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October 13, 2015

Challenges Await Completion of Indian AF Net-centric System

 
The $1.3 billion contract the Indian Air Force awarded to state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) to complete a homegrown network-centric warfare system could face integration challenges with the other services and will not compensate for a shrinking air fleet, analysts said.
The integrated air command and control system (IACCS) receives data from a variety of radars and generates reports from mobile observation posts, integrating other data elements from Air Force bases and civilian agencies to create a real-time comprehensive picture.
"The algorithms [for IACCS] have been indigenously developed in coordination with the IAF. Hardware like workstations and routers would have been imported," said Daljit Singh, retired IAF air marshal.
The second phase of IACCS will add four major radar networks to the fully automatic network-centric system to top the five networks in operation which the Air Force currently uses along its border with Pakistan.
The second phase will establish nodes for use along the border with China and Bangladesh, and for central and southern India, the official added.
Meanwhile, military officers say the net-centric systems being developed by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force should be integrated. But they are divided about whether assistance will be needed from foreign companies such as Raytheon.
Another IAF official, who requested not to be quoted, said integrating the services' network centric systems would be a difficult task for domestic companies.
"Radar networking requires in-depth integration. Since all three use different kinds of radars, integration is quite a challenge. I do not think BEL can integrate all three. They will have to approach companies like Raytheon or Thales or ELTA, etc., for the same. Companies who have implemented EUROCONTROL in European Union are the best bet for BEL. Massive software integration tasks require huge manpower costs," the official added.
A Defence Ministry official said that in the long run, the net-centric systems of all the three services will be integrated, and that it should be possible to accomplish it domestically.
"The Indian Army is in the process of contracting BEL to provide similar software to meet the requirements of the Army. There is an agreement to integrate these systems [with the Air Force] to ensure exchange of relevant information," Singh said.
Nirdosh Tyagi, retired IAF air marshal said that while it will be possible to integrate the systems, the services use different systems.
"Due to differences in types of assets, all three services do not have identical networking requirements. Even in a totally integrated inter-services environment, every bit of information will not be required by all. It would be possible to integrate these systems to the extent operationally desired," he said.
The first IAF official said that the IACCS eventually will operate similarly to the NATO Air Command and Control System, which will result in automation of all planning and execution of air operations.
"The IACCS will in reality mature into sort of an independent air command-and-control structure and integrate all the air assets of the Indian Air Force including space-based assets like satellites and surveillance systems," he said.
But Air Force officials and analysts are unanimous that the IACCS will not compensate for the service's dwindling fleet strength. Against an immediate requirement of 42 squadrons, only 35 squadrons are operational.
"Force multipliers cannot ever be substitutes for force, as adversaries also endeavor to build their own IACCS systems without undertaking combat force reduction. Over the next 15 years, IAF would have no alternative to rebuilding its combat squadron strength to the sanctioned and critically needed level of 45 squadrons," Kapil Kak, retired IAF Air Vice Marshal and defence analyst, said. "Inability to do so would enormously weaken India's conventional deterrence and operational preparedness to face the awesome combined air power challenge from China and Pakistan."
"IACCS improves operational control of assets due to networking. It is not a substitute for fighters. For example, IACCS would help in detection and engagement of enemy aircraft effectively but fighters would still be required in requisite numbers to neutralize the intruders," Tyagi said.

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