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Indian Navy’s Annual HADR Exercise: A Collaborative Humanitarian Response in IOR

Cmde. Roby Thomas is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.
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  • August 09, 2019

    The Indian Navy recently conducted the third ‘Annual Joint Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Exercise’ at Chennai from August 02-04 2019, under the theme ‘Cyclone and Urban Flooding Relief Operations’. The exercise saw participation by multiple central and state agencies and included a seminar, table top exercise, exhibition, skill demonstration and final exercise in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. It also saw participation by ‘Naval Observers’ from eight countries, viz. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Seychelles, Australia, Kenya, Singapore, Somalia, Nepal and also the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat.

    The HADR series of exercises are conducted by the Indian Navy with a view to “develop interoperability in terms of doctrines, procedures, organisational and logistic systems and operational processes, so as to promote the development of regional naval capacities for speedy, responsive and effective HADR throughout the IOR”. This is enunciated in the Charter of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), of which India is the Chair for the IONS Working Group on HADR. This is also in consonance with Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)’, which envisions strengthening relationship with our partner littoral nations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), in a mutually supportive and cooperative manner.

    The IOR is one of the most disaster prone regions in the world. This coupled with the fact that the maritime capacities of most littoral states are not strong enough to individually address these challenges, necessitates collaborative solutions for disaster relief among like-minded nations in the IOR. The existing maritime cooperative initiatives in IOR, like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and IONS, have shown great promise and are being actively engaged by the Indian Navy. Further, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), another important construct in the IOR, has also identified ‘Environment and Disaster Management’ as one of the high priority areas of coordination and cooperation for BIMSTEC partner nations.

    Navies world over have had to balance their more traditional roles with involvement in irregular security missions, which included anti-piracy, anti-trafficking, counter-terrorism, etc. with the most prominent being HADR. The Indian Navy has over the years gained considerable experience in rendering HADR assistance to the IOR littorals. Since the Tsunami of December 2004, the Indian Navy has emerged as one of the first responders including in the more recent ‘Operation RAHAT’ in April 2015, wherein hundreds of Indian and foreign nationals were evacuated from Yemen; Cyclone Roanu that effected Bangladesh in May 2016; flood relief operations in Sri Lanka in June 2017; Cyclone Mora in Bangladesh in June 2017; shipment of relief aid to Bangladesh during the Rohingya Crisis in September 2017; the tsunamis that struck Indonesia in September and December 2018; and also Cyclone IDAI in Mozambique in March 2019.

    The Indian Navy’s deployment pattern has more recently shifted to the more dynamic ‘Mission-Based Deployments’. This involves deploying mission-ready ships and aircraft along critical sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) and chokepoints, always ready to meet any eventuality across the spectrum of operations ranging from acts of maritime terrorism and piracy to HADR missions. Accordingly, Indian naval ships always carry the minimum HADR material required for immediate relief. This provides the required flexibility and speed for the ships to be diverted anywhere at the shortest possible time to provide HADR assistance in its area of operations.

    The Annual Joint HADR series of exercises, conducted by the Indian Navy, also help in proactively preparing participating nations with tools for developing standard operating procedures (SOPs), streamlining interoperability and practicing procedures for collaborative participation when necessary. The first of the series, named Karavali Karunya (Assistance to the coast of Karnataka), was conducted at Karwar in Karnataka in May 2017 and was set on a Tsunami disaster scenario. This saw participation by ‘Naval Observers’ from four countries, viz. Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives and Bangladesh. The second was conducted at Kochi in Kerala in April 2018 and was named Chakravath (Cyclone).  The exercise projected the dynamic capabilities and swift mobilisation of the Indian Navy and other relief agencies during a calamity. ‘Naval Observers’ from six countries, viz. Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives, Bangladesh, Seychelles and Mauritius participated in the exercise.

    One of the main challenges towards effective collaboration in HADR operations is information sharing, the lack of which leads to poor coordination among relief agencies. Also, having incomplete perceptions of a disaster situation can lead to inefficient responses. Towards mitigating this, the Indian Navy launched the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) on December 21, 2018 at Gurugram in Haryana, with a view to build a common coherent maritime situation picture and to act as a maritime information hub for the IOR. The information exchange at the IFC-IOR is being initially undertaken by virtual means, using telephone calls, faxes, emails and video conferencing over internet. Subsequently, to enable better interconnection, quicker analysis of information, and to provide timely inputs, the IFC-IOR would host liaison officers from partner countries. This would ensure better liaison with partner governments and agencies of the effected region, ensuring a coordinated response to a HADR situation.

    While naval forces worldwide are not specifically designed for HADR, the related activities capitalise on many of the enduring attributes of navies, viz., mobility, adaptability, scalability and interoperability. The ability to use the seas as manoeuvre space and project power ashore means navies are able to respond rapidly with relief supplies and personnel, anywhere they are needed. The Annual Joint HADR series of exercises thus allows the Indian Navy to share skills and build partnerships with government organisations and their international counterparts, while providing immensely valuable training for its own personnel.

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