The scale of the exercise was unprecedented in terms of the geographical extent, the number of stakeholders involved, the number of units participating and in terms of the objectives to be met
Ten years after “Mumbai 26/11”, the Indian Navy commenced the largest coastal defence exercise off the Indian coast on January 22, 2019. Exercise Sea Vigil, a first of its kind was conducted along the entire 7,516.6 km coastline and Exclusive Economic Zone of India, involving all of 13 coastal States and Union Territories along with all maritime stakeholders, including the fishing and coastal communities.
Exercise Sea Vigil was aimed to comprehensively and holistically validate the efficacy of the measures taken since ‘Mumbai 26/11’. Seaward monitoring during the exercise entailed patrolling off coast, in Offshore Development Areas and off Islands territories by the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, supported by the State Marine Police. Closer coast, strategic assets, ports, Single Point Moorings was patrolled by designated agencies. Seaward monitoring also entailed inputs from technical means, including intelligence sources. Extensive shore-based monitoring enhanced vigil by the State Police along the coast; monitoring of fish landing centres by State fisheries departments; as also monitoring of Port areas by respective Port authorities.
While smaller exercises are conducted in Coastal States on a biannual basis, including combined exercises amongst adjoining States, the conduct of a security exercise at a national-level was conducted the very first time. It reflected the distance that was covered since ‘Mumbai 26/11’ and the relative maturing of the organisation for Coastal Security to take on this large-scale endeavour. Exercise Sea Vigil provided a realistic assessment of Indian Navy’s strengths and weakness which would help further strengthening of maritime security and in turn national security. The first Coastal Defence Exercise Sea Vigil, conducted by the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard, in close coordination with State Governments and Union Territories concluded on January 23, 2019 saw participation by more than 100 ships, aircraft and patrol boats manned and operated by various security agencies.
The scale of the exercise was unprecedented in terms of the geographical extent, the number of stakeholders involved, the number of units participating and in terms of the objectives to be met. The exercise Sea Vigil was a build up towards the major Theatre-level Readiness Operational Exercise (TROPEX) which Indian Navy conducts every two years. Exercises Sea Vigil and TROPEX together are structured to cover the entire spectrum of Maritime Security, including transition from peace to conflict. The conduct of the exercise Sea Vigil was facilitated by the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, Shipping, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Fisheries, Customs, State Governments and other agencies of Centre/State.
The exercise which commenced on January 22, 2019, comprised two distinct phases. In the first phase, all stakeholders assessed the robustness of their own organisations. During the second phase, simulated attacks were carried out on vital installations and assets by infiltrating through the Sea, in Kerala and Lakshadweep. The security agencies were able to thwart attempts by the opposing force to infiltrate the coast using commandeered fishing boats. Response of agencies to other security contingencies such as hijacking of a ship and attack on offshore installations off Kochi Harbour was also assessed. All infiltration attempts were analysed promptly to identify gaps in the multi-tier security layers at Sea, close to the land and also in the hinterland in close coordination with concerned stakeholders.
Sea Vigil that lasted for over two days, including the mobilisation phase, witnessed a high tempo of operations by all agencies and large-scale deployment of forces. All Operational Centres of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard and Control Rooms of Police and Kochi Port were fully activated and exchanged information with each other. During the exercise, multiagency teams evaluated the security set up implemented by agencies including at Fishing Harbours, Fish Landing Centres, Police Control Rooms and Ports amongst others.
Take-away of Sea Vigil
Exercise Sea Vigil, India’s largest-ever Coastal Defence Exercise was conducted over an intense 36-hour period from 22 and 23, 2019. Exercise Sea Vigil conceptualised and led by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard saw the simultaneous activation of India’s entire Coastal Security apparatus across all nine Coastal States and four Union Territories. The exercise saw the complete support and earnest participation of all Central and State agencies including the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of Defence (MoD), Customs, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Department of Fisheries, Director General, Lights & Lighthouses, Director General Shipping, Port authorities and the Coastal Police of all participating States.
Planned in two phases, the Phase I commenced with the deployment of personnel and sea-going units of all stakeholders. 150 ships and 35 aircraft of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard were deployed for the exercise. This when added to sea-going assets of other stakeholders like the State Police, CISF, and Customs etc. reached an astonishing 500-600 craft at Sea. This layered defence provided a near-unbroken ‘Nigrani’ or surveillance net along the entire coast of India and outlying Islands. This was further enhanced by the Chain of Radar Stations setup along the Indian Peninsula to establish an effective Coastal Surveillance Network. All this was fed back to the Joint Operations Centres set up by the Indian Navy at Mumbai, Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Port Blair for monitoring, analysis and response.
The uniform and technical surveillance network was further augmented by the fishing communities along the Coast as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the nation’s Coastal Security Construct. The Phase I also saw an intensive audit of all measures put in place since Mumbai 26/11 to improve the measures of efficiency and effectiveness of coastal security. This ‘Nireekshan’ was undertaken by multi-agency teams deployed to check and audit important landing points including Fish Landing Centres and Vulnerable Areas and important installations along the Coast as well as in the hinterland.
Commencing from 2000 hours on January 22, 2019 the entire coastal security apparatus transited to Phase II. This Phase saw attempts to penetrate and land dummy explosives by designated ‘RED’ forces comprising teams drawn from the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Police and CISF. These teams were given a free hand to commandeer fishing vessels; merchantmen etc. and attempt to reach the coast. 8-10 teams were deployed in each State and it is to the credit of all participating agencies that only a few ‘attacks’ were successful. Many attacks were allowed to ‘go-through’ to test robustness of Police ‘Nakabandi’ which was found to be very effective throughout the exercise. The Customs also undertook rummaging of visiting ships at anchorage and in harbour.
Driven by the MHA, the Phase II also saw the exercising of various contingencies on land after an ‘assumed’ landing. The National Security Guard was also called in to tackle hostage situations in two-three vital installations. Contingencies including hijacking of ships, bomb disposal in Malls, attacks and responses on places of worship, etc. were also exercised and tested for effectiveness. The Crisis Management Groups of States were also activated to deal with such situations.
Indian Navy, made responsible for overall maritime security including coastal and offshore security, will now conduct a detailed debrief for all stakeholders during March 2019. Debriefs would also be undertaken with all participants at the State and District levels. The feedback of the internal and external audit and lessons identified are planned to be presented at the next meeting of the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS), the nation’s highest body that monitors implementation of measures to enhance security post Mumbai 26/11. This is expected to allow stakeholders to focus efforts on identified vulnerabilities and lacunae. No Coast can be completely sealed at all times, however the ability to deter and prevent enemies of the State from unhindered access to land would continue to remain top priority for all stakeholders in the Coastal Security Construct.
This first-ever large scale Coastal Defence Exercise would be now institutionalised to be conducted every two years in addition to the State-focussed Sagar Kavach series of exercises. Sea Vigil 2019 saw the largest mobilisation of maritime and coastal security machinery in India and this sends an unambiguous message to Anti-National Elements that India would spare no effort to defend its Coast and territorial integrity at all times.