?

Ans: The private sector is playing a major role for Indian Coast Guard. Most of the newly built ships are designed and manufactured by the private sector. These ships are meeting the ICG operational requirements efficiently. In particular, we look up to the private ship repair yards to provide timely and cost effective solutions for our ship repair and maintenance of assets.

I am confident that, with the advent of potent defense private sector players in India, we will have access to excellent workmanship and technological tools that would suit our future requirements. We are also looking forward to collaborate closely with the private sector under the ambit of ‘Make’ schemes to develop future ready technologies in India. Infact, I would like to use this platform to invite the private sector to come forward with innovative solutions not just in manufacturing but also in research and development for enhancing the capabilities of the ICG. 

IA&D Editorial Director Kamal Shah & ICG Chief VS Pathania share the frame

Q. What, in your opinion is the greatest challenge for self-reliance, and what are the critical solutions? Which areas and domains would you suggest that the Indian defence manufacturers focus on to improve the future projects of ICG?

Ans: We are certain that progress towards 100% Atma Nirbharta is achievable. The government provides and extremely conducive and empowered environment to the industry for developing critical solutions. I am optimistic that in the coming years we would witness a marked change in the defence industry with young minds and entrepreneurs venturing into the field of defence manufacturing. As a maritime Agency, ICG is looking forward to indigenous solutions for marine engines, power generation systems, navigational equipment and machinery control systems for its surface platforms along with avionics and equipment for its aviation platforms.

Q. Is there anything you would like to share on the need to continue to hone individual technological acumen amongst the ranks and files of the ICG?

Ans: Since inception, the Indian Coast Guard has gradually evolved into a mature and competent force with an impeccable execution capability. Our success is laid on the bedrock of grit, determination & teamwork. Considering future challenges, innovation will undoubtedly be the key to evolution and survival of the smartest. Therefore, my message to all the Ranks and Files of ICG, is ‘To promote an innovative approach and exploit technology for optimal operational delivery’. 

As a professional, dependable and always ready force, the Coast Guard has to propel and churn in tune with changing times and adapt to mitigate daily challenges at sea and land that have an impact on the safety and security in the maritime domain. I will always encourage my youngsters to be ‘better not best because best has no scope to improve’. Remember, every day the goal post is evolving and we need to match up too so that we remain ahead of the adversary. We in the ICG are a team, which is committed to synergistically taking on all possible challenges and making our presence felt in the service of the nation and humanity at large. 

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