Modernisation of the Indian Coast Guard

In the past three decades, the ICG has grown from strength to strength and has become a force to reckon with. The fleet size has grown to over 80 vessels of various size and role capabilities, apart from several interceptor craft and workboats. The Coast Guard ships are now state-of-the-art vessels with equipment fit which is abreast of the latest in technology and operational capabilities.

Issue: 1 / 2014By Rear Admiral (Retd) Sushil RamsayPhoto(s): By ICG

The Indian Coast Guard (ICG), an armed force under the Ministry of Defence, was formed in 1978 with a specific charter for non-military maritime safety and security functions in the maritime zones of India. The ICG has come a long way since its modest beginning with two old frigates which were transferred from the Indian Navy and five patrol boats obtained from the Department of Customs. Subsequently, two Chetak helicopters and two Fokker Friendship (F-27) aircraft, leased from Indian Airlines formed the air arm of ICG. Over the years, the ICG has grown into a credible force and is now fully integrated with all national agencies and organisations which are stakeholders in handling the challenges emanating at or from the sea.

Thirty-six years hence, the ICG fleet is barely recognisable from the past. The fleet size has grown to over 80 vessels of various size and role capabilities, apart from several interceptor craft and workboats. The Coast Guard ships are now state-of-the-art vessels with an equipment fit which is abreast of the latest in technology and operational capabilities which conform to the ICG Charter. This transformation into a modern and effective maritime organisation has been gradual and a result of the plans and policies put in place over the years.

The watershed moment of ICG manifested itself in the rather unfortunate incident of Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008. It was only post-26/11 that the Indian Government paid heed to the clamour raised by the ICG for an urgent need to modernise the ageing fleet and augment its assets to meet its mandated charter. The subsequent modernisation of the ICG brought about far-reaching changes in the organisational set up as well as material assets, both ashore and afloat.

In 2008, the ICG had three regional headquarters, 11 district headquarters and five air establishments. During the past five years, the ICG has obtained government sanctions for two additional Regional Headquarters, three district headquarters, 20 stations, 10 air establishments and a Coast Guard Academy for specialised training on ICG tasks. Of these, two regional headquarters at Gandhinagar and Kolkata, two district headquarters at Kavaratti and Port Blair, 19 stations and four air establishments have been created in the past five years. With the establishment of the remaining infrastructure in the near future, the ICG will have a well-spread organisational structure with five regional headquarters, 14 district headquarters, 42 Coast Guard stations and 15 air establishments functioning all along the coast.

Similarly, there were about 60 surface platforms comprising offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), fast patrol vessels (FPVs), interceptor boats (IBs) and air cushion vehicles (ACVs), available to the ICG in 2008. The post-26/11 capability building plan has resulted in the ICG concluding contracts for more than 120 surface platforms of different sizes since January 2009 till date. The current force level has grown to over 90 surface platforms comprising OPVs, pollution control vessels (PCVs), FPVs and IBs/ACVs despite concurrent decommissioning of over a dozen ships and boats. Of the concluded contracts, about 100 surface platforms are currently under construction with DPSUs and private shipyards in India and further acquisition of 20 odd ships including a training ship are being progressed.

On the aviation front, the ICG has grown from 45 aircraft in 2008 to more than 60 aircraft currently. The existing fleet of Dornier aircraft is also being upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment like the ELTA radar for more effective maritime surveillance. Retrofitment of advanced pollution surveillance equipment on these aircraft is also under construction. Acquisition of additional aircraft is also being processed and by the end of the decade, the effective strength of Coast Guard air assets is expected to reach the three figure mark.

In its march towards capability building, the ICG has also kept pace with the latest in the field of technology to make its ships leaner and meaner. The ICG has invested in increasing the speed of its vessels substantially so as to enable it to respond to any emerging situation at sea with alacrity. Modernisation has also transformed the erstwhile machinery control rooms monitoring analogue parameters to software based machinery controls and diagnostic system which can be accessed from the position of own choosing. The introduction of jet propulsion systems for FPVs has rendered those with excellent manoeuvrability and shallow water capabilities which are crucial for ICG operations. Along with the advancement in propulsion system, the ICG has also modernised the Bridge and Navigation Bridge by introducing the most advanced Integrated Bridge Systems.

To further synergise its search and rescue (SAR) efforts, the ICG has set up Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres and Sub-centres at its Regional and District Headquarters for coordination of rescue efforts. The ICG has also established a vessel reporting system, INDSAR, exclusively for SAR coordination and a toll free no 1554 for SAR emergency response.

Seriously pursuing its Pollution Response charter, the ICG has established three Pollution Response Centres at Mumbai, Chennai and Port Blair with a combined capability for responding up to 10,000 tonnes spillage. Addition of two PCVs and construction of another one has been a shot in the arm for the ICG to deal with a large number of tankers plying through Indian EEZ, as also the increased population of oil and gas rigs along the west and east coasts.

In tune with the national objective to ensure near gapless surveillance of the entire coastline and for preventing intrusion by undetected vessels, ICG has been given the responsibility of establishing a coastal surveillance network (CSN) along the entire Indian coastline including the island territories. Phase-I of the project, in the form of 46 static radars along the coastline-36 in the mainland and 10 in the Island territories-is nearing completion. The data generated by the static radar chain and automatic identification system sensors will be integrated with the vessel traffic management system installed in all major ports as well as in the Gulfs of Kutch and Khambhat and processed at various levels prior to flowing on to Coast Guard Headquarters from where it will be shared with all agencies associated with coastal security. This would be followed up with the Phase-II of the CSN project which is aimed at further consolidating the gains accrued from Phase-I of the project.

The ICG had a metamorphosis over the years and has emerged as a mature and vibrant maritime organisation. This has been made possible through constant integration with all developments in technology and ensuring that this process of modernisation would be irreversible and continuous in the years to come.

In the past three decades, the ICG has grown from strength to strength and has become a force to reckon with. ICG has built-up an international liaison and is looked up by neighbouring countries for assistance in the field of SAR, marine pollution response and other non-military maritime charter. A capable and confident ICG has scripted a success story which speaks for itself.