Need for Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA)

Bottom-line: A lot has been said on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) but now we should also focus on the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA).

Globally, the MDA is largely surface-driven and more of a security formulation. The MDA, in its present form, is grossly inadequate to handle the underwater threats emerging in the new world order. Further, the security tag brings multiple limitations in terms of involvement of other stakeholders like the blue economy entities, environmental regulators and disaster management authorities, and the science and technology providers into the larger effort of bringing state-of-the-art strategy and tools for managing the emerging challenges and opportunities.

The tropical littoral waters in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) presents sub-optimal performance of the sonars being deployed for any underwater surveillance efforts, both for military as well as non-military efforts. The degradation of performance is of the order of 60 to 70 percent, and requires substantial indigenous efforts in terms of soft acoustic capabilities to facilitate effective deployment of the imported hardware in our waters.

Thus, for India to play a critical role in the emerging Indo-Pacific formulation, it needs to balance hardware acquisition and indigenous acoustic capacity building to achieve effective UDA in the tropical littoral IOR.

The effective UDA framework needs to focus on pooling of resources and synergising of efforts across stakeholders so that a long-term R&D initiative with field experimental validation is taken up. For instance, with the import of US naval platforms, soft acoustic capacity and capability building support should be part of the sale contracts. Certainly, the same would be coupled with safeguards mechanisms for security of data and transferred technology, as in the case of the recently signed US-India Industrial Security Annex (ISA) towards fostering industry collaboration on co-development and co-production of arms.

The UDA on a comprehensive scale needs to be understood in its horizontal and vertical construct. The horizontal part would be the resource availability in terms of technology, infrastructure, capability and capacity specific to the stakeholders or otherwise. The vertical part is the hierarchy of establishing a comprehensive UDA. The first level or the ground level would be the sensing of the underwater domain for threats, resources and activities. The second level would be making sense of the data generated to plan security strategies, conservation and resource utilisation. The next level would be to formulate and monitor a regulatory framework at the national, regional and global level.

An effective UDA framework can encourage Safe, Secure and Sustainable Growth model to manage the challenges and opportunities in the tropical littoral waters of the IOR, whilst also ensuring that it is well aligned to the ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) vision proposed by the Indian Prime Minister. It will require efforts on all the three fronts, viz. Policy, Technology & Innovation and Human Resource Development.

Dr. Arnab Das, former Naval officer and founder of Maritime Research Centre (MRC) and Kashish Parpiani, fellow at ORF, Mumbai.

Source: An article published by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) titled as “US-India defence trade and India’s underwater domain awareness”


  • Shantanu K. Bansal

    Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at:

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