India is getting ready for another big battle for ruling the skies above our land and sea. The investment required is significant, and so are the stakes. Expect all stakeholders to use all means possible to push their case; stay prepared for dirt of the worst kind coming from all directions. The Rafale experience was a mere curtain-raiser.
The IAF is looking to acquire 110 MMRCA fighter aircraft, the Indian Navy (IN) wants 57. Each has its own tactical and operational requirements.
As in the case of Rafale, expect all attention focused on technical parameters and some of the strategic decisions.
Timeline for operational service
The final decision by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) must look into the future threat perception from 2030 to 2060, the period which will see the bulk of service from these aircraft.
The question to be asked is, what will be the warfighting scenario between 2030 and 2060? How are we preparing for it?
The answers lie in wargaming future hostile threats and how we mitigate those threats. The fighter aircraft chosen today will have to meet the strategic, tactical, and operational requirements between the stated periods.
India’s most significant threat between 2030 and 2060
India’s real threat is NOT from Pakistan, despite several wars fought between the two countries. The threat is from China and its rising global ambitions. However, China’s primary fight is not with India but with the United States, as it races in the battle for global leadership. India must be clear on where we wish to be and how to sustain it.
China is rapidly investing in modernizing and expanding its military capability far beyond its shores and looks towards the United States as the benchmark.
India has no such ambitions, but it does seek to ensure security and stability in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India will never be able to match up to China’s military capability, both in quality and quantity. Still, India can offer strong strategic deterrence in the sub-continent and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Future military posturing and conflicts will not be around ideology but economics and trade. The fight is for the control of global natural resources.
Future War Zone
For India, control over our land and sea will depend on the domination of the skies and above. Future combat assets in space, air, land, sea, and below the sea, will be driven by the quality of its full spectrum multi-domain battle compatibility and operations.
The difference in military outcomes will be determined by:
– The quality and depth of hybrid connectivity between all war theatres serving intelligence, surveillance, target acquisitions, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) objectives
– Ability to maintain the integrity of real-time hybrid network data links connecting satellites, aircraft, ground control and response assets, and sea-based assets
– Ability to offer real-time situational awareness and assistance in decision making to all warfighters and command and control personnel
– Ability to securely launch, direct, manage, operate, and recover autonomous combat and logistics platforms
– Ability to defend against Simultaneous Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks on cyber networks
– Ability to defend against electromagnetic attacks and interference on space, air, land, and sea-based assets
– Ability to defend against physical threats from operated and unmanned weapons honing in from space, air, land, and sea.
As seen from above, success in any conflict will involve the adversary launching disruption attempts in any or all the above during conflict. China has invested heavily in developing cutting-edge electronic warfare capability and is fast bridging the technology gap with the United States across platforms.
The threat it poses extends to the space domain, and as a consequence has forced the United States to announce its 6th command – Space Command.
India, in its interest, has no choice but to follow suit. Given budget limitations, India needs to choose the areas of investment where it has the best chance of developing world-class military solutions and become the supplier to friendly countries. The earnings can fuel the purchase of capital-intensive hardware.
For instance, the cost of R&D in developing the British Aircraft Carrier HMS Elizabeth and the US-built F-35 fighter is substantial.
Add to that the cost of manufacturing in the UK and US, respectively. India can reduce the cost of manufacturing by 20-30 per cent.
It would make better sense for India to offer low-cost manufacturing and part-funding of R&D to countries like the US and NATO members.
India could position itself as the global factory for defence production, leaving high investment in R&D to other countries. It could be a win-win for all stakeholders.
Preparing for the battle of tomorrow
– India needs to generously invest in developing expertise in select high technologies in areas where India has more considerable strengths.
– Integrated Battlefield Management Systems (IBMS)
– Artificial Intelligence and machine learning for big data analysis, predictive analysis, simulation, decision making
– Enterprise and cloud network security including access control, access denial, intrusion detection, data silo creation, data encryption
– Quantum computing for military applications including cyber defence and offense capabilities; encryption
– New materials research for optimizing protection and performance of all hardware
– Multi-layered, secure, and robust Satellite Communications (SATCOM) for Line-of-Sight (LoS) and Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLoS) networks using Ku-, Ka-, and Mil-Ka band; real-time data-linking with enterprise-class and hand-held devices (PDA)
– Sensor and radar technologies
– Nanotechnology for controlled and autonomous intervention
– Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) for multi-platform deployment and hand-held applications
– Military applications of photonics and optoelectronics
– Counter-electronic warfare and cyberspace denial
– Simulation and training
The way to kick-start and sustain the R&D initiative:
– Allocate liberal grants for three, five, and ten-year modules to Start-ups. Offer necessary mentoring and supervision assistance by larger institutions like DRDO, IIS, ISRO, CSIR, and defence-related public sector companies like HAL, BEL, etc.
– Extend funding to all existing private sector companies to develop specific technologies in focused sectors
– Identify universities for dedicated R&D and offer liberal program-based funding for setting up dedicated state-of-art labs
– Offer attractive and liberal funding for D. research and patent filing
– Encourage international student participation to pursue PhD research in India; support 100 per cent funding for Indian students to pursue select PhD programs in specific International universities with the option to return to sponsoring agency and work for minimum five years
– Route program-based funding through private and public sector firms to universities for project co-ordination and outcome monitoring
– Launch and support a private-sector television channel dedicated to highlighting innovative STEM research and development in the country
– Announce annual R&D awards backed by rich cash prizes
– Offer special privileges to awardees like memberships to exclusive clubs, priority check-in at airports, etc
– Special retirement benefits for awardees
At school level
– The same channel to create and highlight STEM-related quizzes and projects for schools and colleges. Offer rich cash awards to winning schools
– Significantly increase funding of scholarships for the National Talent Search Examination for schools. Widen the participation base. Extend funding for dedicated coaching beyond school hours
Time for India to act is NOW for the adversary is not waiting for our response.