Given that missiles have now become capable of being launched in “beyond-visual-range” or “stand-off” mode it is imperative that nations seek to defend themselves by detecting these missiles through the use of “over-the-horizon” long-range radars and intercepting them well away from the intended target. Surveillance and target acquisition (SATA) radars have become de rigeur in every air defence situation.
Similarly, to keep up-to-date with enemy deployment both on the forward edge of battle area (FEBA) and deep behind its lines the long-range reconnaissance and observation system (LORROS) has also become a must-have equipment in the Indian context. This is because of the landscape along the Tibetan plateau across which China conducts frequent Line of Actual Control violations to prove the point that it can destabilize India at a place and time of its choosing.
The equipment that has been acquired from Israel can survey a 20- km arc of vision. This capability of being able to observe the potential movements well in advance of a possible intrusion can become the first step in the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop.
Given the many unchallenged intrusions that the Chinese have been able to execute in recent times, as at Chumar and the Depsang segment of the Ladakh sector of Jammu and Kashmir, India needs to have foolproof surveillance and counter-intrusion capabilities all along the Line of Control from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Jammu and Kashmir in the west.
The Chinese protest over the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Arunachal Pradesh is a pointer to what can happen when China decides to act on its implied threat.
Apparently manpower shortages and the absence of adequate infrastructure and road connectivity over the Himalayas and along the northern foothills on the Tibetan landscape leave Indian security forces at a disadvantage. An illustration of this is in the manner in which the Chinese troops destroyed a camera installed to give early warning of an intrusion. The Chinese smashed the camera and returned the pieces to the Indian security forces-a totally unacceptable state of affairs.
There is, therefore, a dire need to set up a chain of overlapping surveillance posts all along the Himalayas that will give early warning of Chinese intentions. It will enable the Indian security forces to react immediately instead of after the Chinese have intruded more than a dozen kilometers across the Line of Actual Control, as has happened too many times in the recent past.
In the new battlefield environment where target acquisition and identification must be followed by swift precision attack the criticality of surveillance and target acquisition in shaping the battlefield cannot be over-emphasized. Once acquired, there should be an almost simultaneous attack with weapons that match the range of the surveillance radar.
In the Himalayan context where the deployment of multi-barrel rocket launchers of the Pinaka and its improved variants with ranges of between 40 and 60 kilometers (as demonstrated in the Kargil war of 1999) have proved their worth as both line-of-sight weapons and high trajectory launchers to deal with the sharp undulations of the landscape.
It is the nature of mountainous terrain that demands that the surveillance sensors must be deployed on an elevated platform to avoid the ground clutter and get a clear view of the enemy deployment. The deployment of India’s fleet of airborne warning and command systems aircraft in the Himalayas in a combat air patrol role will ensure surveillance of both the area of likely ingress from the air as well as pinpoint the sources of enemy ground fire during hostilities.
Use of UAVs
However, a more cost-effective method of surveillance in the Himalayas would be the extensive use of high altitude, long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles and its medium altitude counterpart (MALE).
The Defence Research and Development Organisation has been working on the indigenous versions of the UAVs for several years. The Rustom-1, Rustom-H and Rustom-2 are on the anvil. To meet current contingencies the government has bought Israeli UAVs for the Army, Navy and the Indian Air Force. The unique selling point of the Israeli platforms is their high quality sensors for both day and night surveillance. The DRDO expects to leapfrog technology and be able to produce a stealth UAV with combat capabilities. But till that happens the Israeli UAVs will be the mainstay of the long-range, long-duration surveillance capability with the Indian armed forces.
The collaboration between India and Israel in sensors and long range reconnaissance and surveillance equipment has been exemplary. The installation of the Phalcon AWACS on an Indian Air Force IL-76 was executed by the Israelis. Six were ordered.
Being a game changer in the battlefield AWACS are increasingly being targeted by dedicated long-range missiles that are intended to force it to reduce its operational range and thus its effectiveness in identifying enemy aircraft and missiles and vectoring in counter-measures. For its own defence against missiles the AWACS platform would have to deploy a range of flares and chaff to distract the missiles. This is one of the factors that lend logic to the requirement of several smaller platforms equipped with day/night surveillance suite and long endurance capability and data links to make the operation both cost effective as well as flexible in its deployment. It is not possible to keep a full-fledged AWACS on combat air patrol over extended periods.
Locally deployed sensors will give real-time information to the local commander at very little cost in terms of fuel consumption or infrastructure for launch and recovery. For the local commander the combination of the terrestrial LORROS surveillance camera combined with the airborne radar and infra-red sensors will provide sufficient information for operations within his sector.
Nothing illustrates the importance of surveillance capabilities to national security than the paraphernalia required for India’s Ballistic Missile Defence. After acquiring the technology for the Phalcon radar that was installed in the Indian AWACS by Israel, India modified it to create the Swordfish radar which is the instrument used to pick out and track incoming ballistic missiles.
India converted the surface-to-surface Prithvi missile into an anti-ballistic missile. It is guided to its target by a radar that can scan and track. With these two tools India has been able to effectively intercept incoming missiles both within the atmosphere (endo-atmosphere) in its terminal phase as well as outside the atmosphere (exo-atmosphere) in its midflight stage.
Even while it is setting up an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield to protect the political capital of India and the economic capital of the nation, the Defence Research and Development Organisation is trying to push this envelope of interception to a further distance, clearly intending to create the capability of being able to intercept the enemy missile while it is still in its initial trajectory. This will mean that a hit to kill will ensure that the debris, which is expected to be nuclear, will fall further away from its intended target.
Such is the co-relation between surveillance, target acquisition and interception in the aerial context. In the terrestrial frame, the essence of surveillance is the ability to become aware of the impending danger and to take appropriate counter-measures to deal with it. In certain territories it is better to take the surveillance equipment aloft to be able to get optimum information about events on the ground that could be obscured by mountains and dense foliage.