Naval intel grid all set to sail

Navy to place proposal before cabinet in January

Keeping an eagle eye on the coast. AP

The National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA) grid will receive inputs not only from the Navy, Coast Guard, customs, police and government departments, but also from fishermen who may become the “eyes and ears” of this network.

The NMDA will be placed before the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval in January, said a navy officer. Setting up the grid may cost about Rs 1,350 crore.

Following the Mumbai terror strikes, the government decided to establish a national command, control, communications and intelligence network for maritime awareness in linking the operations rooms of the Navy and Coast Guard.

Once the grid is in place, it will increase better coordination between the movement of merchant and non-merchant vessels and keep an eye on unknown vessels in Indian water and the vessels leaving the port.

In the last one year, the Navy and Coast Guard conducted 23 exercises – 10 on the west coast, nine on the east and two each in Andaman and Lakshadweep islands – with the police, customs and state officials to evaluate the gap in intelligence gathering and operational ability that will be bridged once the grid is in place. They also interacted with customs, police and state officials to get their approval.

The most difficult part of the NMDA exercise, however, will be to integrate thousands of fishermen with this network. There are close to 50,000 boats on either coast who could be the ears and eyes of the Navy, said an officer.

Over the last eight months, the Navy, along with other officials, spoke to fishermen in coastal states and islands, explaining the utility of the upcoming grid and how they could contribute.

Helplines like 1093 of Andaman, which fishermen use extensively even to point out intruders to the authorities, may be set up.

Fishermen will also be issued smart cards and fishing boats will be equipped with automated identification system. The authorities even in minor ports will be provided with technologies to read the card and AIS signatures to verify genuine fisher-folk. All information will be fed to four joint operation centres set up at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair.

Besides human inputs, the grid will also receive signals from a set of coastal radar and infra-red sensors. Construction work has begun to create the space where new sensors will be installed. The Coast Guard too will put up surveillance equipment which will also relay information to the grid.

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