26/11 Terrorist attack has been a critical juncture for reviewing the Defence Preparedness of India, however not too much has been done in last 10 years in this regard. Coast guard, which is the Defence ministry’s smallest armed force after the Army, IAF and Navy has been almost neglected as far as strengthening it with modern warfare devices and equipment.
But it seems the time has arrived to make credible changes in Coast Guard. Modi government has approved a whopping 31,748 crore “Definitive five-year action programme” to improve the Coast Guard.
Government has formulated an action plan to bolster the force-levels of Coast Guard in terms of offshore patrol vessels, boats, helicopters, aircraft and critical operational infrastructure. The aim is to make the Coast Guard a 175-ship and 110-aircraft force by 2022 to plug operational gaps and strengthen its capabilities to safeguard coastal security, island territories, offshore assets and marine environment as well as undertake anti-piracy, anti-smuggling, oil-spill and pollution-control operations.
India has a 7,516-km coastline, with 1,382 islands and a sprawling Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.01 million square km, which will go up to almost 3 million square km after delimitation of the Continental Shelf.
But the Coast Guard currently has 130 “surface units” in the shape of 60 ships (offshore patrol vessels, fast patrol vessels and pollution-control vessels), 18 hovercrafts, and 52 smaller interceptor boats/crafts. The “air units”, in turn, are limited to 39 Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft, 19 ChetakHelicoptors and four Dhruv advanced light helicopters.
The action plan intends to “consolidate and review the progress” made by the Coast Guard, which is currently headed by Director General Rajendra Singh, after the 26/11 strikes exposed the gaping holes in the country’s coastal security architecture and preparedness.
The Coast guard currently has 65 ships and interceptor crafts/boats under construction. An acquisition of 30 helicopters for over 5,000 crore is also underway. While 16 indigenous Dhruv choppers have already been ordered from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the procurement of 14 twin-engine EC-725 tactical choppers, which can carry up to 30 passengers, from Airbus is in the final stages of approval now.
With Coast Guard also looking for six more maritime multi-mission surveillance aircraft, the force will also get five more air stations/enclaves to add to the nine such establishments already present. “The existing 42 stations (20 were sanctioned after 26/11), under the five regional headquarters at Gandhinagar, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Port Blair, will also be fully-developed and made ‘smart’ with better infrastructure.”