Stoke the Indigenous Fire - A Way Ahead for Army Air Defence
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Abstract

Having been associated first hand with the twin process of sustenance of an ageing and vintage inventory of Ground Based Air Defence Weapon Systems (GBADWS) of the Corps of Army Air Defence (AAD) on one hand and the modernisation of said Corps, through the induction of new age weapons and control systems on the other, it has been the experience of the author, that the latter has suffered very badly. In that, the dream of modernising a fledgling combat support arm has largely remained on paper. This work examines the reality of this issue and suggests a way forward.

Stagnation of Army Air Defence (AAD)

Decades back, as the Deputy Director General (DDG) Equipment in the Army Air Defence (AAD) Directorate, where one was responsible for pushing the modernisation of the Arm, we used to draw a great amount of pride and satisfaction in the fact that the arm was making fast strides towards induction of new weapon and battle management systems and it was only a matter of 4-6 years, that the dream metamorphosis into a new technologically-enabled arm will happen. It didn't.

Multiple factors, a few own mistakes, many others beyond our control, made sure that years passed without induction of a single state-of-the-art weapon system despite the fact, that at least six cases, processed with great zeal and persuasion investing thousands of man hours, had nearly reached the end game.

This was the happy status, say a decade back:-

• Case for successor of vintage towed air defence guns was moving firmly. Some of the world's leading players were ready with the bid with three of them ready with prototypes for trials.
• A tri Service Procurement case for Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORAD) represented by the shoulder-fired man portable missile system was reaching the trial stage.
• Case for the self propelled Air Defence Gun Missile System (ADGMS) was close to Price Negotiation Committee (PNC) stage.
• With Akash as a part of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) having failed to make the mark at this point in time, a case for Medium Range Surface to Air Missiles (MRSAM) Regiment was in progress to address the existing void.
• Action was at hand to revamp the existing Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS) by bringing in a degree of semi-automation and configuring it as a part of the overall Tactical Command Control Communication and Intelligence (TAC C3I) regime.

Most of the above cases and more, failed to make it to the finish point due to multiple reasons. Some of these include:-

• Inability by the fielded systems to forge a 100 percent (General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR) compliance.
• Cases running aground due to competition reducing to a single vendor.
• Key vendor(s) getting blacklisted due to some act of malpractice. In those days, blacklisting was a foregone situation of totally banning all deals with the vendor with immediate effect.
• Some inadequacies in the trial process which came to light several years down the line, reversing the case by many steps.
• Trials abroad turning sour due to some factor of non-compliance of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) emerging much after the trial teams arrived back after the trials.

Interestingly, much of the above largely related to equipment belonging to foreign OEMs where one or more of the following frequently happened:-

• Fierce competition resulting in tremendous amount of protracted correspondence in which rival OEMs kept pointing out inadequacies and inappropriateness about the other OEMs (right or wrong) all along the procurement process.
• Activities of OEMs targeted to bring down the rival which invariably resulted in inordinate delays.
• Reluctance in sharing no-why technology, not letting Transfer of Technology (ToT) happen, making promises on the ToT which are not honoured in the long run, endless stream of queries from OEMs coupled with inordinate delays in responding to user queries on the plea of referring to home country.
• Delays related to offset compliance in many of its manifestations.

While many of the above cases involving foreign OEMs languished one way or the other, this was not the case when it involved indigenous procurements. In the same time frame during which when many of the cases involving foreign OEMs made a little headway, the following happened in the indigenous domain:-

• The state-of-the-art 3 Dimensional (3D) Tactical control radar got inducted in AAD successfully.
• 2D and 3D Low Level Light Weight Radars (LLWRs) not only became a pride capability of Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) (which conceived the design, albeit with external help, but perfected and produced the same indigenously) but also, of AAD, which successfully deployed a sizeable number of these in high altitude and mountainous areas that had never seen any electronic surveillance cover by then.
• The existing manual ADC&RS commenced its maiden revamping journey as the first degree of semi automation was successfully test-bedded on the initial prototypes produced end-to-end indigenously.
• After tremendous amount of time and cost overruns the Akash Missile System finally got inducted in the AAD on 05 May 15 ( the author has the proud privilege of accepting the symbolic key of Akash from the then Army Chief signifying the successful induction).
• Both the existing towed and self propelled mainframe gun systems came in for a state-of-the-art update with indigenous players tied in Joint Ventures (JVs) with leading world players.
• No full stop after Akash, the indigenous Surface to Air Missile (SAM) capability kept growing quietly and deservedly.

The above facts not for once are meant to imply that everything is hunky-dory in the indigenous domain. I have always maintained that the Indian Defence Public Sector eco- system is typically characterised by a mosaic made up of 'pools of stagnation' and 'islands of excellence'. Both for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as well as, the Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSUs) while there have been modest successes, there also have been umpteen failures , inordinate delays repeated time and cost overruns in the huge number of projects undertaken by them. Many of these have been responsible to keep the operational voids alive for years and keeping the defence forces deficit of the capability they required day before yesterday.

If all the above is a reality then why stoke the indigenous fire? The stock answer is “because it is our own and is assure”, period. However for the count, there are other reasons, as well:-

• Despite any amount of failures, delays and overruns, the indigenous capability has been growing steadily.
• The net inductions on the indigenous route have charted a much better success story than the one on the foreign OEM route.
• With the current impetus on Make in India, there is a new found euphoria, both in the public, as well as, private industry to 'do it here'. It is a different matter that the said euphoria has yet to lift off from the slogan stage into order books of the private industry.
• Facilitated by the spirit enshrined in Defence Procurement procedure (DPP) 2016, the private defence industry, including the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are rising slowly but steadily.
• This is an era of joint ventures and co-production as one after another of the foreign OEMs are trying to do one better than the other to sing the tune of Make-in-India and are ready to bring in the best of the cutting-edge technology into Indian hands. It makes a great business sense for them today.

Given the above scenario, the best bet therefore is a hybrid approach. In that, while the main thrust must remain purely indigenous, deficits in capability generation must be quickly filled through the foreign OEM route. No need to reinvent the wheel as goes the cliché. With this thrust as the driver, specific suggestions have been made with respect to each type of Ground Based Air Defence Weapon Systems (GBADWS) and its associated Battle Management and Command and Control (BMC2) system.

Successor Guns

The current case of fielding a successor to the towed mainstay gun systems is already routed amongst Indian players; albeit with technological support from world leaders in gun manufacture. The procurement case is aimed at great deal of indigenous capability generation in the long run. Following is suggested:-

• This Buy and Make with ToT case must be pushed forward with all speed without any further delay.
• Having graduated from Request for Information (RFI) to Request for Proposal (RFP) Stage, If GSQR non-compliance in fielding a viable solution is getting surfaced based on concrete bids now in hand, an upfront action of amending the GSQR will be a better bet now than suffering reversals many years down the line. A collegiate call will be required.
• It will be worthwhile to remember that the in-house updates of the existing inventory can at best give a finite lease of life before which the successor must arrive.

VSHORADS

VSHORADS is an urgent operational need in achieving the required gun-missile mix at the terminal end of a layered and tiered system of GBADWS. Following is suggested:-

• The current case needs to taken to its logical end even if it calls for a re-re-re trial. If the ongoing case cannot be taken to the end-game for whatever reason, it will be prudent to make a clean break from the same quickly without flogging the dead horse.
• Having done the above, an empowered Technical Committee based on a quick world scan could arrive at a viable GSQR compliant solution which could be taken on by the public-private combine on the JV route. This will mean at least three years down the line but at least a deadlocked case will get some traction.
• Obviously, the fastest route lies in making good the ongoing case. Making that happen should be our priority one.

Short Range SAMs (SRSAM)

SRSAMs are a typical kind of missiles that are required to provide short range missile cover to vulnerable assets. Mobility, surveillance on move and firing immediately on halt are not critical operational parameters. Akash weapon system, as matured in its current form, is a good enough SRSAM that meets the operational requirement. If therefore the ongoing SRSAM (Global) case is not pursuable for any reason whatsoever, it will be prudent to build on Akash SRSAMs. The advantage of such a system is that it is indigenous and hence its availability over the complete range of mainframe equipment, sub systems, assemblies and spare support is guaranteed. Also given the fact, that since the system in its very well distributed over the public and private defence industry, Its continued footprint in Indian defence forces will not only give a tremendous boost to the confidence and capability of the Indian defence Industry but also, will bring with it, the implied advantages of commonality of equipment and spare support, greatly easing out training, operation and sustenance.

The logic at a point in time for SRSAM (global) was parallel availability (Akash and global) meeting the needs of operational urgency. With the time run already happened without SRSAM (global) having matured, building up on the indigenous Akash for the advantages mentioned, will be a better choice than constituting a small inventory on multiple weapon types.

Quick Reaction SAMs (QRSAMs)

Many a times the fine difference between the SRSAM and QRSAM tends to get blurred giving rise to confusion. Briefly stated, the very system requirements of matching mobility to keep pace with mechanised assets, carrying out surveillance on move, and the ability to fire immediately on halt which were stated as non-critical for SRSAM are the operational necessities for QRSAM and are the signature features of this weapon system. Open sources inform us that the indigenous QRSAM under the joint development programme of Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has made good progress. This 30 Km weapon system is reported to have all the essential signatures of QRSAM, besides being technologically 'fully loaded'. Our requirement of QRSAM for the force is a considerable number of fire units. All efforts must be made to push this indigenous effort to its successful culmination so that the long standing void can be addressed.

MRSAM

The ongoing MRSAM case for the Army AD achieved a major milestone when the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on 17 Mar 17 approved the DRDO-IAI joint development programme for MRSAM at a cost of USD 2.5 Billion. As per the deal, the delivery of 5 Regiments and 200 missiles (40 missiles for each unit) is likely to be completed by 2023. This project is a typical Joint Venture that is split on work share content which gradually should increase in India's favour as the Project rolls from one Regiment to the next. Our strategy should be to get on to 'qualitatively higher' portion of the work share early. Indian intellect is so superior that this will happen if a conscious effort is made towards it. There is a precedent of the same in India's BMD programme (specific equipment not quoted).

The aim of doing the above is to achieve early indigenisation of the critical components of the weapon system thus reducing perpetual dependence on the foreign OEM. This applies not only, to sensors and shooter component of the weapon system but also, for the missiles. This of course is easier said than done.

ADCR&S

There is this one last bit but most important of it all that requires a solid push since it is currently suboptimal. It is ADCR&S; the life line of Air Defence Battle. Why life line? Simply because so much is dependent upon it. Right from surveillance to identification and recognition of aerial objects as to Friend or Foe (IFF), generation of composite Recognised Air Situation Picture (RASP) based on multi-sensor fusion, threat prioritisation, target designation, weapon selection for inflicting successive punishment on the incoming threat and minute-to-minute control of the ensuing air defence battle unfolding in a few fleeting minutes all lie in the domain of ADCR&S.

The bottom line is, that with a defunct ADCR&S even the best of GBADWS will only operate sub optimally. While the OEMs may promise the moon, but actually no country will part with its IFF and ADCR&S algorithms and codes. We have to develop our own. Luckily, our indigenous ADCR&S system has made great strides. There is a requirement to pull it out of its current inertia and logjam and push it to its logical fructification. Following specific steps are suggested:-

• The current ADCR&S module needs to be taken forward of the Test Bed stage. In that, the anomalies noted must be addressed by the indigenous OEM at an early date.
• All along the future forward journey of ADCR&S, it must always be remembered that the most fundamental requirement in the ADCR&S domain is the need for seamless data flow in real time between the three Services for a smooth conduct of air defence battle, cutting across Service boundaries

This completes the analytical journey of the entire domain of GBADWS. If to a discerning eye, it emerged somewhere that the future lies in stoking the indigenous fire, the toil is considered paid.


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