The Indian Army (IA) believes that state of the art intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems can serve to give it an advantage over even collaborating adversaries on either flank.
As such investment by IA into contemporary ISR systems has been steadily rising with a view to making the kill chain shorter, garnering tactical intelligence and even achieving non-kinetic neutralization capability.
The electronic order of battle (EOB) however requires continuous upgradation as well as the development of a doctrine dovetailed to the absorption of new technology. Since ISR systems are a closely guarded arena and may involve non-negotiable operational security (OPSEC) considerations indigenous development is an imperative.
Fortunately, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has been working closely with Indian industry to deliver on this front. However in a world where one sometimes has to run fast enough just to stay where they are, the focus should be on scaleable and upgradeable networks that can also act as enablers of jointness with the Indian Air force (IAF) and Indian Navy(IN).
IA's spend on ISR systems is expected to exceed 5-6 billion dollars by 2020. Large investments have already been made in the area of signals intelligence (SIGINT) leading to the development of highly capable products such as the Samyukta electronic warfare (EW) system. Samyukta, developed by DRDO's Defence Electronics & Research Laboratory (DLRL) along with IA's Signal Corps is a 145 vehicle based integrated EW system consisting of electronic intelligence (ELINT), communications intelligence (COMINT) combined with electronic countermeasures (ECM) and electronic support measures (ESM) blocks covering both radar and communication frequency bands ranging from 1.5 MHz - 40 GHz i.e all the way from High Frequency (HF) to Millimetre Wave (MMW).
Samyukta which is capable of intercepting, detecting and classifying pulsed, CW, PRF agile, frequency agile and chirp radars is very much in keeping with the move towards wideband digitally flexible SIGINT systems in the ISR domain to deal with an increasingly congested and complex threat spectrum. The key enabler of wideband jamming capability in the case of Samyukta is a multiple beam jammer array antenna with Rotman lens that can handle numerous threats simultaneously in X - Ku bands.
Technology for antennas which provides the necessary interface between the transmitter/receiver system and free space today is evolving towards smart, shared aperture, and fractal systems that are increasingly embracing millimeter, sub-millimeter and quasi-optical radiators. These new approaches are expected to yield high performance, low-cost, compact size, lightweight, conformal mounting for low radar cross section (RCS) array integration leading to higher deployability and stealth.
Micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS) will be used to produce reconfigurable electromagnetic structures that can perform multiple functions instead of being dovetailed to a single use.
The development of 'smart antennas' and new advances in core technologies such as microelectronics are miniaturizing systems in weight and volume covering a wide frequency range. Smart film materials are being pursued to package together these wind ranging goals which are likely to find expression in the follow on to the Samyukta known as Sauhard being developed by DLRL.
Realizing that though effective, the Samyukta system is meant for large scale forward deployment in the plains, IA and DLRL are now birthing an IEWS for mountainous terrain or IEWS-MT. For effective deployment in high altitude areas, IEWS-MT will obviously have to sport lighter weight electronic systems and will exhibit some of the new technology features outlined above. Tata Power SED has been selected as system integrator for this 186 million US dollar program. TPSED will develop and supply two IEWS-MT systems that include ECM, ESM packages for electromagnetic spectrum scanning, location-fixing of enemy transmitters, jamming, interception of enemy communications, both cellular and radar.
DLRL is also venturing into developing more compact and modular ELINT systems such as the 'Sujav' which it says is meant for high accuracy DF and jamming of communication transceivers. It covers HF, VHF & UHF ranges and is available in cluster configuration for army use or in suite configuration for naval usage. It has also developed the 'Safari' IED suppression system for IA and paramilitary forces. DRDO's various jammers naturally employ digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) techniques for digital flexibility.
A very big aspect of staying at the cutting edge of EW is the availability of dedicated testing and training ranges for the same. In this context the development of Chitradurga (Karnataka) and Tandur(Andhra Pradesh) as EA ranges is a very welcome development indeed. These ranges will in all probability see the use of DARE's Range On Wheels (ROW) concept. ROW has been developed for evaluation of installed specifications of airborne EW Systems and for fine tuning EA techniques. This mobile range consists of representative threat radar, a reference radar, a slaved system (DASA), a data acquisition station, a mission control station and a generator vehicle. It can also be used for avionics, and weapon evaluation since it is capable of studying aerodynamic data in real time for aircrafts, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Indeed for truly persistent 'ISR', IA has to move towards airborne intelligence systems which will increasingly be based on medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs in the years ahead that enable an operator to look 400-500 kilometres deep into enemy territory. Putting together credible SIGINT packages on UAVs requires not just superior antenna technology but may end up seeing a generational shift in electronics as such. Some developers believe that the need to package more capable ISR payloads combined with management of limited on-board power on UAVs will lead to Gallium Nitride(GaN) based semi-conductor technology totally replacing the current Gallium Arsenide(GaAs) in power transistor devices at the higher end of the frequency spectrum as SIGINT packages increasingly operate in that part of the spectrum. GaN is preferred over GaAs in the course of this evolution since it offers exceptional power density and can operate at higher power levels over higher frequencies with greater efficiency. In this context India may need to create GaN foundry capability on an urgent basis.
Even as we watch out for the progress of intelligence packages on UAVs, a prototype Ku-band synthetic aperture radar(SAR) developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), DRDO's key radar lab based in Bangalore, is set to be flight tested on the Nabharatna Do-228 flying testbed supplied by HAL earlier this year. This indigenous SAR, which will eventually be carried by the Rustom-2 MALE UAV is expected to boost medium range battlefield mapping capabilities by conferring IA with the ability to cover ground the size of an army corps commander's area of interest from a safe stand-off distance. The observational element, which will be combined with effective ground moving target indication (GMTI) will prove rather useful for the various classes of loitering attack systems that are currently on DRDO's drawing board.
Systems based on unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) however seem to be moving faster. DRDO's Combat Vehicles and Research Development Establishment (CVRDE) has created a family of BMP-II based UGVs called Mission Unmanned Tracked (MUNTRA). The system consists of a manned BMP-II unit called MUNTRA-B serving as a base station for three tele-operated BMP-II based UGVs tailored to specific roles. One UGV variant dubbed MUNTRA-M uses a VHF band ground penetrating radar (GPR) developed under DRDO's 'Divya Chakshu' program to detect buried IEDs. A CBRNE variant called MUNTRA-N has also been developed.
IA already deploys several battlefield surveillance radars (BFSRs). The longest ranged BFSR in the IA inventory is the X-band PIT 530 BFSR-MR, which can detect a group of moving people at 18 km, low flying helicopters at 25 km, moving vehicles at 40 km and a 155 mm artillery blast at 15 km. BFSR-MRs are currently deployed with IA's mechanized infantry units (MIUs). These radars originally designed by ELTA are currently being produced by BEL under license.
BEL's PJT-531 Battlefield surveillance radar-Short range (BFSR-SR ) however is an indigenous product developed by LRDE in a period of just 24 months in response to a specific qualitative requirement from IA. BFSR-SR is a man portable, battery powered J-band surveillance and acquisition radar capable of detecting crawling men at 500 m, moving groups of people at 5 km and a group of vehicles at 10 kms. It can track 50 targets in track-while-scan (TWS) mode and displays target information on a high resolution portable colour PC display. Interestingly, the BFSR-SR has made it to the MUNTRA program with a MUNTRA-S UGV carrying it in both tele-operated and autonomous modes. Summer trials of MUNTRA-S were concluded recently.
IA certainly has been steadily adding to its radio frequency measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) capabilities as epitomized by the acquisition of weapon locating radars (WLR). After buying some eight AN/TPQ-37 WLRs off the shelf from Hughes, IA today has placed significant orders for the LRDE developed and BEL built Swathi WLR which is a coherent, electronically scanned C-band pulse doppler radar. The radar automatically locates hostile artillery, mortars and rocket launchers and tracks friendly fire to locate the impact point of friendly artillery fire to issue necessary corrections and is capable of dealing with counter-battery fire from up to 30 kms away. Swathi WLR has been specifically designed for high mobility, quick deployment operations in an ECM environment.
IA of course also has to guard against incoming aircraft and not just ballistic projectiles. Army Air Defence (AAD) is currently receiving deliveries of the Bharani Low level Light Weight L-Band 2D Radar which is a battery powered compact sensor tailored for employment in mountainous terrain against hostile aerial targets like UAVs, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft flying at low and medium altitudes. Bharani can be transported by vehicles, animal transport or a group of men or as a heli-slung load. It can be dismantled into packages to facilitate quick installation and re-location in mountainous terrain.
IA is also inducting LRDE's 3D Tactical Control Radar (TCR) in a Tatra VVL mounted configuration for mobile stand-alone medium range, all weather 3D surveillance. Pertinent data can be collected by a Target Data Receiver (TDR) located 20 Kms away from the Radar. The radar operates in the S-band and is capable of TWS of fighter sized targets from up to 90kms away and for UAV sized ones from up to 65 kms away. The TCR's antenna is mechanically rotated in azimuth to provide 360 deg and 50 deg elevation coverage up to an altitude of 10 kms.
Clearly radar systems have emerged as a key indigenous strength in the ISR space. But in the battlefield of today long range electro-optical sensors complement BFSRs to vastly improve tactical reconnaissance capability. Till recently, IA was heavily dependent on foreign sources, especially Israel in this space. Several units of Elbit's Long-Range Reconnaissance and Observation System(LORROS) are currently operational with IA. LORROS consists of forward looking infrared (FLIR) and colour charge-coupled-device (CCD) image sensors, with the option of also integrating an eye-safe laser rangefinder (LRF), built-in compass and an inclinometer, which provides UTM location mapping. It can be operated remotely with a control unit that can be stationed up to several kilometres away using a fiber -optic channel. This year however BEL began deliveries of the 'Kshitij' to IA which is an upgraded version of LORROS that extends its FLIR range beyond 13 km and was developed keeping in mind the Line of Actual Control with China. It is expected that the cheaper Kshitij will allow IA to field it in every battalion.
To make squad level ISR even more commonplace, IA placed orders worth Rs 700 crores for the Integrated Multi-Function Sight (IMFS) developed by DRDO's Instruments Research and Development Establishment (IRDE) which packages a thermal imager (TI), a LRF, a CCD camera, a global positioning system GPS and a digital magnetic compass into a single device weighing just 3.5 kg. However even as indigenous hand held TIs proliferate, India has to run faster to catch up with the West in the area of image intensifier tube technology for night vision devices (NVD). IA is currently on the lookout for mass introduction of third generation NVDs and the FDI route could actually be pursued for this.
IRDE's IMFS represents a generic trend in ISR technology where multi-functional payloads are finding their way onto a common platform small or big. This trend has of course given rise to wide area persistent surveillance (WAPS) systems that have been born out of American urban warfare requirements during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. WAPS allows both wide area coverage as well as narrow view high resolution ISR simultaneously. Context is maintained even as specific targets (such as individuals and vehicles) are examined both spatially and over time. Obviously WAPS systems are essentially designed to be deployed on aerial platforms such as tethered balloons, aerostats, UAVs or manned aircraft. The US Gorgon Stare system which is deployed aboard the reaper UAV and uses five electro-optical and four infrared cameras to generate imagery from 12 different angles is considered the current gold standard, though more extensive systems can be carried on much larger aerial vehicles such as Aerostats. However such systems are data intensive. For instance a single Gorgon Stare pod can generate around two terabytes of data every day.
Heading into the future, hyperspectral imaging, full-motion video, foliage penetration, and mapping and tracking of individuals on foot will all find their way into solitary aerial platforms as the ability to geo-locate and geo-register targets will become increasingly important in sub-conventional scenarios. Indeed the fusion of SAR systems combined with Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) payloads is already happening to increase decision making capability. Naturally this is also increasing on-board computing requirements for UAVs leading to the development of increased core count, lower power consuming CPUs, along with associated FPGAs or GPGPUs. This is creating a network architecture where intelligence collected can be shared, processed and distributed in a more decentralized rather than in a point to point relay station manner.
Working towards such a capability is critical in an era where networks fight networks and these networks are increasingly looking to become mobile adhoc networks (MANET) to literally keep pace with an ever changing tactical battle area and rear. Making the sensor to shooter chain shorter requires ad-hoc networking that optimizes spectrum utilization when coupled with contemporary waveforms which in turn enables the real time delivery of video, image transfer, voice and data. The dependence on space to provide wider coverage continues to grow which is then sought to be linked with MANETs on the ground and in the air.
Much work however needs to be done for attaining this kind of network centricity in IA's EOB. And the reason for that is a little mysterious because the IA's plans in this direction go way back. In fact the current flagship IA program, the tactical communication system (TCS) was actually labelled TCS-2000 initially given that it was supposed to be rolled out by that year i.e 2000. After a decade long delay the programme was re-badged TCS-2010 and we are now in 2014. Clearly this program needs to be taken up on a priority basis.
Be that as it may, TCS which is sought to be developed under the 'make' category of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) has two competing development agencies- Bharat Electronics (BEL) and a consortium of L&T, Tata Power and HCL Infosys Ltd. TCS as currently envisioned is essentially a mix of a mobile vehicular ad-hoc network (VANET) and the more static wireless service network (WSN) technology at the corps level. It is designed to give IA the means to 'communicate on the move' even as it penetrates into enemy territory making TCS a very big enabler of the 'cold start' type doctrines.
Based on light weight high mobility vehicles which represent communication nodes, TCS will have the bandwidth to handle very high data rates and provide encrypted voice, video and data transmission though frequency hopping radio networks with multiple redundancies. Naturally this network will also have the mobile terminals necessary for satellite based connectivity as well and the firewalls necessary to prevent cyber intrusion given that cyber and electronic warfare techniques are increasingly melding with each other.
The project worth around 3 billion dollars will see each of the two competitors build a prototype TCS with the one being selected going on to build seven sets of TCS for seven corps of the IA. The TCS is however a harbinger of a truer MANET called the battlefield management system (BMS) which will facilitate high bandwidth real time communications from the battalion headquarters forward to the companies and platoons. Being fielded in all varieties of terrain the BMS contract value will probably be worth ten times more than the current TCS contract and a game changer in Asia. The IA actually has vast network centricity plans and envisages a tactical command, control, communications and information (TacC3I) system core which will encompass the command information decision support system, the Shakti artillery combat command and control system, the battlefield surveillance system including BFSRs and WLRs, an air defence control and reporting system augmented by newer generation 2D and 3D radars, and of course the BMS.
Meanwhile DLRL has been developing a tri-system radar finger printing system which will prove crucial to achieving 'jointness' in the electronic realm. This system has the capability of providing 'Unique Identification of emitters among a class of emitters' based on intra-pulse analysis of radar waveforms. The system measures the frequency, phase and amplitude variations within the radar pulse. Intra pulse analysis extracts as many parameters (features) of radar pulses as possible with fine grain accuracy.
The three services together are moving towards an overarching defence communication network (DCN) which once fully operationalized would give real meaning to the concept of 'jointness' championed by the three services. In the words of a former Defence Minister himself, 'DCN envisages a network of optical fibre cables, satellite earth stations and transportable and portable satellite terminals with high security features that enable conduct of simultaneous real time networked operations from multiple sites to cater for contingencies and failures, as well as hardware redundancies for fail-safe operations. Such a network will be the backbone of the proposed joint commands for cyberwarfare, special operations and space operations.