Upgrading Legacy Systems: Challenges and Opportunities
What are legacy systems? To have all equipment of latest technology in the inventory of any country’s armed forces is cost prohibitive. It is a judicious mix of mature or legacy, current and state of the art technologies that addresses the operational needs of any force. And therefore all the armed forces have to exist with the legacy system which in turn adds the need for sustaining, supporting, maintaining and exploiting the equipment. Every country therefore, goes through the stages of updating, upgrade and eventually phasing out of the equipment, consequently, every country has its quota or share of legacy systems.
Why do the legacy systems continue to exist?
In India, one of the most important factor for the existence of legacy systems is the Soviet Legacy. Many of our equipment are of the Soviet era when the primary exports of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries during the cold war era was defence equipment which included equipment of all the three services. Equipment was supplied as commercial products to developing countries and many of the countries including India still have these legacy systems. The land systems like tanks, infantry personnel carriers, air defence weapons were most sought after by the third world countries. In each of these categories the Soviets had a variety of equipment. The famous Mig and Sukhoi series in aircraft, the Mi and Ka series of helicopters, the T- series of tanks and air defence weapons like Pechora, Kvadrat and OSA AK were classical examples which still are in service with many countries. The Navy has its share of destroyers, corvettes and submarines.The 1973 War in the Middle East was a shining example of how air defence missiles could create ripples, at least in the initial stages of the war. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, global inventory of the former Soviet equipment became a new revenue source for the former Soviet Republics and East European countries. The various factories spread over several countries ensured that some or the other weapon was being manufactured by the newly independent countries of the erstwhile Warsaw Pact. Surplus stocks, spares and ware-housed equipment including missiles were available for a bargain but now they have become expensive both due to increased demand and due to falling supplies.
Maintenance and Sustenance of Legacy Systems
The legacy equipment cannot be replaced easily. The major reasons for this are the lack of availability of new systems and the prohibitive cost factor. Procurement delays due to the extensive processes involved in the defence procurement policy and production capability of the OEMs and their delivery are other reasons for non-replacement of the legacy systems. Therefore, the next best thing for a country to do is to update the existing legacy systems to improve their capability and extend their life. The best way to commence this is to maintain the system in an operational state for service for a dozen odd years than its original life. Firstly, to ensure that the systems are kept maintained well, spares must be made available. This could be by carrying out life time buys i.e. procuring all the spares required for five to ten years in one go. Secondly, efforts must be made to indigenize the spares either by making them in India or providing alternate parts, sub systems or spares. Another method to ensure sustenance is to carry out what is termed as cannibalization. This actually means that out of the certain available systems, certain equipment pieces are stripped and the parts used to sustain others. Co-production with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) by an Indian vendor is another method to carry this out. This could also be carried out at the field level too.
Obsolescence management is an important means of maintaining the legacy systems. It is important to note that upgrade of the equipment would also form part of this obsolescence management. The concept is to keep the mass and overall dimensions acceptable for the combat vehicle or mount or the vehicle and energy balance after installation of the new devices. There are minimal updates in the launcher or aircraft or combat vehicles’ functional connections. Adoption of up to date elemental base in the electronics portion of the equipment is also a way to upgrade. Any upgrade or addition of new devices would involve least number of sub units and connection cables to keep it simple. In fact the upgrade business is so important that these have been classified indicating the seriousness. These are classified as Class-1 which involves replacement of non-supportable components with production equivalents thus leading to extended life. Class-2 would mean Class-1 and in addition replacement of key functional components such as radar transmitter, receiver, signal processor, and data processor with modern digital equivalents in the case of air defence equipment. This helps in expanding capabilities and performance. Class-3 would mean Class-1 and 2 and launchers/carriers are re-hosted on new trailers or rebuilt on new self-propelled chassis which enhances the survivability. Finally Class-4 would involve the Hybridization i.e. introduction of a new engagement radar and new acquisition radar to supplement in the case of an air defence system.
Yet another method could be provision of electric drives to replace hydraulic and manual drives. Addition of electro optical fire control systems including optronic systems with CCD and TI Cameras or integrated sights with additional laser range finders are a part of the system. A totally different method is to add to the ammunition revolution by inserting smart ammunition to enhance performance. Enhancement of mobility with high mobility vehicles also adds to the capability of the legacy systems. In non-electrical systems addition of a fire control computer and a better power pack with main and auxiliary engines by replacing the gas turbines and saving on fuel and making the legacy system more efficient and reliable could prove to be a viable option.
In the field of radars, conversion and provision of radars for early warning and control of fire by introducing three dimensional phased array radars, low noise amplifiers and capability of multi target tracking due to electronic steering in elevation are some other features which can enhance the capability. Better Electronic Counter Counter Measures (ECCM) could also be added for better survivability and also could lower the power output of the radars a part of the update. Digital search cum tracking radars with capability of tracking multiple targets can be added. In other systems, integrated fire detection and suppression system could be added improvement. Modern communication system could be provided with better radio and inter communication systems. Crew comfort related systems like air conditioners and chillers are other improvements which can be added easily. Liquid Crystal Displays would make the displays very user friendly. In the case of the existing missile systems, replacement of subsystems of the equipment will increase its reliability and reduces its power consumption. It gives improved performance and extended functional capability. There are many sub systems like tyres, wheels, tracks, fuel pumps, spares and fire detection systems which can be cleanly replaced by new and better systems. New algorithms of data processing with software based moving target indicators and integrated circuits with high and medium levels of integration with use of microprocessors are other things that can be replaced with.
Another field where improvement and business can be done is in the field of various types of existing ammunition and missiles. The missiles also have limited life. The various rubber and electrical cables and other parts and circuitry tend to corrode, become brittle or perish with age even in controlled environment storage. The life of these missiles are generally extended beyond their shelf life with explosive testing of a few samples. Thereafter, the whole thing could commence with the refurbishment of the missiles. In this the perishable or brittle items and power sources are removed and replaced. Next would be the repair of the missiles which are in the storage depots. This would also help in the storage and safety of existing missiles stored in depots. The technicians do this job for the routine tests;however, in case the task is taken by a private vendor, the retired technicians can be co-opted by business companies to contribute to this field. Cannibalisation of missiles is a very practical solution but unlike the equipment, this needs technical know-how and trained personnel.
Overhaul is a very important field to maintain and increase the life of the legacy systems. This may involve the setting up of a Multifunctional Centre of Maintenance and Repair (MCMR) and would cater for overhaul and need to be based on infrastructure of existing base depots and workshops. This would cater for running maintenance with either original spares or substitutes, technical maintenance with expertise, test equipment and work force who know the equipment, restoring repairs by changing sub systems or repairing them and upgrading and training personnel and crew.
What has been done in the existing Legacy systems world over?
World over, there have been programmes to maintain these legacy systems to ensure optimal use without wasting the systems. Technology insertion programmes and upgrades have been done since the year 2000 especially to Soviet era equipment. Complete replacement of hard wired analogue electronics with new digital software based equipment using COTS technology has been carried out. For example, in many countries, missile systems like SAM 6 have been upgraded. Their surveillance and guidance radars have their analogue moving target indicators replaced with digital ones that provide better clutter rejection. Target classification for various air targets have been introduced so that the operator can make better judgment. The vacuum tubes radio frequency amplifiers have been replaced with solid state amplifiers. Cathode ray tube displays have been replaced with color CCDs thus increasing their service life to 10000 or 15000 hours and also reduced the power consumption and operational adjustments. Simple things like introduction of test and monitoring systems for recording and playback of actual operation have given the system a new lease of life. Built In Test Equipment (BITE) is another value addition to any equipment.
I feel that there is a big opportunity for Indian companies to tie with East European countries and other nations to provide solutions to increase and improve the existing legacy systems. The first opportunity is in providing the spares from existing inventory, spares in the depots held all over Eastern Europe or simply manufacturing for the life time buy needs. The establishment of MCMR at a suitable Base Workshop of the Army or the Base Repair Depot of the Air Force is a viable proposition. It would be a win-win game for the service provider and the user. The advantages that accrue would be firstly saving the nation’s financial outgo in terms of foreign currency and also increasing the life of the equipment in use. In addition, there would be added benefits for Make in India programmes for the MSMEs too.