Saturday, September 26, 2009

Double-Edged Dissuasive Airpower Deterrence

Of all the operational commands of the Indian Air Force (IAF), it is the Western Air Command (WAC) that will have to operate as a double-edged sword in the event of a future round of hostilities along India’s high-altitude northern frontiers. Consequently, it is within the WAC that one is now witnessing a multi-phase operational-level transformation taking place, a process that began way back in mid-1999. It was during Operation Safed Sagar (from May 15 till July 12, 1999) that the WAC was first exposed to a high-altitude theatre of war, involving both fixed-wing combat aircraft and helicopters. At that time, close to 150 combat aircraft were deployed at the IAF;s air bases at Adampur (46 Mirage 2000Hs, MiG-29B-12s and Jaguar IS), Awantipura (28 MiG-21bis, MiG-29B-12s and Jaguar IS), Pathankot (30 MiG-21bis and MiG-23MFs), Srinagar (34 MiG-21bis, MiG-23BNs and MiG-27Ms), and Udhampur (12 MiG-21bis). Together, these aircraft collectively flew 550 strike missions, 150 tactical recce and COMINT missions, and 500 defensive counter-air and offensive escort-cum-sweep missions. The overwhelming majority of the strike missions were during daytime, with the Mirage 2000Hs (equipped with RAFAEL Litening-2 laser designator pods and Griffin laser-guided bombs) scoring high marks during the limited aerial bombing campaign. Needless to say, this was the first time in the history of military aviation that such aerial campaigns were carried out in a sustained manner over high-altitude battlefields.

Encouraged by such ‘baptism by fire’, the WAC by early 2002 had firmed up plans for phase 2 of its transformation process along the northern front and in mid-2003 a solitary Su-30MKI Mk2 did a trial-landing at the IAF’s Leh (located at 10,680 feet ASL and having a 9,000 feet-long runway) and Srinagar air bases. This was preceded by the Su-30MKI pilots during a few route-check flights and runway overshoots with MiG-29B-12s to familiarise themselves with the overall sortie pattern, weather conditions and the operating terrain. It was only after this that the four Su-30MKI Mk3s from the Barielly-based No24 Squadron along with 12 pilots landed at Leh on September 16 last year (in two phases of four each and led by flight commander Wing Commander K Sundaramani) for a 10 day-long deployment that also saw the Su-30MKIs each logging up to four training sorties per day and also doing overshoots of the runways at Srinagar and Thoise air base (located 10,066 feet ASL and hosting a 10,000 feet-long runway). Thoise is the acronym for Transit Halt of Indian Soldiers Enroute.

Prior to this historic deployment, was another pathbreaking achievement on May 31 last year when after a 44-year break, an IAF An-32B tactical transport aircraft landed on the 2.3km-long sandy airstrip (now being lengthened to 3km) at the 12,037 feet-high advanced landing ground (ALG) in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in the sub-sector north (SSN) area of Ladakh at 6.17am. This was followed by another An-32B landing at the refurbished ALG at Fukche (at 14,200 feet ASL) on September 24 last year, with the latest ALG being brought to life being Nyoma, south of Chushul, at 13,400 feet ASL on September 18 this year. All these ALGs facing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) will eventually have a 3km runway length and will be used for aerial logistics support (rendered by An-32Bs) for the more than 50 border observation posts (BOP) manned by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Vikas Battalion and the Ladakh Scouts (that’s right, because as per the Patrolling Limit Policy, or PLP, formulated by the Govt of India in 1975 and unchanged since then, only these agencies, and not the Indian Army, are responsible for border patrolling, with the Army patrols venturing to no more than 5km away from the LAC in eastern Ladakh!). Thus, with the An-32Bs (and in future the six Lockheed Martin-supplied C-130J-30 Stretched Hercules) being committed to providing all-year round air maintenance (since vehicular traffic is unavailable during winter from October to May), the IAF’s Mi-17s are now free to provide tactical air transportation of troops, provide perishable supplies for troops deployed along the Saltoro Ridge (via 10 dropping zones), as well as deal with time-urgent MEDEVAC sortie requirements. It was, in fact, the lack of such helicopter support (due to the acute shortage of available Mi-17s) that the Indian Army had great difficulty in redeploying its fully high-altitude acclimatised 114 Brigade (deployed along the LAC) for undertaking offensive operations during Operation Vijay in mid-1999.

To appreciate the critical role played by such enhanced aerial logistics capabilities, one has to understand the operational-level posture of the Indian Army’s Leh-based III Infantry Division, which has committed forces against Pakistan for the Siachen area of operations, and the SSN against China, stretching from DBO to Demchok—a frontage of 1,150km. Supplementing the Divisions three Brigades (with the 102 Brigade being deployed solely for Siachen and the remainng two Brigades being earmarked for support and back-up) are five Battalions of the ITBP, Vikas Battalion and Ladakh Scouts that are thinly spread. As a consequence, there are no Army reserve forces available at SSN and what further complicates matters is that SSN as a whole has not road connectivity. Therefore, the deployed troops undertake foot patrols in batches of 15 or 20 and have often come across intruding patrols of China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP), with each such patrol comprising up top 400 personnel riding on all-terrain wheeled vehicles. And when a faceoff ensues, the Indian Army along with the ITBP and Ladakh Scouts are strictly forbidden to enter into any verbal or armed altercations, and instead seek a flag meeting of the respective sector commanders. And when this happens, no cohesive, coordinated or united response is forthcoming from the Indian side, since the Indian Army reports to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the ITBP reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Such administrative mis-matches notwithstanding, the Indian Army and the IAF have devised several innovative measures for the flexible switching or redeployments of combat assets throughout the northern theatre of operations. For the IAF, the two principal all-the-year-round logistics nodes are the air bases at Leh and Thoise, located north and on either side of the 18,380 feet-high Khardung La pass (under the command of the Udhampur-based AOC Jammu & Kashmir HQ). While Leh will become the principal air base for any offensive air campaign launched by the IAF against China, Thoise (known till 1990 as SUI Generis-19 and operating under the Leh-based 21 Wing of the IAF) is today an independent air base with its integral No19 Forward Base Support Unit (FBSU) and hosts centrally-heated hangars for accommodating Mi-17s.

With India’s MoD now seemingly going on a belated overdrive for developing the military infrastructure along India’s 4,057km disputed frontier with China, the next five years will likely witness a five-fold increase in the demand for new-generation night landing aids and man-portable SATCOM-based communications systems, with the bulk of such hardware being acquired by the IAF, and the rest by the Indian Army. In the eastern sector, those ALGs earmarked for upgradation in Arunachal Pradesh include Tuting (Upper Siang district), Mechuka (West Siang), Vijaynagar (Changlang) and Passigat (East Siang district). Going hand in hand with such ALG reactivations is the construction of some 50 new helipads in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Uttarkhand, and a massive upgrade of the IAF’s air bases at Leh, Thoise, Tezpur, Hashimara and Panagarh, all of which will house detachments of the Su-30MKI air dominance fighter. Topping it all up are up to six new ALGs to be specifically built for supporting the Army routine tactical aerial surveillance along the Sino-Indian border with the help of medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles.

Each and every one of these ALGs, air bases and helipads will be equipped with several types of hardware that are currently in widespread use in active combat zones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. These include a wide range of remote-controlled night landing aids and portable lighting systems for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters on both land and at sea. For instance, a Tactical Approach Lighting System (TALS), currently deployed by ISAF forces in Afghanistan, is a field deployable, manportable, solid-state, battery-powered lighting system that will provide both infra-red and visible light sources. Light Units can be fully configured and operated via a UHF radio Remote Control Unit up to a typical range of 5km, or configured and operated manually. Illumination is provided over a hemispherical area by LED light sources. In infra-red mode the Light Units are NVG-compatible. The primary purpose of the TALS is to indicate landing and drop zones, forward arming and refuelling points, and can also be used for both covert and overt infiltration/exfiltration operations. Such systems are fully NATO-codified. A system consists of the following and is contained and transported in a backpack: one Remote Control Unit, six Light Units, six Ground Spikes (for deploying Light Units), one Universal input Battery Charger, and one Backpack which houses all the system units. The system provides sufficient Lights for a minimum operating strip (MOS) for fixed-wing aircraft or marking out a ‘T’ formation, typically used for helicopters. If a larger or more complex layout is required then any number of packs can be combined, and may be remote-controlled by single or multiple controllers either from on the ground or from in the air. Another mission-critical item that has already started flowing into the IAF is Signature Industries’ software-defined SARBE G2R and SARBE 6-406G personal locator beacons, which are also currently operational with the air forces of the UK and Singapore. When used in combat search-and-rescue mode, these beacons emit a short, randomised burst data transmission, along with the ability to stop and restart data transmissions on demand. This ensures extremely low probability of interception/detection by hostile passive surveillance systems.

Also underway today as part of the on-going transformation process is the long-overdue beefing up of the airspace surveillance network throughout Jammu & Kashmir. As stated by the WAC’s AOC-in-C Air Marshal N A K Browne on September 24, two distinct types of low-level lightweight radars (LLLWR) are being deployed along the 667km-long LAC with China, these being an initial two of three Rohini S-band 3-D radars built by Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which will be replaced between next year and 2012 by two out of the 19 ordered THALESRaytheon Systems-built Ground Master 400 S-band LLLWRs (to be sited at Leh and Nyoma). The Ground Master 400 is easily air-transportable by the C-130J-30, making it ideal for deployments at short notice for filling up essential gaps in airspace surveillance. To be acquired in future for siting at DBO, Thoise and Partapur are three modified EL/M-2083 aerostat-mounted L-band radars, which will also be air-transportable by both C-130J-30s and IL-76MDs. Thus, if all goes as per plans, by the end of the 11th Defence Plan (2007-2012) the IAF will have in place a robust and layered airspace surveillance network backed up by an in-depth deployment infrastructure (such as centrally heated hardened aircraft shelters) at air bases in Leh and Thoise for the Su-30MKI. For ground-based base air defence, the IAF has already decided to deploy up to a Battery each of the SpyDer-S E-SHORADS at these two air bases.—Prasun K. Sengupta

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Debunking A Myth

India-based intellectuals, be they civilians dabbling in strategic affairs or even serving or retired armed services chiefs, have repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable consistency in making ludicrous and largely discredited claims about Pakistan’s military-industrial capabilities that seemingly tend to give the Pakistan Armed Forces a debilitating force projection superiority over their Indian counterparts. The latest such accusation to have surfaced concerns the alleged efforts by the Pakistan Navy to modify its ship-launched Boeing-built RGM-84A and submarine-launched UGM-84A Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles (of 1984 vintage) into ship-launched 50nm-range dual-role anti-ship strike and land attack precision-guided missiles. True or false? Can such modifications be done covertly without any involvement by the guided-missile’s OEM?

The best and most convincing answer comes from none other than the OEM itself—Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, which had by the mid-1990s successfully modified the Harpoon into precision-guided land attack missile called SLAM-ER (standoff land attack missile-extended range), and had also developed the related Harpoon Shipboard Command Launch Control System and the AWW-14 data-link pod (this being for the air-launched variant of the SLAM-ER). The above slides clearly demonstrate what exactly were the modifications carried out by Boeing IDS on the basic Harpoon, and how this missile has since evolved into the SLAM-ER (which is now being offered to the Indian Air Force along with both the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-16IN Super Viper medium multi-role combat aircraft). Taking the cue from the SLAM-ER, both MBDA and Israel Military Industries (IMI) have adopted the same optronics-based precision-guidance approach for their SCALP and Delilah air-/ship-/submarine-launched standoff land attack missiles (as has the Pakistan Air Force with the Ra’ad air-launched land attack cruise missile).

Consequently, it emerges from the above that for any Pakistani military-industrial entity to modify the Harpoon into a LACM, it would not only have to radically redesign the missile’s nose section, but will also have to develop a passive optronic sensor and integrate it with the missile’s inertial navigation system, develop a new Shipboard Command Launch Control System, and develop the airborne data-link pod so that the LACM can be provided with over-the-horizon targetting (OTHT) cues at its terminal cruise phase. Which means, while the LACM will have to be launched from a warship lurking dangerously close to a hostile coastline, a defenceless manned airborne platform (either fixed-wing or rotary-winged) too will have to be in the warship’s immediate vicinity for providing OTHT cues.

Given such daunting R & D challenges, wouldn’t it be much easier for Pakistan to acquire and deploy ground-/air-/ship-launched LACMs like the Babur and Ra’ad, both of which not only have much longer engagement envelopes, but also heavier warheads for guaranteeing assured target destruction? And if at all it is so easy to modify or even reverse-engineer anti-ship cruise missiles of 1980s vintage, then can someone explain why the DRDO’s labs (like the DRDL, GTRE, IRDE and DARE) have still been unable to reverse-engineer the decommissioned BAE Systems-built Sea Eagle anti-ship cruise missiles (whose performance parameters closely resembled those of the Harpoon A) that have now been decommissioned and are available for total strip-down and cloning? Why has the DRDO been unable to re-engineer the Sea Eagle into an unmanned high-speed target drone capable of subjecting the Indian Navy's Barak-1 and Kashtan-M close-in anti-missile defence systems to some pretty realistic threat simulation environments of the kind expected to be faced in wartime? Why does this operational requirement (for the drones) remain unfulfilled till this day?
India’s civilian and military decision-makers—it thus seems—can bark galore but cannot bite.—Prasun K. Sengupta

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Selected Literature On Russia's PESA & AESA Radars

While Russian radar developers and manufacturers have failed to keep up with their Western counterparts in terms of introducing new-generation multi-mode AESA radars for both manned combat aircraft and airborne early warning & control platforms, there is still room for optimism if immediate steps are taken to redress the existing shortcomings. One interesting innovation the V Tikhmirov Scientific-Research Institute of Instrument Design has come up with concerns the ‘smart skin’ concept under which an AESA array’s L-band and S-band transmit/receive modules can be placed anywhere on board an AEW & C platform to generate the relevant radiation field required for achieving 360-degree hemispheric coverage of airspace. For countries like India such a technological breakthrough holds enormous promise, as this will now enable one to do away with conventional AESA antenna designs (like the one selected for the DRDO's to-be-developed AEW & C platform) that impose avoidable aerodynamics and structural penalties. To this end, it will be worthwhile to examine the prospect of modifying new-generation platforms like the IL-214 multi-role transport aircraft (MRTA)--being co-developed by India and Russia and to be co-produced in both countries as well--into an AEW & C plaform that would incorporate the 'smart skin' concept by acommodating conformally-mounted dual-band AESA T/R modules.--Prasun K. Sengupta