Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Indian Air Force’s 15-year land warfare capability roadmap

In Operation Rahat, the flood relief mission in Uttarakhand, the IAF got the opportunity to put one of its new acquisitions, the C-130J Super Hercules, to the test. In the coming years, the Indian Air Force will be the most visible face of modernisation, as its assets are deployed across the gamut of nation building and humanitarian relief operations. The MMRCA may be the most visible aspect of this effort, but it is by no means alone, as the TPCR shows:

Upgradation of combat aircraft is a continuous process to maintain the fleet’s operational relevance. The newer multi-role combat aircraft will replace the present fleet in future. Future combat fleet will therefore be a mix of upgraded aircraft and high technology modern combat aircraft with swing role capability. There is a need to enhance heavy-lift capability of the Indian armed forces. Further, newer generation medium-lift aircraft are required to bolster the transport capability and fill the void between LTA and HETAC. The IAF, Army and Navy will need to build and sustain helicopter fleet to cater to the requirements of strategic and effect-based operations. VTOL hybrid aircraft will add flexibility and range while reducing response time. The envisaged roadmap as far as aviation is concerned will take into account the following: capability to undertake day and night operations in all-weather conditions, modernisation and upgradation of all fleets to meet the challenges of advancement in technology, stand-off weapon capability during day and night, force multipliers like FRA, AWACS, surface surveillance and carrier-launched AEW aircraft, more attack helicopters to enhance required capability in this area, upgrade existing helicopters and induct more helicopters in medium- and high-lift category (the Uttarakhand operations have emphasised this even further), air defence assets in terms of radars and SAGW to address multi-level, multi-mode threats and to operate in networked environment. Also, multi-spectrum IEW capability, including space-based capability and operational infrastructure for analysis of data and real-time transmission, space-based assets for C4ISR, communication of all types, navigation, meteorology and capability to defend own assets. One of the most important aspects will be stealth technology and its applications in crucial programmes under development, including a fighter aircraft and a UCAV. In addition, independent, jam proof, navigation capability with inbuilt redundancy for the aviation platform, “There would be a need to keep the entire area of interest under constant surveillance. In the maritime theatre, the primary area would be the focal point of the SLOCS, approaches to the Indian Ocean, the entire IOR, Offshore Development Areas (ODAs) and island territories. The increased risk of asymmetric threat and coastal security scenario would necessitate persistent coastal surveillance. The requirements would be met through a surveillance matrix comprising of long-/medium-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR and MRMR) aircraft, amphibious aircraft and UAVs,” says the document.

As the Vikramaditya/Gorshkov carrier enters its phase of sea trials, the indigenous aircraft carrier program and ongoing induction of advanced fighters to operate from these carriers, fighter aircraft would graduate to discharging multifarious roles. These would include fleet integral air defence, maritime strike, strike against shore targets at extended ranges, escort and buddy refuelling missions. Submarines would remain one of the dominating threats to a ship at sea. Hence, early detection at extended ranges, ability to continually monitor movement and take effective hostile action would be a constant prerequisite for naval aviation. This would be achieved through LRMR aircraft at extended ranges, MRMR aircraft at closer ranges/along the coasts and integral helicopters operating from warships. Troop carrying helicopters operating from both ships and ashore would be required to augment aviation assets in order to effectively undertake special operations in difficult terrains, ODAs, island territories, counter asymmetric threat and combat piracy in the IOR. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was recently in Japan, signed an agreement with the country agreeing to explore ways for India to acquire the Shinmaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft. Aircraft such as these would form a key element towards undertaking coastal/inter-island ferry for personnel and cargo, supply of critical spares to ships and submarines at sea, SAR missions and visual/radar surveillance of coastal areas and island territories, casualty evacuation at sea, rapid response missions towards induction/withdrawal of special forces and humanitarian assistance.

In Uttarakhand, the IAF was able to deploy a single Mi-26, perhaps the only one serviceable from one a handful left. The MoD will shortly conclude a contract for 15 CH-47F Chinooks from Boeing. Heavy-lift helicopters would significantly bolster the capability to land troops and equipment both on land and offshore. They would come-in very handy for road building in mountainous terrain, says the TPCR document. The envisaged aircraft inductions would be supported by modern integral armament with weapon technologies facilitating faster response and enabling precision strikes to meet emerging threats. Development of full motion with six degrees of freedom simulators for all existing and future air platforms. Development of rear cockpit trainers for mission training of observers. Both simulators should be linkable for full crew training in mission roles. Towards capitalising on the unique capabilities of UAVs in terms of persistent surveillance, an increased role is envisaged to be played through induction of high-/medium-altitude long endurance UAVs and ship based VTOL. The following capabilities will be imperative: Development of land- and ship-launched UAVs of mini and tactical categories, development of unmanned combat vehicles for use from land, ship and submarine, development of land and ship-launched/ recovered UAVs and UCAVs with integrated radar/IR/laser/video surveillance systems, ESM and ECM and networking capabilities. Data-linking of these UAVs with other units in a net-centric data domain for real-time data transfer across multiple pathways.

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