Maritime security initiative offers dual application to Quad

On May 24, 2022, at Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) in Tokyo, the four world leaders agreed upon an important initiative which will offer the Quad significant dual-use capability when fully operationalized. There have been repeated suggestions from think tanks across the world for Quad to add demonstrable teeth to address one of its important charters – Maritime Security. The Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative is a well thought out strategy in that direction.

In the emerging geopolitical disorder, it was becoming evident that smaller and militarily less capable countries were compelled to choose between the US and China for economic well being and security for stable and peaceful Indo Pacific. Given China’s economic propensity and likelihood of its over-taking the US to become the largest economy in the world, for over 120 countries China is their largest trading partner. Economies of these countries are intertwined with that of China with no signs of decoupling in the near future in the absence of an alternative. However, Indo Pacific Economic Framework, a precursor to Quad, provides that window of opportunity. Of the 13 participants, seven are ASEAN members and further participation is left open. The Quad countries need to rework to make this framework a potent alternative for the participants to reduce their economic dependence on China. As far as cooperative mechanisms for security are concerned, the US is the preferred and most powerful country in the world and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Yet, Quad charter wasn’t demonstrating any military intent which bothered the US in its pursuit to resist China’s disorderly behavior, particularly in the Indo Pacific. The IPMDA initiative will now provide just that through its multiple applications.

Regional Integration of Maritime Domains

The Chinese fishing boats, which are deployed for maritime surveillance and act as militia, are engaged in 95% of all illegal fishing worldwide. With sustainable use of resources in the Indo Pacific being one of the charters of Quad, it was essential to locate and track these fishing vessels before any action could be initiated. The IPMDA will be one such robust surveillance platform which is intended to integrate existing Maritime Domain Awareness platforms in the Indian Ocean Region, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands. With some investment by Quad partners it will be possible to use advanced technologies which would provide a near real time picture of the oceans and shores of the participating countries. Surveillance of oceans and adjoining coastline is prerequisite to peace, stability and prosperity.

Quad partners are expected to begin immediate consultations on this opportunity with their regional partners. The mechanism will extend support for information sharing across existing regional fusion centres such as, Indian Ocean Region based in India, Information Fusion Centre in Singapore, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency based in Solomon Islands and Pacific Fusion Centre based in Vanuatu, both of which are supported by Australia.

Harnessing commercially available data

Initially, the system is expected to harness commercially available data using existing technologies such as Automatic Identification System and Radio Frequency technologies. In this Quad partners will provide an unprecedented common thread of activities. Since the data is unclassified Quad could provide this data to a wide range of partners in their own regions.

The benefits of this humongous picture are immense. It will permit tracking of dark shipping and at tactical level, assist rendezvous of ships and vessels for investigation, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and subsequent action in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Laws Of the Seas (UNCLOS). This, in future, could form the backbone of any Regional Architectures for Maritime Security within the larger ambit of Quad in the Indo Pacific.