By Avalok Langer
THE TECHNICAL mastery of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony left millions awestruck, but the true marvel went unnoticed. At a nearby police station, an Indian Air Force team monitored their screens as an Israeli-made Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), providing reconnaissance and surveillance coverage for the Games, gave them the best view in the house.
This capability is part of the IAF’s modernisation drive. Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik has said that 80 percent of the force will be modernised by 2014-15. With deals worth $28.5 billion meant to usher in fourth- and fifth-generation fighters set to be signed with the US and Russia by the end of this year, the IAF’s inventory will be sate of the art. The launch of AFNET (Air Force Network) has already propelled the IAF towards Network Centric Warfare (NCW).
Think of a social networking site where status message updates keep you in the loop about where your friends are and what are they doing. Now imagine it as a military networking system. A soldier can update his command about his movements and changing enemy strategy as they watch a digital recreation of the battle theatre. A soldier can facilitate an UAV to carry out a precision strike on a transient enemy target based on electronic signature, without ever leaving his cover.
This cycle can be enabled and facilitated by any sensor, attack platform (e.g. tank, ship, fighter jet) or operation control room linked to the military network, regardless of service or agency. In this age of technology, inter-service information networking and cohesiveness have enabled an asymmetric military advantage.
Had India developed AFNET earlier, UAVs would have beamed real-time images of Pakistan’s mobilisation, before they entered Indian territory, and could have possibly averted the 1999 Kargil war.
According to Commodore (retd) Rajeev Sawhney, the navy is developing a Combat Management System (CMS). “The CMS presents a real-time comprehensive battle space picture. It facilitates threat evaluation of targets, tactical navigation, aircraft control, and command and control of warfare in all three dimensions: surface, sub-surface and air,” he says.
Not to be left out, the army is working on the Future Infantry Soldier as a System. “It seeks to transform soldiers into networked, mobile warriors with a high degree of situational awareness,” says Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies.
With the three services working separately, India has possibly adopted the wrong approach. Procurement and technology can wait; the first step towards NCW is a Joint Command Structure. The other stumbling block is the cost factor. India’s defence budget for 2010-11 was Rs. 1,47,344 crore, which does not take into account infrastructure funding for NCW.
Critics also feel that a defence structure heavily dependent on technology is greatly susceptible to cyber sabotage, especially when India lacks an indigenous hardware industry. With China planning to achieve NCW capabilities by 2017, time is of the essence. In an age of realistic deterrence, India can’t afford to fall short because of lack of cohesiveness among the defence services.