Coast Guard's H-187 Hovercraft, H-187 is the first of a line of twelve Air Cushion Vehicles (ACVs)

Under phase-I of the plan, 36 radar stations were set up on the mainland, six in Lakshadweep and Minicoy and four in Andaman and Nicobar

NEW DELHI: A decade after the 26/11 terror strikes rocked Mumbai, the Coast Guard’s long-delayed modernisation plans are finally taking some concrete shape now. It plans to become a 190-ship and 100-aircraft force by 2023, having pitched for a total outlay of Rs 2.09 lakh crore spread over the next 15 years.

It remains to be seen whether the Coast Guard will actually get what it wants under its long-term perspective plan (2017-2032), given that the annual defence budget has witnessed only paltry hikes for the last few years.

But several projects have been set rolling after the defence ministry last year approved a Rs 36,068 crore “definitive action programme (2017-2022)” for the Coast Guard to bolster its all-round capabilities to undertake coastal security, EEZ surveillance, anti-piracy, anti-smuggling, oil-spill and pollution-control operations, say sources.

The parliamentary consultative committee for defence chaired by minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week was also that informed that the Coast Guard, which has 1,837 officers and 10,262 enrolled personnel, is “likely to achieve” its targeted force-level of 190 “surface platforms” and 100 aircraft by 2023.

The Coast Guard, smallest among the armed forces after the Army, IAF and Navy, currently has 136 surface platforms, comprising 61 patrol vessels, 57 interceptor boats and 18 hovercraft, as well as 39 Dornier aircraft, 19 Chetak helicopters and four “Dhruv” advanced light helicopters.

India has taken several steps to bolster coastal security as well as ensure better coordination between intelligence and security agencies since the hijacked fishing vessel Kuber slipped through the cracks to allow Ajmal Kasab and nine other terrorists to reach Mumbai and unleash mayhem, which eventually killed over 160 and injured over 300 during the 26/11terror attacks ten years ago.

But much more clearly needs to be done. For one, a national maritime authority (NMA), which was promised by the NDA government soon after it came to power in 2014, remains missing in action. For another, about 2.2 lakh smaller fishing vessels still do not have AIS (Automatic Identification System) transponders to ensure they can be tracked.

The Coast Guard, however, hopes Phase-II of the coastal surveillance network (CSN), with 38 more stations with static radars and Electro-optic sensors, four mobile surveillance stations and integration of 13 radar stations of the VTMS (vessel traffic management systems) sites in the Gulfs of Kutch and Khambat, will be completed by 2019.

Under the Rs 600 crore Phase-I, 36 radar stations on the mainland, six in Lakshadweep and Minicoy and four in Andaman and Nicobar have become operational after several delays. It was 26/11 that finally forced the government to launch the CSN two decades after it was first proposed.