To bolster security, Britain joins Indian Ocean monitoring hub in Gurgaon

Topics Indian Ocean | Indian Navy | Britain

There is interest from at least a dozen other countries in sending liaison officers to join this Indian-led initiative | Representative image
A British officer from the Royal Navy joined four other foreign military officers on Tuesday to coordinate the monitoring of Indian Ocean sea lanes from an Indian Navy hub in Gurugram, Haryana called the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR).

The IFC-IOR, which was established in April 2019, has liaison officers from five countries – the US, France, Japan, Australia and now the UK.

There is interest from at least a dozen other countries in sending liaison officers to join this Indian-led initiative that brings together regional navies in safeguarding global commons, freedom of navigation and provide security against piracy, terrorism, gun-running, narcotics and illegal fishing.

To do so, the IFC-IOR functions as a high-tech control centre that obtains feeds from a range of space-based and terrestrial sources. These track fishing boats and commercial vessels near India’s coast and in the international sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) beyond, which carry 75 per cent of the world’s maritime trade and half of daily oil consumption.

With China’s People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N), growing in size, ability and aggression, regional states are coming together to counter Beijing’s claims over increasingly large tracts of the Western Pacific, especially the South China Sea.

While the Indian Navy claims to be the gatekeeper of the Indian Ocean and a net security provider, it is welcoming local partnership from the capable and powerful Royal Navy in enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

“The UK already has a 7 x 7 presence in the Western Indian Ocean Region, alongside its presence in India: with seven permanent bases in Kenya, Singapore, Brunei, Nepal, Bahrain, Oman, and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), and seven ships deployed at any one time to provide security in the Western region of the Indo-Pacific,” said the British High Commission in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The IFC-IOR has its origins in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strikes, after which the navy established the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) at Gurugram, to obtain feeds from multiple sources, to track fishing boats and commercial vessels near India’s coast.

The IMAC, which grew into the IFC-IOR, was sanctioned by the government in March 2012, and operationalized in Nov 2014 in barely 2½ years. It obtains inputs from multiple sensors, including India’s coastal radar network, which is manned by the Coast Guard. 

Even so, the IFC-IOR’s role primarily remains to track civil, commercial shipping. For tracking Indian and foreign warships, the navy has a separate “Operations Room.” There is a deliberate firewall between the two.

Feeding into the IFC-IOR at the international level are White Shipping Agreements that India has with 36 countries, and 3 multinational agencies. These supply real time information of all commercial shipping passing through their ports.

IMAC also incorporates inputs from a system called Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT). This mechanism, which works under the International Maritime Organisation, paves the way for 174 countries to provide real-time information on their commercial shipping.

The IFC-IOR also uses the Merchant Ship Information System (MSIS) software to collate inputs and develop a detailed Common Operational Picture and exchange information with partner countries and multi-national agencies. The UK uses a similar system, called Maritime Trade Information System (MTIS).

In addition to the IFC-IOR, there are three more MDA initiatives in the hemisphere. These include one in Singapore that focuses on south-east Asia; one in Madagascar, run by the European Union, that focus on the African coast and the Southern Indian Ocean; and one in the Mediterranean Sea. However, the IFC-IOR focuses squarely on waters that carry the bulk of global trade.

So far, the IFC-IOR has functioned mainly as a “virtual centre”, with member countries accessing information through the internet or video conferencing. However, facilities exist to physically house liaison officers from member countries. These are now being populated.

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