NEW DELHI — 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 Built by BEL, (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.
An IAF official said, The second phase of IACCS will add four major radar networks to the fully automatic network-centric system to top the five radar networks in operation which the Air Force currently uses along its border with Pakistan. on the Indo-Pakistani border.
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 in their view whether the integration can be done without the help of overseas companies like Raytheon.
Another IAF official, (second ) who requested not to be quoted, said integrating the services' integration of network centric systems would be of the IAF, Indian Army and Indian Navy is a difficult task for domestic companies.
"Radar networking requires in-depth integration. Since all the 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 of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that in the long run, (no time framework) the net-centric systems of all the three services will be integrated, and that it should be possible to accomplish it domestically. ladding that it will be possible to do at home.
"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.
IACCS was awarded to BEL on nomination basis without any competition because MoD viewed that it (IACCS) was a strategic project, the MoD official said. But he would not commit if any help from overseas has been taken.
Kapil Kak, retired IAF Air Vice Marshal and defence analyst said, " It is learnt that overseas companies like CISCO of USA, and earlier Raytheon and other companies have been involved in the second-phase assistance to BEL for networking programmes. But key algorithms and encryption systems have been developed indigenously, as it should be,"
No executive of Raytheon was available for comment on their participation in the IACCS.
The first IAF official (first one) said that the long term plan the IACCS eventually will operate similarly to be on the lines of the NATO Air Command and Control System, (ACCS) 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 in their view that the IACCS will not compensate for the service's dwindling help in reducing the fleet strength. requirement of IA which is currently battling to check dwindling fleet strength of fighter aircraft.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." says Kak.
"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," says Nirdosh Tyagi said.
IAF is satisfied with the system provided by BEL and say it is working to their requirements so far.
"IACCS has been performing as per IAF requirements and the best part is that BEL supports any changes / improvements required by the IAF. This is a good arrangement. Like any indigenous system there are some issues that I am sure would be resolved with mutual effort and consultation," says Singh.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.