(Published article in Defence and Security Alert Dec 2012)
A Littoral zone can be defined as a zone that is contiguous to land in a large water body like the sea, river or a lake. In coastal areas it defines the zone between the high water mark and the beginning of the permanently submerged area. The Land Ocean Interaction in the Coastal Zone, science plan defines a coastal zone as:-
“the coastal zone as extending from the coastal plains to the outer edge of the continental shelves, approximately matching the region that has been alternately flooded and exposed during the sea-level fluctuations of the late Quaternary period”.
Further the coastal domain is defined as 200m above to 200m below the sea level. This domain covers an area where about 25% of the global productivity occurs, 60% of the global population resides and 11 of the 14 mega cities in the world are located. Indian coast line extends over 7500kms and has about 250mn people staying within 50 kms of the coast. Ninety percent of India`s international trade by volume and seventy-seven percent by value are carried by sea. It is seen that Coastal Domain, Coastal zone and the littoral zones have overlapping connotations and no internationally accepted definition is as yet available. The definitions have been interpreted by coastal countries in a way that is beneficial to their national interests. It is clear however that the littorals harbour major economic and security concerns for countries. The purpose of this article is to highlight the possible gaps in littoral defence of India and suggest measures to shore up coastal defences.
The US navy (Naval Warfare-Naval Doctrine Publication 1, 2010) interprets littorals In naval operations as that portion of the world’s land masses adjacent to the oceans within direct control of and vulnerable to the striking power of sea-based forces. A zone that comprises two segments of the operational environment:-
-Seaward- the area from the open ocean to the shore, which must be controlled to
support operations ashore.
-Landward: the area inland from the shore that can be supported and defended directly from the sea.
The end of cold war has changed the focus of blue water fleets from battles ‘on’ the high seas to battles ‘from’ the sea. Thus bringing the littorals in to sharp focus as they form the interface between the coast and the depths greater than about 60 m on an average.
(fig: source http://www.dcbiodata.net/explorer/info/habitats).
The littoral focus has very interesting characteristics and connotations for blue water naval fleets planned for standoff operations on open seas. Three of the fundamental parameters which have adverse effect on war fighting in littorals are discussed below.
Environment. The littoral natural environment is subject to wide variations both in the atmospheric and the oceanographic domain. The sensor, modelling and simulation technologies have not matured enough to provide reliable predictions for real time operations. Neither is an archival data base available for all the littorals where blue water navies may be required to operate. Unfortunately, the same is applicable to India’s harbours, estuaries, and islands. The symbiotic relationship between ocean conditions and the atmospheric conditions is only being recognised in the recent years. This has a direct bearing on naval air operations (landing, take off, flight endurances etc,) surface operations (Station keeping, safety, weapon firings, etc), the underwater operations (anti submarine and mine clearing etc.) and the amphibious & special operations. Currently the complex dynamics of underwater, beach and shore conditions generating the resultant environment is not clearly understood, leading to levels of uncertainty which threaten the success of missions in the littorals. Thus it can be seen that littoral environment has impacted all the missions of the navy, be it sea and air dominance or deterrence and power projection. Further there gaps in knowledge due to insufficient information and understanding of environmental phenomenon.
Space. The littorals are regions with restricted depths, which prevent blue water naval combatants with greater draught to operate. It also restricts severely the manoeuvring of ships in formation. Thus the blue water navy has to redefine its conduct of operations from the wide expanse of the oceans to constricted and/or partially choked contortions available in littorals. With larger combatants and logistic units unable to approach the littorals comfortably the mission logistics is hampered considerably as logistic requirements cannot be satisfactorily met in terms of arms, ammunition and other maritime support to ground operations.
Time. The littorals are teeming with fishing boats, miscellaneous craft, neutral international shipping, friendly craft as well as the adversary’s vessels. Despite having information superiority in the oceans, a blue water force is restrained in littorals due to overwhelming number of contacts presented in the littorals, leading to dilemma in identification, detection and targeting. The time available to a commander to take engagement decisions is a fraction of that which is available in a traditional blue water mission. This shrinking of time coupled with congested space puts tremendous pressure on the commander and may lead to undesired outcomes. Another aspect is the variable duration of presence required in the littorals as the land operations progress; this also brings in an uncertainty as to sustainability of operations at large distances from the home port. The US navy has accordingly advocated ‘sea basing’ for conduct of Sea-Land operations.
In the above discussion it has been brought out that littorals present, a deficit in environmental knowledge/information, constriction of manoeuvring space and shrinking of time for decision making as major issues for blue water navies. At this juncture a perspective in to the threats that could be posed by an adversary is necessary.
The threats include:-
Miniature/Midget/Small Diesel submarines. Small diesel submarines capable of operating in shallow waters with advanced technology propulsion systems that reduce their acoustic signatures pose a dangerous risk to ships. The submarines are capable of firing torpedoes and missiles which can sink or cripple major combatants. The detection of these prowlers in littorals is very difficult due to vagaries of acoustic propagation underwater.
States which cannot invest in major warships have resorted to fielding small, even primitive submarines to protect their coasts; these submarines have up to one tenth of the weight and length of the conventional submarines and can thus operate with impunity in littorals. Two submarine types, namely the Sang-O class and the Yono class submarines of North Korea, warrant special mention.
The Yono class miniature diesel submarine displaces 130 tons, is 20-22 m long, has a range of 500nm and carries two heavy weight torpedoes. It is suspected that the South Korean Naval ship Cheonan was sunk on March 26, 2010 by a CHT-02D torpedo fired from a Yono class submarine. Some of these submarines have been purchased by Iran. The bigger Sang-O class diesel submarine displaces 370 tons, is 34 m in length, has arrange of 1500nm, carries two heavy weight torpedoes and can also lay mines.
Naval Mines. The naval mine is a relatively cheap, easy to employ, highly effective weapon that affords weaker navies the ability to oppose larger, more technologically advanced adversaries. The mere existence of mines poses enough psychological threat to practically stop maritime operations and thus deny access to a desired area at sea. Thus, a mine doesn’t have to actually explode to achieve its mission of access denial. North Koreans were able to deter and delay arrival of U.S Marines sufficiently to escape safely, by mining Wonsan Harbour in October 1950 with about 3000 mines.
“I’d cancelled the Navy’s amphibious assault on Faylakah Island. Plans called for it to proceed the ground war by two days, but the helicopter Carrier USS Tripoli and the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS Princeton had struck mines, U.S. and British minesweepers had been unable to clear the area, and as a result the Navy hadn’t made it into position to launch the attack in time.”
General Schwarzkopf, Desert Storm
Mine technology has kept a step ahead of the ships designs for low acoustic and magnetic signatures, and many countries are engaged in development and production of naval mines. Non metallic casings, anechoic coatings, modern electronics and finally reasonable costs have made mines a choice weapon for poor and rich nations alike. It is estimated that about 20 countries export mines while about 30 produce them.
Boat Swarms. Swarms of boats armed with ammunition and explosives, operating deceptively amidst the large shipping and fishing vessels that populate the littorals constitute a grave threat for the combatants as they are very difficult to identify, engage and neutralise. These can be deployed in a kamikaze type of attack or simply navigated towards the warships and abandoned at short range to ram the hull. The emergence of UAVs and USVs has only complicated the threat further.
Coastal Missile Batteries. With the crashing cost and very high precision of anti ship cruise missiles (ASCM), many countries have deployed them from coastal batteries. The ASCMs can be launched from fixed or mobile launchers and are very effective in crippling warships.
Thus it can be seen that to deny access to a blue water navy, a littoral country has to intelligently prepare its defences by coordinating its submarines, armed boats mines and missile batteries. The expeditionary force would be sufficiently deterred to either postpone its foray or give it up altogether.
“Lose Invincible and the operation is severely jeopardized, lose Hermes and the operation is over. One unlucky torpedo, bomb, or missile hit could do it.”
Admiral Sandy Woodward, Falkland War
Defending India’s Coastal Areas. India has a formidable naval force with both blue water and littoral capabilities; it also has a credible Coast guard which would work in unison with the Indian Navy in times of war. Further India has put in place a powerful template for marine domain awareness, intelligence and protection of the coast, after the terrorist attack of 26 Nov 2008. Some of the measures include; setting up of Multi Agency Centres (MAC) for intelligence inputs and reports; registration of fishing vessels by states; placing in orbit Indian Regional Navigation Seven Satellite System and satellite GSAT 7 ; setting up of a coast wide radar chain; raising Marine Police force, Marine Commandos Rapid Reaction Force and a Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB);setting up layered patrolling; putting in place The National Command Control Communication and Intelligence network (NC3IN) etc.
Prominent Gaps in Littoral Defence
Thus the layered defence of Indian coast consists of Indian Navy, the coast guard, the marine commando & SPB and the marine police. All these are info-linked for maximum advance knowledge and in way form a net worked coalition. However there apparently is a gap as far as setting up the coastal defences per se is concerned. The Indian coast protection lacks the delay, denial, disruption , and demoralising (D4) capability which is an essential in modern littoral warfare. This capability should be acquired by leveraging the perceived threats presented in the littorals by the submarine, mines, small craft and ASCM. The coastal defence plan should be an asymmetric approach to littoral defence with defining littorals as a zone that comprises two segments of the defence environment:-
-Seaward- the area from the shore to the open ocean, which must be defended to
thwart expeditionary forces at sea.
-Landward- from the shore to the area inland that can be supported and defended directly from the shore.
The existing gap in Indian defences can be obviated with very potent coastal defence elements by including:-
-Comprehensive assessment of threats from expeditionary forces to ports/ harbours.
-Procurement of midget/ miniature submarines with torpedoes and mine laying capability along with arrays of underwater sensors for environment, intrusion information, navigation and communication.
-Procurement of UAVs/USVs with intelligent software for remote operations as swarms.
-Procurement of Unmanned Underwater Sensor and Weapon Carriers capable of:-
-transmitting integrated underwater picture to fixed or mobile stations.
-firing torpedoes and laying mines.
-Procurement and laying of cable controlled mine fields, other mine fields across various depths zones.
-Coastal extended reach ASCM batteries.
-Coastal gun batteries with ability to carry out precision attack on surface ships at ranges greater than 50 kms.
-All systems networked for an ironclad protection of the Indian Coast.
-Development of weapons specific for use in littorals and systems for collection of oceanographic information.
A robust Indian coastal defence plan and its implementation is an essential element of economic wellbeing of India as it would ensure security of sea trade, shipping, fishing, marine resources, and offshore assets as well as security of the EEZ.