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Indian Air force C4ISR capabilities - A year end round up

Saurav Jha @SJha1618

Updated: December 24, 2013, 12:21 PM IST
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Beyond the accretion of new fighter and transport aircraft, it is the on-going digitization of the workings of the Indian Air force (IAF) that is the signature element of its transformation. Adopting information and communication technology (ICT) across the spectrum of its operations, the service is putting in place a new architecture for command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) that would make sure that there are no surprises from the enemy and that when bombs are dropped in anger they hit the targets they are actually meant to.
Keeping its lead in ICT initiatives over the Indian Army, IAF launched the first phase of a closed 3G cellular network called Air Force Cellular (AFCEL) in late October that seeks to both enhance communications security (COMSEC) as well as provide assured connectivity at all times. AFCEL is a WCDMA network that will ultimately enable voice, data, video streaming and file sharing between air warriors across India. Phase-I however provides such mobile connectivity only in the National Capital Region. The next phase will see its adoption across all of the IAF's stations as well as mobile unit. Indeed, in addition to a number of fixed AFCEL nodes, there will also be Mobile Base Transmitting Stations (MBTS) which will extend coverage to remote locations as well. . These nodes will facilitate a full IP network with stringent quality of service, high quality voice and of course data solutions. The system Integrator for AFCEL is HCL Infosystems with technology partners Alcatel Lucent India and the IAF's AFCEL Project Team. Once fully operational , IAF believes as reflected in the words of Air Chief Browne "that provision of this capability will keep our men and women connected to the Information Grid and ensure high situational awareness as well as greater synergy in Command and Control (C2) functions."

Tying in to IAF's new digitized communication network are ICT initiatives at maintenance command that will actually generate the data that will run through the system for effective control and deployment of war fighting capability. In early November, Wipro was handed an over Rs 900 crore contract by IAF to electronically monitor and automate the management of its fleet. Wipro which has won out in competition that also featured the likes of TCS, will provide an 'electronically captured dashboard sort of system which will replace the old system of manual logbooks' according to IAF officials. Ultimately as part of the multi-year project, IAF will set up 'an enterprise-wide, online maintenance management system covering configuration management, fleet planning and management, maintenance repair and overhaul and will enable precise mobilization of assets and real time command and control optimization. The e-maintenance system will eventually be implemented in more than 170 locations, covering nearly 600 IAF units.
These ICT initiatives essentially serve as a back end to AF-NET which has replaced the IAF's old main communication network set-up using tropo-scatter technology from the 1950s. Under AF-NET all major formations and static establishments have been linked through WAN and are accessible via data communication channels. Significantly, the nationwide programme was launched by the IAF in collaboration with private industry to link all field units using a dedicated satellite which will be launched in 2014.
AFNET incorporates the latest traffic transportation technology in the form of internet protocol (IP) packets over the network using multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). A large voice over internet protocol (VoIP) layer with stringent quality of service enforcement will facilitate robust, high quality voice, video and conferencing solutions. Now, the IAF's emerging Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), an automated command and control system for AD operations will ride the AFNET backbone integrating all ground-based and airborne sensors, AD weapon systems and C2 nodes. The IACCS will consist of ten major nodes with each node having ADDCs under it which in turn will be continuously connected with both Air Staff HQ as well regional command HQs. These ten nodes will emerge out of the IAF's drive to both introduce network capable systems at existing sites as well as set up new AD sites in light of the evolving threat picture in the north and north east from China and Pakistan. Importantly, the IACCS will also bring AD coverage to the Southern peninsula.

The IACSS by 2015-17 will have under its purview a fully modernized fleet of early warning and electronic countermeasures (ECM) resistant radars. As of now the IAF's chief ground based radar assets are the THD-1955, 36D6 and the P-12/18 family and the indigenous INDRA-II. While these legacy assets have served the IAF well, their age means that system frequencies have likely been gauged by India's opponents who would have also developed relevant ECMs. Moreover though these systems have undergone some upgradation over the years aimed at enhancing their electronic counter countermeasures (ECCM) capabilities, their inherent upgradability itself is limited by the fact that they aren't really digital or software defined.
As such the IAF has begun to progressively induct contemporary jam-resistant radars with digital receiver and programmable signal processing. This means that the software defined back ends of these radars can re-programmed to keep ECCM capability up to date. The IAF is also introducing its first ground based active arrays in the form of the Arudra MPR boasts advanced digital processing technologies such as digital beam forming and programmable signal processing to fully exploit the capabilities of its S-band solid state active aperture that can detect and track fighter sized targets from more than 300 km away. The radar is also capable of both stand alone as well as network centric modes, although in the latter department Arudhra apparently offers extremely potent capabilities. Replacing the P-12/18 family is DRDO's Rohini 3D which has a range of around 150 kms for fighter sized targets been designed for mobility and survivability and is mounted on two high mobility TATRA vehicles with the power unit being in a third TATRA that hosts 2 X 125 kva generators. LRDE claims that the entire set up can be deployed or decamped in 30 minutes. Though a mechanically steered pulse Doppler array, Rohini's ECCM capability owing to its all-digital environment is noteworthy.

The advent of a serious air threat from China has meant that the IAF has had to move much more quickly on filling gaps in India's mountainous regions. This is being accomplished through the induction of a number of low level light weight radars of both French as well as Indian origin. Cognizant of the enormous difficulties in keeping round-the-clock radar coverage in mountainous areas, IAF is well into the process of bringing in 18 Aslesha Low level Light Weight Transportable radars (LLWTRs) of indigenous origin which as per DRDO is "a multifaceted ground based S-Band 3D LLWTR for deployment in diverse terrains like plains, deserts, mountain tops and high altitude regions and can also scan valleys". Interestingly this quadripod-mounted radar can operate in networked or stand-alone modes and features multiple Electronic Counter Counter Measures (ECCMs). Given its potency against even relatively low RCS targets such as UAVs, the Aslesha represents a quick way to provide coverage as well as extend the reach of the overall air defence 'network.'

However, true situational awareness in mountainous areas cannot be achieved without deploying airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) in numbers and this is exactly where the recently acquired IL-76 based PHALCONs are proving to be a game changer. The PHALCON's EL/M-2075 radar can detect low radar cross section (RCS) targets amidst background clutter from hundreds of kilometres away, 24 x 7 and under all weather conditions. Its AESA technology allows it to achieve superior target discrimination in comparison to mechanically steered arrays and also makes it less susceptible to interception and jamming. For instance track initiation by the EL/M-2075 is achieved in 2 to 4 seconds as opposed to the 20 to 40 seconds that is standard with legacy AWACS types sporting rotodomes housing mechanically steered arrays. Coupled with a state-of-the-art IFF, the PHALCON does seem to live up to its role as an airborne C2 asset. The IFF system incidentally also employs solid state phased array technology to perform interrogation, decoding, target detection and tracking while utilizing a monopulse technique to implement azimuth measurement. Connected to the PHALCON via the BEL link-2, the IAF's BVRAAM armed Su-30 MKIs can be reasonably expected to establish air superiority over sub-continental skies in a relatively short period of time. The PHALCON in any case will be a key element in the IACCS's cruise missile defence posture given its characteristics. At the moment two more PHALCONs are on order from Israel, but it is clear that more will have to be brought in given the Chinese Airforce's posture vis a vis India.
In the near future the PHALCON will be supplemented by three DRDO developed Embraer ERJ-145 based AEW&C which will operate in conjunction with the PHALCON. This indigenously developed system with its primary radar being an S-band AESA is expected to deliver features such as high performance tracking and priority tracking with reference to fighter sized targets. Besides the primary radar these modified ERJ-145s also house a secondary surveillance radar (SSR), ESM, CSM, mission communication system (MCS) consisting of SATCOM and data links (such as the Link-2) and a comprehensive self-protection suite (SPS). It is also noteworthy that the modified ERJ-145 used in this program is in-flight refuelling capable.
Satisfied with the first indigenous AEW&C project, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave 'in principle' approval to DRDO to complete development of a much larger indigenous AEW & C system in the PHALCON class within a period of 84 months. Once developed this system, which naturally be based on an IL-76 sized aircraft will remove India's dependence on foreign sources for high end C2I operations and provide round the clock coverage of most of India's airspace. IAF sees itself operating at last 20 fixed wing early warning aircraft by the 2020s.
IAF is also bringing more aerostats equipped with the EL/M-2083 radar which is reported to be a derivative of the 'Green Pine' missile defence radar used in the Arrow anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. The EL/M-2083 given its reported antecedents is probably a L-band phased array radar capable of search, acquisition as well as fire-control. It can acquire and track targets at both "high" and "low" altitudes, identify targets such as cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against background clutter. It also performs its scans electronically in both azimuth as well as elevation and does so out to a potential 500 km. A potential buy of up to a dozen such systems from foreign sources may be in the offing with more inductions once indigenous types like the Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment's (ADRDE's) in development 'Nakshatra' aerostat becomes available.
In addition, IAF seems to be finally progress in its bid to bring in nine 'special mission' jet aircraft, whose procurement was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council in April this year. Two out of these nine aircraft are expected to perform a signals Intelligence (SIGINT) role while the rest will be configured for communications jamming (COMJAM), aerial survey, flaring and target towing. In the past, this particular tender had run into heavy weather due to cost escalation issues, but there are indications that it might just go through this time over. The chief contenders in the fray are joint offerings by IAI and Embraer on one hand and Hawker Beechcraft and Raytheon on the other.
First Published: December 24, 2013, 12:21 PM IST

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