The Coast Guard may be the youngest of the armed forces but it is inching closer towards establishing a formidable identity of its own.
And its efforts to step out of the "Navy's shadow" were backed by Defence Minister AK Antony, who said on Sunday that the Coast Guard would be provided more ships, aircraft, surveillance equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles to make it a reckonable force in the Indian Ocean Region. He said the extension of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) after the delineation of the continental shelf would place additional responsibilities on the Coast Guard.
"It is mandated with the task of protecting 2.01 million square kms of India's EEZ. But in the new scenario, its responsibilities will extend beyond 3 million square kms," Antony said after reviewing a Coast Guard fleet to mark its 30th anniversary.
As part of a campaign to enhance its "deepwater capabilities", the Coast Guard has formulated its 15-year perspective plan for the acquisition of 15 new ships and 23 aircraft during 2007-2022. Antony assured that its requirements would be met.
The air assets sought by the Coast Guard, which operates Dorniers and Chetaks, include multi-mission maritime aircraft, twin-engine helicopters and UAVs for sharpening its surveillance capabilities.
Coast Guard Director General Vice Admiral Rusi Contractor said the force's responsibilities had increased manifold since its creation 30 years ago in terms of protecting India's maritime interests, marine wealth and ocean resources.
To effectively meet the challenges of its varied roles, the Coast Guard will be expanding its fleet in the near future with the induction of five fast patrol boats, two advanced offshore patrol vessels, three pollution control vessels, three inshore patrol vessels and 11 interceptor boats. It has commissioned new stations at Pondicherry, Beypore and Kakinada to bridge the surveillance gap along the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. These stations assume significance
in the light of oil and gas finds off Chennai and in the Krishna Godavari basin.
Antony emphasised that the Coast Guard needed bigger ships, more infrastructure and additional manpower keeping in view its diversified role. The force has also been appointed the focal agency in the country to combat piracy and armed robbery under the Regional Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia — a pact signed by 16 countries.
Antony said the force, under a home ministry initiative, was also assisting several states to set up maritime police stations and train police personnel under the coastal guarantee scheme. The objective of the move is to ensure that small dinghies and craft cannot be used to land contraband to the Indian shores.
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