C&R: The Weakest Link in Air Defence
Vol 11 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2018
The need for super high response ADC&RS systems
Saturday, January 27, 2018
A typical Air Defence battle has some uniquely characteristic features which set it apart from other forms of warfare. These features actually become the terms of reference for the air defence warrior under whose confines he must aim to defy and negate the air threat at hand. Since the initiative in the air defence battle resides with the attacker, the said terms of reference are also set by him. He does it by setting the battle environment with his capability to prosecute the air threat through multiple air threat vehicles comprising of aircrafts, attack helicopters (AH), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), Cruise Missiles, Anti Radiation Missiles (ARMs) duly armed with a slew of smart and intelligent munitions operating both in the conventional, as well as, the soft kill domain. This offensive punch is further revamped by the enabling technologies like stealth, nano, artificial intelligence, teaming of the manned and the unmanned systems and more. All this provides the attacker with a resultant capability of delivering a debilitating lethal punch with speed and precision.
Such a battle environment set by the attacker poses a world of challenge for the defender. This challenge is actually contained in the three words; ‘search,’ ‘identify, ‘counter’. Each one of these words is a vertical in its own right. The bottom line is that the entire cycle of the air defence battle to counter the threat as described above, needs to be completed in a matter of just a few fleeting minutes and seconds.
The responsibility to do the above task lies in the domain of Air Defence Battle Management Command and Control (ADBMC2) System also referred in part as the Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS). The cardinal importance of ADC&RS is contained in the fact that leaving aside the actual end game of countering the threat by launch of weapon systems, everything else leading up to it, lies in its forte. Simply put, if the ADC&RS muscle in an Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) is weak no air defence weapon system of any sort can perform optimally. Even the best of technology will simply fade away if the ADC&RS is not up to the mark.
Unfortunately, in our scenario, such is the case. In fact, some urgent action is required to revamp the current state of ADC&RS if we intend to use our weapons with some effect against the aerial onslaught by the adversary.
ADC&RS draws its pivotal importance from the continuum of activities it controls in the air defence battle chain.
The first is the task of initial detection of the air threat vehicles in the air space followed by their identification as to friendly or hostile (referred to as identification of friend or foe or IFF). These two by itself are a huge technological challenge. Due to the availability of multiple threat vehicles with the attacker, a large number of them are launched in the airspace at the same time. These not only need to be discerned as to their type and likely intentions, but also to be identified in a few moments. As also, since multiple sensors (radars) of the defender look at the huge array of aerial threat vehicles of the attacker at the same time, there is a challenge of fusing their inputs in real time as to cut out duplication in reporting.
Having detected and identified, comes the task of prioritising the incoming threat as to its comparative lethality with reference to the vulnerabilities being protected. For this, a huge array of variables related to the demonstrated and implied behaviour of each air threat vehicle, its likely lethal payload, intentions and more, as applied to own assets need to be processed in an automated mode through a man-machine interface
Based on this priority, the system then makes a selection of air defence arsenal (aircrafts, SAMs, terminal weapons of Air force, Army and Navy) to inflict punishment for effect. This selection is not black and white, it is seamless and dynamic. Seamless, because the selection of weapons for fire cuts across Service boundaries. The criterion is to maximise the effectiveness at target end by choosing the most suitable weapon system at the instant of application irrespective of the fact as to which Service it belongs to. Dynamic, because the initial selection is subject to change in real time from weapon to weapon and from GO to NO GO in response to the dynamics of the changing behaviour of the incoming threat. The bottom line being to inflict successive seamless punishment on the threat as it draws inwards from long ranges to its intended target. This above prioritisation, selection and control fire of is referred to as minute-to-minute control of the air defence battle.
It will be noticed that if there is one thing that is ‘fleeting past’ in this whole cycle, it is TIME. Invariably, the entire sequence right from identification of the threat to the initial scramble for interception and going up to the end-game of terminal end engagement may just extend to a few MINUTES only. This defines the criticality of the ADC&RS system, and the need for its super high response in executing the battle functions enumerated above. This also explains why without an effective ADC&RS any air defence weapon will become sub optimal.
Besides the above battle sequence, ADC&RS deals with a hundred other things, such as dealing with stealthy targets, or with targets that ‘never show up’ since they deliver their lethal load at long stand-off ranges demanding out-of-sight engagements. All this and more stands in addition to the routine but mammoth workloads like station keeping, resource management, auto status updates and above all, airspace control (which is a huge vertical by itself).
By compulsion therefore, the system to execute the above challenge has to have a tremendous response. It must be fool-proof redundant and near real-time. Countries round the world are fielding complex ADC&RS featuring the latest technologies in surveillance, data transmission and battle control. In specific terms, a typical ADC&RS will have certain characteristic signatures some of which are enumerated below.
• A complete array of Control Centres (called ADC&RS Communication Nodes) established all across the borders.
• A main spinal artery of communication highway normally based on redundant media that connects the above ADC&RS nodes with a whole lot of sensors (radars) deployed upfront as to cover maximum range and depth across the borders, as well as, air defence weapons from the theatre to field level, cutting across Service boundaries.
• A redundancy to the main communication spinal with a capability of auto-switching of media in a dynamic and flexible manner.
• Add-on systems and organisations to execute associated functions, viz, IFF and Air Space Control.
• Inbuilt system capabilities for optimal resource allocation, task ordering and management of different threats requirements across diverse range and height bands.
All the above make up for a complex system. Challenges like tying up dissimilar air defence systems in one command and control loop, achieving a perfect multi-sensor fusing or a 100% fool -proof IFF, are something the world is still grappling with. What is the Indian scene? To the extent open sources permit, this is known :-
• An Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) is in place for controlling and monitoring air operations by the Air Force at the strategic (Service HQ), operational (Commands) and tactical (Division) level cutting across Service boundaries.
• The system has been designed by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) a ‘Navratna’ Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU). Recently, the system was showcased in part by BEL at the Defence and Security Exhibition (DSEI) 2017 at Bangkok Thailand from 06-09 Nov 17.
• The system has a connect with a large array of Sensors belonging to both Service and civil domains besides human intelligence (humint) resources (Mobile Observation Posts).
• The communication and data transfer backbone called the Air Force Net or AFNET is a satellite communication (SATCOM) wide area network (WAN) with internet protocol (IP) based on open architecture and state-of-the-art human-machine interface (HMI). IACCS operations will ride the AFNET (launched on Sep 14, 2010) integrating all ground-based and airborne sensors, air defence (AD) weapon systems and Command and Control (C2) nodes. Subsequent integration with other services networks and civil radars will provide a Recognised Air Situation Picture (RASP) to operators to carry out AD role.
• As stated, the System is capable of generating accurate, updated and complete RASP for local as well as centralized air space control, surveillance and Threat Evaluation on the basis of Identification of tracks. It can provide weapon allocation solution to aircrafts for interception and other Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) means.
• As per open sources the Govt has cleared the proposal for a nearly Rs 8000 Crs for IACCS. This fund injection will take the IACCS towards completion with a comprehensive capability to get the RASP, integrate different sensors of the three Services and establish all the required Communication Nodes or Sector HQ.
• Till date, five Communication nodes located at Barnala, Wadsar, Aya Nagar, Jodhpur and Ambala have been established by the Air Force under IACCS. In Phase 2 of the IACCS, four major nodes and 10 sub-nodes are planned for the Eastern, Southern and Central sectors as well as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Project.
• In order to process and analyse the data coming in from multitude of sensors and nodes, Joint Command and Analysis Centres (JCACs) have been set up at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmadabad.
• Besides satellite connectivity with ISRO launched satellites (GSAT 7A), the plan is to continuously leverage cutting edge space based technologies for IACCS in the field of surveillance, reconnaissance, and battle management and control as these keep becoming ripe for deployment in the ISRO’s march into the future.
Alongside the IACCS, the Army’s system for ADC&RS responsible for the tactical and minute-to-minute control of the air defence battle as prosecuted by the GBAD weapons under the jurisdiction of Army Air Defence has also been designed by BEL. What IACCS does for the Air force sensors and shooters, Army’s ADC&RS (named Project Akashteer) does for the Army, though on a lower scale and scope (Multi-sensor fusion, near real time data transfer, generation of RASP against a Geo Information System or GIS background and more).
The basic building blocks of Akashteer run along similar lines as that for IACCS. The media for battle control and data transmission is similar SATCOM established on a WAN with IP protocols. Keeping the mobile nature of the Army air defence weapons and operations in mind, the satellite terminals fielded for Project Akashteer are on transportable platforms (Transportable Satellite Terminals or TSTs procured under Project Nishan). These TSTs (connected to their respective satellite hubs) thread various vehicle based ADC&R nodes of the Army from operational to tactical level.
These nodes are deployed alongside various Ground Based Air Defence Weapon Systems (GBADWS) in the field and control weapons placed in their tactical and operational control. The range of battle functions to be performed remain the same, viz, surveillance of air space, identification of aerial targets, IFF, prioritisation of threat, weapon selection, target designation and minute-to-minute control of air defence battle.
The basic blocks of Project Akashteer and Nishan in terms of TSTs, hubs, and individual vehicle based ADC&R nodes stand developed and a first prototype version of the same has been put through a test bed in 2015. In fact, BEL received a National award for ‘Design Effort’ during the year 2015-16 for the Test Bed for an Automated ADC&RS developed by its Design and Execution (D&E) division of Network Centric Systems.
While the award stands on one side, the developer (BEL) has now to address the most fundamental and critical requirement of ADC&RS which actually flows out from the basic nature of air defence operations where the driving word is ‘INTEGRATION’. To put it briefly, since the air defence battle does not recognize nor differentiates between Service boundaries. it is one seamless onslaught of lethal punishment that has to be inflicted upon the aerial attacker, right from the time it is detected hundreds of Km away, till such time it is destroyed, or the mission is abandoned. All this, in a matter of few fleeting minutes as stated earlier. Since the weapons that have to execute this battle function reside in the core competency domain of different services (Air force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard), the ADC&RS of each Service controlling its air defence weapons need TO BE INTEGRATED in one seamless loop of communications and connectivity so that the execution of the air defence battle may pass seamlessly from weapon-to-weapon and system-to-system regardless of the fact of ownership (and hence control) of such weapons by individual Service.
Such seamless connectivity is not only required for the effective execution of the air defence battle but also to avoid fratricide. Blue-over-Blue continues to remain the unpardonable sin of any air defence warrior. What does this integration mean, let us say between IACCS and Akashteer? Essentially the following
• Media commonality not only in generics, but also in versions, generations and levels between the two systems
• Seamless flow of RASP from the highest ADC&R nodes of the Air force to the lowest ADC&R node of the Army AD in a selective presentation mode, wherein, a typical ADC&R entity, based on its level and authorisation, is presented a part of the RASP as relevant to it, in real time.
• Macro-micro in the same node at the same time. This implies, that the relevant theatre information, as well as, the one that is relevant to the effectiveness of the weapon(s) system controlled by a particular C&R Node is presented in a PIP (Picture-in-Picture) mode in the same node with a capability of seamless transition of incoming threat from the macro to micro display as the threat draws towards the asset controlled by the node.
• Real time flow of track-ridden IFF information, authorisation/prohibition of fire, airspace control instructions post auto-conflict resolution, and dynamic updation of base details in terms of Fire Areas, No fly Zones and more.
• Auto-switching of media in case of catastrophic damage/force-masseur situation.
• Human override where safety so dictates.
This is still a work-in-process and stands as a huge challenge in front of BEL. There is an urgent operational need to achieve the said integration in the manner stated above. In fact, the author is of the view that it is more urgent to address the integration challenge than to venture into the development of Phase 2 of the IACCS.
During the test bed of Project Akashteer quite a few integration issues with IACCS have been addressed. Some of these include near seamless feed of basic data and RASP from IACCS node to Akashteer node, flow of IFF information, limited integration and pooling of radar resources and more.
That the beginnings made during the Test bed need to be taken to its successful conclusion is an urgent operational expediency.