August 7, 2022
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The Emergent Force Posture and Roles of the Indian Coast Guard


Coast Guards play a vital role within the ‘national fleet’ of any maritime power in the defence and protection of the country’s maritime coastal region and enables in the active defence against various maritime asymmetric threats and challenges. In the contemporary context, Coast Guards work closely with each other in protecting and coordinating the management of a variety of human-induced and non-human threats and challenges through the spectrum of sea and air assets that they deploy in the respective maritime zones. While ‘search and rescue’ is the primary operation of Coast Guards, they do perform vital operations of counter-piracy, counter-maritime terrorism and counter-narcotics, small arms and human smuggling operations at Sea.


Three factors have resulted in the expanding roles of the Coast Guards the world over. One, the increasing entitlements of the Exclusive Economic Zone by the UN Law of the Sea for countries to arbiter and exploit the resources that warrants for the greater patrol of the EEZs and the protection of these zones from external interference and poaching; Two, the coordinated patrols by navies bring in the Coast Guards to assist them in the various bilateral and multilateral maritime exercises. Coast Guards perform various constabulary and humanitarian and disaster relief operations much more effectively than navies in many circumstances; Three, Coast Guards envisage and provide better Maritime Domain Awareness in the EEZ and the extended waters beyond EEZ and that enables navies to coordinate deployments with Coast Guards. 



Transformative Roles of the Coast Guard


In the age of organisational and technological transformation impacting on the armed forces and especially the Navies, the Coast Guard is experiencing similar transformation that prepares them for newer roles. The Coast Guards all over the world are being readied as a multiple-mission service. The Coast Guard is prepared for operational roles in 10 key mandatory and specialized missions in the maritime environment they are: search and rescue; marine safety; ports, waterways, and coastal security; drug interdiction; migrant interdiction; defense readiness; aids to navigation; marine environmental protection; living marine resources; and other law enforcement, besides in countries that have ice sea areas, they are entrusted to ice operations.


Since the Coast Guard is a service that compliments the Navy, four specific transformative roles have been evolving:


Complementing role Coast Guards and Navies are increasingly configured in platforms, order of battle and operations with aim of the Coast Guards complementing the Navies. Even as the Navies assume more high seas operations and roles that goes beyond traditional conventional operations and deterrence, Coast Guards are increasingly configured with more naval platforms and don the operations that are in realm of defensive for the navies.


Synergizing Combat role Coast Guards are tailored to operate within the parameters of the naval scope of operations, even though they are autonomous units. Therefore, the equipment and nature of operations are based on a derivation of how each navy construes its own role and how does it use the Coast Guard in complimenting and working synergy of the roles that Coast Guards would play both in the national waters as well as the extended EEZ and beyond. While the navies do not share any equipment with the Coast Guard, the navies do offload some of their own equipment particularly corvette class platforms as well rotary and fixed wing aircraft that are for surveillance roles to the Coast Guards.


Executing emergency roles Coast Guards have well established protocols of peacetime maintenance of Good Order at Sea and they are trained and equipped to perform operational missions in emergency situations in peacetime as well as wartime. Coast Guards are tasked to naval control the missions of Shipping, search and rescue, harbour defence and security and surveillance. Naval operations control allots similar peacetime Coast Guard operations that are the routine during emergency situations.


Coordinating platforms role Navies and Coast Guards usually coordinate the Order of Battle in terms of their operations. As Coast Guards usually complement the logistics function during coordinated Navy-Coast Guard operations, the two institutions work out the equipment and platforms aimed at coordination and standardization. Coast Guards do specifically maintain their own Order of Battle, besides the standardized equipment and procedure of operations in peacetime and in war.


Thus, the transformative dynamics evident in the Navy and the Coast Guard go a long way in cohering the maritime strategy of country that brings to fore platforms, processes, operations and objectives in peacetime and war. The greatest gain of this cohering has resulted in effective ‘interoperability’ between the two entities, while they engage in Multinational Naval Operations that are in the range of Benign, Constabulary, Humanitarian and Disaster relief missions.



The Emergent Force Posture and Operations of the Indian Coast Guard


The Indian Coast Guard Area of Responsibility of patrolling the 7516 KM coastline fields a surface fleet array of 21 Offshore Patrol Vessels of the Samudra, Vikram, Samarth, Vishwasht, Sankalp and Samar classes, besides it fields 44 Patrol vessels of the Aadesh, Rajshree, Rani Abbaka, Sarojini Naidu and Priyadarshini classes; 74 Patrol Boats of the Bharati, L&T, ABG, AMP, Swallow Craft classes, 27 Patrol Craft of the Trimblo, Bristol and Vadayar classes and 18 Hovercraft of the Grifton class. Its fixed wing and rotary aircraft include 36 Dornier 228, 4 HAL Dhruv and 17 HAL Chetak aircraft. The surface and naval aircraft fleet thus sync for the assigned areas of operations and responsibilities.   


The Indian Coast Guard operates on the pivotal function of Readiness and response posture to the various maritime hazards, vulnerabilities and threats that affect the  Maritime environment including that of the safety of life and property at sea, this is buttressed by the law enforcement duties that secures India’s coasts. The Indian Coast Guard has manifold duties within its Area of Responsibility that addresses  unconventional maritime at sea security threats like maritime terrorism, piracy and armed robbery, smuggling, trafficking of drugs, arms, ammunition, presence of floating armoury, dubious vessels proceeding to scrapping yard, Illegal emigration originated from mainland and various other asymmetric threats emanating from sea.


The Indian Coast Guard’s operations are dual scope in terms of Prevention and Measured Response. The Indian Coast Guard’s Prevention operations mitigates various vulnerabilities to threats, and they serve to enhance resiliency during contingencies. The Measured Response draws on the efficient command and control chain in addressing crisis situations. The dual scope operations of Prevention and Response operations are thus interdependent, and they collectively serve to courses of action; they serve to counter the spectrum of the enduring and emerging threats to achieve desirable ends of objectives. The Indian Coast Guard Charter of Operations is based on the Purposefulness, Progressiveness and Proactiveness of operations and they are based on a Deployment ready force, with a unity of effort reinforced with an innovative deterrent approach.


In terms of the Indian Coast Guard future plan of expansion, by 2022-2025, it aims at adding 50 new platforms in the Make in India programme raising the surface fleet to 200 ships and 100 aircraft of fixed wing and rotary aircraft.


The ‘Interoperable Roles’ of the Indian Coast Guard


 Interoperability is one of the prime operational objectives of the Indian Coast Guard. This mission objective goes as with the Indian Navy, even as the Indian Navy through the QUAD framework seeks to work out operational interoperability with the US Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and the Royal Australian Navy. For the past few years, the Indian Coast Guard had been in regular exercises with the US Coast Guard August 2019, the Indian Coast Guard fielded two ships the ICG Shaurya and the ICG Abeek along with a Chetak Helicopter, the US Coast Guard Cutter ‘Stratton’ participated in the exercise. The two maritime forces aimed to achieve the objectives of anti-piracy operations, search and rescue and fire-fighting operations.

Similarly, Indian Coast Guard joined with Japanese Coast Guard in January 2020 codenamed ‘Sahyog-Kaijin’ Indian Coast Guard fielded four ships and a Dornier aircraft and the Japanese Coast Guard fielded Ehigo PLH 08 ship, this exercise was primed for anti-hijacking measures and rescue missions were simulated. The exercise boosted enhancing interoperability in communication, search and rescue procedures and sharing of best practices between the two Coast Guards.


In November 2019, the Indian Coast Guard Ship Shaurya joined with the Australian Border Force in joint exercises in Darwin. The two forces had conducted various tactical exercises that aimed to enhance maritime safety and security and learned and adopted best practices and familiarity of the platforms of both sides. These exercises synergized along with the India-Australia AusIndex naval exercises.


The growing tempo of Coast Guard interoperability has enhanced personnel and platform familiarity that has aided in the focused knowledge of each other’s maritime domain awareness. The increasing gain in Maritime Domain Awareness has well aided the maritime forces to operate in better tactical understanding with one another as well as operate along side their navies in the quadrilateral scope of the QUAD.


As the QUAD emerges to be of increasing operational reality with its accents on interoperability, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean region domains could witness in the coming years, increasing maritime coordination between of the Coast Guards alongside the navies in various exercises that focus on interoperability and the gaining of effective maritime domain awareness.

The engagement of the Coast Guards also known as ‘White Hulls’ could be very valuable in sensitive areas of maritime disputes in maritime straits, and in the South China Sea area where various disputes like as piracy, illegal fishing, humanitarian and disaster relief, search and rescue, and the smuggling of drugs, people, and arms are replete. While the navies also known as “Grey Hulls” manage the larger maritime/ naval disputes, the intricacies of the transnational maritime challenges could be better addressed by the ‘QUAD of the White Hulls” which are non-provocative and could perform better constabulary actions than “Grey Hulls”


The role of Coast Guards in the Indo-Pacific is a vital subject of better maritime domain awareness, enhanced maritime law enforcement and a value addition in international maritime cooperation. One of the means is the entity known as the Heads of the Asian Coast Guards Meeting (HACGM)


The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) envisages the greater coordination between the Navies and Coast Guards in enhancing the enhanced interoperability and also opens a platform for extensive discussions between the operational segments of various countries. This works better for all countries as they synergize the White Hulls with greater Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance support from the Grey Hulls and such operations increase across the spectrum of cooperating countries in this area. Several areas of the QUAD White Hulls would be in the enhanced cooperation in Maritime Law enforcement, Maritime Domain Awareness, anti-piracy patrols, anti-smuggling in human, arms and narcotics and Maritime Capacity Building in the littoral countries could be better addressed.

One of the key coordination between the Indian Coast Guard with the US Coast Guard, Japanese Coast Guard and the Australian Border Force along with the Australian Maritime Border Command is the regional Maritime Capacity Building with Southern Asian states like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and the Southeast Asian states like Myanmar and Thailand.


While the QUAD of naval forces has all the baggage of being termed as military alliance, the quadrilateral security coordination among the Coast Guards serves to enhance the benign and constabulary dimensions of maritime security cooperation among the member states. Since Coast Guards are the principal agencies of maritime law enforcement and are viable for capacity building.


Even as the COVID related escalation in the India-China border and boundary disputes have reached a tipping point, the relevance of QUAD as a maritime counterbalance has strengthened, it is in these contexts, that the precise operational responses to China’s naval expansionism in the East and South China Seas and the artificial islands aggressions needs to be checked from the vantage point of international maritime law and the litany of contestations.


Thus, the White Hulls Coast Guards maritime safety and security quadrilateral coordination has emerged inevitable along with the naval forces. This gains importance  even as the ballast of the Grey Hulls of naval forces within the QUAD are gaining even more relevance in the post-COVID Chinese aggrandizement in the entire region from the Senkaku’s and Diaoyutai islands in East China Sea to the disputed artificial islands in the Spratelys and Paracels in the South China Sea. Even as China contests the Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific, the coordination of deployments of Coast Guards in the region as vital measures of Maritime Law enforcement and maritime capacity building is vital for the region.


Thus, the Indian Coast Guard has an ambient role in coordination with the Indian Navy and with its overall tactical coordination even as the Indian Coast Guard would be tasked with missions that go beyond the national waters for international maritime law enforcement and maritime capacity building and address the various maritime transnational climate change issues in the oceans.

The growing interoperability and the frequent training and exercises of the Indian Coast Guard with its counterparts of the United States, Japan and Australia aids and builds operational efficiency, seamless understanding and execution of operational protocols and the capacity building processes that aids in the technological and operational innovation of the Indian Coast Guard.


Similarly, the Indian Coast Guard’s strengths in Maritime Domain Awareness in the Indian Ocean region would enable the US, Japanese and Australian counterparts to gain from India and reciprocally of the Pacific for the Indian Coast Guard from these members of the QUAD.



 Maintaining ‘Good Order At Sea’ in the Indian Ocean


The vista of SAGAR in Indian Ocean provides the Indian Coast Guard the ambient vision of operations and performance of its capabilities both surface fleet as well as the naval aviation of the Indian Coast Guard


In recent instances, In September 2020, the Indian Coast Guard has been exemplary in maintaining ‘Good Order At Sea’ even as three Indian Coast Guard Ships, Shaurya, Sarang and Samudra Pahedar and a Dornier aircraft were in action in firefighting an oil tanker MT New Diamond off the Central-eastern Sri Lankan coast and conducted rescue operations.


In August 2020, Mauritius had sought India’s help in preserving the archipelago’s in ‘aiding for response and containment of oil spread in sensitive marine environment consisting of coral reef, mangroves and endangered marine species’.  The Indian Coast Guard had dispatched a 10-member specialist team to Mauritius to address this issue and challenge.  The Indian Coast Guard has been well trained and equipped and has high standards of professional pollution response operations at sea; given their capabilities to undertake pollution response and cleanup operations, the 10 member team is working with other international agencies like the IMO and the ITOPF with its equipment of pollution response equipment such as Ocean and River Booms, skimmers and salvage barge.


In October 2019, the India-Maldives maritime cooperation was burnished by the visit of the officers and personnel from the Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard, the Indian Coast Guard handed over India made Interceptor Boats, for day and night coastal patrol and surveillance, anti-terrorist and anti-smuggling operations and coastal security.  Indian Coast Guard Regional Headquarters East conducted training for the Maldivian personnel as part of the international cooperation between India and Maldives. To enhance Maldivian capacity building and coordinate India and Maldivian coordination in issues of maritime safety and security in Indian Ocean. 

The Indian Coast Guard training aims to provide the Maldivian personnel hands-on experience in handling the Interceptor Boats with the objective to provide versatile capacity in handling state of the art equipment and sensors.

SAGAR provides the Indian Coast Guard, the ambient opportunity to enhance littoral security in the Indian Ocean region that are well buttressed by the Milan and IONS initiatives to boost maritime safety and security cooperation and enhance greater cooperation among the Indian Ocean littoral states and island states. SAGAR opens various maritime infrastructure building measures and related work that enhances the Indian Coast Guard’s roles and relevance in the region through greater country to country operational cooperation and the interoperability of platforms, processes by various exercises.


Two, Capacity building measures in terms of building and transfer of platforms to various Indian Ocean littoral states helps in the familiarization, capacity building initiatives in operations and maintenance along with the prospect of networking with various littoral states enables in the strengthening of multilateral ties and would promote India’s role as a Net Security Provider in the Indian Ocean region. This is especially vital even as China expands its naval presence in the region in Gwadar in Pakistan and enhancing its strength in Djibouti. The White Hulls of the Indian Coast Guard are instruments of India’s maritime soft power as it radiates in the region.


Three, Maritime Domain Awareness enhancement in Indian Ocean is a vital derivative from the Indian Coast Guard as it synergies with the Indian Navy in building capacity measures that enhances surveillance, reconnaissance and maritime intelligence. The coordinated operations of the Indian Navy with the Coast Guard primes this operation and enhances the operational objectives of the Indian Coast Guard of Prevention and Measured Response as well as augmenting the Purposefulness of a ready deployed fleet for immediate as well as sustained operations.


In summation, the Indian Coast Guard has emerged over the years as robust auxiliary force to the Navy in coordination of operations. Although there are gaps in operational performance and requirements of platforms and technological development much to be achieved, yet the Indian Coast Guard has been able to optimize its resources and has mapped its future plans of a 200 ship fleet and 100 aircraft order of battle that would complement the Navy’s order of battle of a similar fleet of high end technology Grey Hulls and 400 naval aviation. The unique niche of operations for the Indian Coast Guard in tandem with the Navy working on operational coordination and the gaining momentum of international cooperation with its prowess to engage with the United States, Japanese, Australian, South Korean and other Southeast Asian maritime powers and Western powers established the credibility of the fleet’s organisational endurance, technological growth and operational versatility in the present context and its exponential growth in the years to come.


(Dr.W.Lawrence S. Prabhakar Advisor, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi)