Jul 01 , 2010 , p. 30
Printed headline: Seamless Links
India is looking to acquire a range of surveillance systems for land and sea, as well as develop its own Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEWC) systems and unmanned vehicles that will give what is reputed to be the second-largest littoral- and ground-surveillance force in the world access to greater capabilities.
The country’s growing inventory of surveillance assets will soon include the recently ordered Boeing P-8I Poseidon maritime aircraft, three Beriev A-50EI aircraft with Elta Phalcon AEW radar systems, the first of which was delivered in 2009, and Embraer AEWC aircraft with an Indian-developed radar. The military wants to expand its fleet of aerostats, and there is also interest in Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Hawkeye, payloads for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and local systems still in research and development.
Many experts, however, are concerned about the degree of integration that will be possible with different systems once force levels are in place. Integration of India’s numerous surveillance assets is bound to be difficult, especially with aerostats. “It’s a different sensor—it’s tethered up there,” says Roger Rose, CEO of Lockheed Martin India, whose company is looking to supply more aerostats to the military. “You don’t want to bring an aerostat up and down for data. [It needs] a lot of system engineering, plus you have to input that sensor into your C4I (command, control, computers, communication and intelligence) system. It’s not as easy as just lofting a balloon and turning the radar on. You want to integrate the aerostat’s radar with other radars.”
Aerostat systems can operate as stand-alone sentries or as fully integrated nodes in C4I networks, and are usually configured with a radar and/or electro-optical sensor to provide persistent surveillance. Additional payloads include communication suites and other surveillance assets. The U.S. Army’s Persistent Threat Detection System, deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, is based on Lockheed Martin’s 74K aerostat.
While India generally uses advanced sensors, “the issue is if you haven’t done decades of aircraft construction and system integration, what looks like a trivial process is really not,” Rose says.
He cites as an example the air force, which will soon get Lockheed Martin C-130J transport capability. “How do you use it? You have the capability to move troops immediately [but] how do you make sure you will proceed properly at the other end in terms of knowing how the system works? Much of what we do is system integration,” Rose remarks. “At the end of the day if one system does not link well with other similar versions, diverse systems become a problem.”
Boeing, one of the contractors vying for India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program, says the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet’s effectiveness as a force multiplier is due in large part to its ability to exchange critical data with other assets in networked battle space.
“The Super Hornet utilizes Link-16 to facilitate data transfer for the U.S. Navy,” says Vivek Lall, vice president and India country head for Boeing Defense, Space and Security. “In addition to offering this capability to India as part of the proposed MMRCA configuration, the offer includes an option to integrate a data link of the air force’s choosing to enable the Super Hornet to network with other assets in India’s inventory.”
“Globally, OEMs offer a plethora of options to client countries with the understanding of integrating them into legacy systems as well as subsequent new systems to be purchased,” says Rahul Gangal, senior vice president of defense advisory services at Religare Strategic Advisory. “At sub-system level, competencies are concentrated with niche players and these can be substituted according to client choice—a factor that implies that integration may not be an issue. Also, the choice of a system is based on a stand-alone capability. India has been ordering significant numbers [of equipment], so even if there are systems of different origin, they are manageable especially when the down-selection is based on lifecycle cost.”
Whether it comes easily or with difficulty, without complete integration, observers could get a false situational picture when multiple systems and sensors report the same target. For instance, is the radio signal that is being picked up by a Poseidon’s electronic surveillance equipment from the same target as that being tracked by the radar of a Heron UAV somewhere else?
Purpose-built infrastructure such as data centers have been suggested as a way of assuring data fusion. Nevertheless, “integration might take decades,” an air force official says. “India should think about integration before orders are placed,” he adds. “There is duplication of resources and too many [turf wars] between the three services. We need to get all the sensors in place and then look at integrating platforms in the long term. All this is incumbent on providing infrastructure. Also, there might be another problem—if you don’t get to see the technical details [of a surveillance sensor], where does one start [with integration]?”
The most immediate need for data integration may be from the additional aerostats the military wants. Both the air force and army have issued requests for proposals, which could total beyond a dozen. “Aerostats offer a significant advantage in terms of extremely long periods of operation, significantly reduced cost of operation and the ability to operate at night,” says Gangal. “However, there are not enough [now in service] to address the needs of the services for border patrol or homeland security.”
India acquired two Elta EL/M-2083 Aerostat Programmable Radars some time ago, for installation on Lockheed Martin TCOM 71M aerostats deployed for long-range air/surface surveillance in the Kutch and Punjab regions. The 71M can operate 24 hr. per day for 30 days. Variants include the Low Altitude Surveillance System for long-range detection of small, low-flying aircraft and ground vehicles. Lockheed Martin builds aerostats with volumes from 8,000-660,000 cu. ft.
“Someone with the right solution can put a system of sensors along the northern border,” say Rose. “We’re still looking for the right fit. We do high-tech lighter-than-air ships for the U.S. It’s just a question of how big a payload will be.”
Indian A-50EI is an Il-76 aircraft with upgraded engines and Phalcon radar.Credit: INDIAN AIR FORCE
“Tethered aerostats are tried, tested and quite efficient,” says Ramesh Phadke, an advisor at Indian Defense Study Analysis, a think tank. “Aerostats are being deployed in the western part of the country. Though cumbersome, they are worth the money. They are good for deep air-defense penetration given their elevation.”
Maritime operations, as well as surveillance and reconnaissance, are boosting demand for medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs and tactical UAVs. The use of UAVs in Kashmir is expected to boost India’s drone programs. India is building unmanned capability for battlefield management of conventional, asymmetric and urban warfare.
Embraer, meanwhile, says it expects a first flight as early as December of the EMB‑145 AEW aircraft it is building for the air force, with an active array antenna from India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) that resembles the Saab Erieye radar. The DRDO’s contribution comes from the Active Array Antenna Unit of its Center for Airborne Systems and is to be integrated into the aircraft after certification. Aircraft deliveries are expected in 2011, says Orlando Jose Ferreira Neto, Embraer’s executive vice president of defense systems. Work began on the first three EMB-145s in March. They are expected to be sufficient to support two continuous day/night patrols, but only for a limited time. The air force sees a need for 20 more to support full-time patrols. Aside from the two-crew cockpit, the aircraft will carry up to eight mission specialists.
A request for information (RFI) by the Defense Ministry indicates an interest in procuring four fixed-wing carrier-based AEWC aircraft for surveillance, detection and tracking of airborne and surface contacts and to direct air interceptions and strikes. These will also undertake maritime patrol.
“The RFI is structured in a way that seems meant for the E-2D,” says an official. The AEW aircraft could well be in service just before the time Indian Aircraft Carrier-2—possibly with a catapult—enters service in 2018.