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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Naval Updates

The day-at-sea organised by the Indian Navy’s (IN) Western Naval Command on November 14 provided some additional insights into the force modernisation activities of the IN. For instance, most of the frontline warships and fleet-support vessels are now being refrofitted with RAFAEL Advanced Defense Systems Ltd’s C-PEARL-M ESM system, which enables the automatic detection, data measurement and identification of threats. The C-PEARL-M system is known as SANKET. Other items being refrofitted include the RUKMINI SATCOMS-suite, which is imported directly from Israel’s ORBIT Communication Systems, Ltd through its Indian agent Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL); and Consilium Selux X-band navigation radars and ECDIS (electronic navigation chart display) systems supplied by Consilium AB of Sweden. All this will also go on board the three Project 15A guided-missile destroyers (DDG), four Project 15B DDGs, and the seven projected Project 17A guided-missile frigates.
As far as AEW operations go, the present practice calls for one Ka-31 to be stationed 96km ahead of an aircraft carrier-based battle group, with all AEW-related data being relayed by a secure data-link (known as Link-S) to the aircraft carrier’s combat information centre (CIC), and not directly to the MiG-29Ks or Sea Harriers. In future, depending on availability of the GSAT-7 satellite (which will be the IN’s first dedicated fleet satellite communications satellite, expected to be launched next year), both the existing ship-to-ship Link-2 and Link-S data-links will be making use of SATCOMS channels for two-way relay of data and communications. The GSAT-7 (INSAT-4F) will be a multi-band satellite carrying payloads in UHF, S-band, C-band and Ku-band. The satellite will weigh 2,330kg with a payload power of 2,000W. The follow-on GSAT-7A will be an IAF-specific communications satellite.—Prasun K. Sengupta

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Air-Sea Battle Concept Explained

It was on November 9, 2011 that the US Department of Defense announced the creation of a new office to integrate air and naval combat capabilities in support of emerging US national security requirements. In the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had directed the US Navy, US Air Force and US Marine Corps to develop a comprehensive concept to counter emerging anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenges, primaril;y of Chinese origin. The US armed services consequently collaborated to develop the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept. On August 12, 2011, US Navy Admiral Jonathan Greenert, US Marine Corps Gen Joseph Dunford, and USAF Gen Philip Breedlove established the Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO), thereby creating a framework to implement the ASB concept. The ASB concept will guide the US armed services as they work together to maintain a continued US advantage against the global proliferation of advanced military technologies and A2/AD capabilities. ASB will leverage military and technological capabilities that reflect unprecedented US Navy, Marine Corps and USAF collaboration, cooperation, integration, and resource investments. The ASBO will oversee the concept implementation by facilitating coordination among the US armed services, influencing tri-services war-games, fostering development and integration of air and naval capabilities, and collaborating with the joint forces. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps will each dedicate a minimum of two field-grade officers or civil service equivalents to the ASBO. Implementation of the ASB concept by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps will endeavour to foster positive changes in the institutional relationships among the services, the integration of acquisition strategies, and the conceptual approach to warfare. The ASB concept is a natural and deliberate evolution of US warfighting to counter emerging A2/AD threats that include conventional ballistic missiles, long-range precision cruise missiles, advanced integrated air and missile defence systems, electronic and cyber warfare capabilities, submarines, surface combatants, and modern combat aircraft. According to the US Defense Department, ASB will also enable the projection of force in defence of US interests and those of its allies and by sustaining stability and freedom of access throughout the global commons.
At a recent seminar organised in New Delhi, it was explained by visiting US officials that ASB initially was conceived as a way to increase inter-operability between the USAF and US Navy through increased training and improved technical interoperability. Given the overlaps in their strike capabilities, especially in aircraft, it makes perfect sense for the two most technical services to work closely to ensure inter-operability. But like its progenitor, AirLand Battle (ALB), ASB has progressed to an operational concept to address a specific military problem. While ALB was conceived to counter the Soviet Union, ASB is billed as the answer to growing anti-access/area-denial capabilities generically, but as everyone knows, specifically the People’s Republic of China. ALB and ASB are different in that ALB required the integration and inter-operability of two distinct domains, ground and air. Because of the overlap between USAF, US Marine Corps and the US Navy in strike assets, and because ASB is focused on strike (kinetic, electronic, cyber), the integration required for ASB is far more limited than that required for ALB. Additionally, ASB assumes that a confrontation between two great powers (US and China) can be resolved with only half the nation’s military assets. It is the first conception, since early advocates of nuclear warfare, that envisions no or extremely limited use of ground forces. This has no precedent in the history of conventional warfare and should in itself give one pause. ALB posited an asymmetric approach in relation to the erstwhile Soviet Union. ALB would attack all echelons of the Soviet forces with aviation and long-range fires because NATO was badly outnumbered on the ground. In contrast, ASB is symmetrical, pitting US precision strike against Chinese precision strike. Since ASB is by definition an away game, how can the US be expected to build sufficient expeditionary naval and air forces to counter Chinese forces that possess a home-court advantage? Is it prudent to expect the weapon magazines of an entire industrial nation to be smaller than those of the US Navy and USAF deployed more than 3,000 miles from home? What happens when the vertical-launch systems of US warships and the bomb bays of USAF aircraft are empty? From a strike perspective, one therefore must consider China’s ground-based strike and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance systems a seamless extension of its navy. One cannot simply compare its navy to the US Navy; one must compare all relevant combat power applicable to an anti-access/area-denial fight. Just on the face of it, one should recognise the need for an asymmetric approach to counter China’s growing war-waging capabilities. The US simply can’t afford to outgun China symmetrically. ASB’s symmetrical approach is also highly escalatory given China’s shore-based “fleet-in-being”. The US cannot close its naval and tactical air forces into theatre without striking the Chinese mainland. Surely, given the nuclear weapons China possesses and its growing irregular warfare and economic assets, one should question very seriously any operational concept that requires extensive strikes on the Chinese mainland. There are alternatives, after all.
China is surrounded by littoral nations interested in balancing China’s new assertiveness. The US should therefore look for ways to establish co-binding relationships with these countries to assure sovereign access to the region beyond the more easily challenged access to the commons. The threshold for China to strike these sovereign countries is certainly higher than the threshold to attack US warships in the commons. The US should make use of this advantage by encouraging the use of “dual-use” infrastructure that would improve their port facilities for commerce but would also facilitate the use of these ports for basing or periodic use by US sealift and combatant naval forces. For example, a large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship from a maritime prepositioning squadron would show commitment while offering tangible benefits for humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief missions in the host country or the region. A military confrontation with China would be the biggest national security challenge since World War II, yet ASB advocates suggest that it can be handled by just two of the four services. To the outside observer, this is astonishing; to the insider skeptic, it is absurd. Many ASB advocates follow the logic that the US will never conduct a land war in China, therefore long-range precision strike is the only practical alternative. What is missed in this line of thinking is that there are other, more fundamental choices that also don’t require a land war in China. It would thus appear that there is an unstated assumption by many that conflict with China must include a race across the Pacific to defend Taiwan; many war-games over the past decades have solidified this point of view. Unfortunately, this assumption is outdated. Chinese capabilities now, but especially 10 years from now, simply preclude a rush to Taiwan and would require a very deliberate campaign similar to that described in the a CSBA report to gain access. Without ground forces and with limited magazine capacities, what happens once the US gets there?

A few questions can help elucidate some of the most glaring ASB fallacies. If the US is concerned by the costs and escalatory aspects of a land war, why are substantial precision strikes on the Chinese mainland less costly and less escalatory than using ground forces in peripheral areas, key choke-points or the Indian Ocean to control vital Chinese sea lines of communication? Why must the US be so conventional and symmetrical? Another alternative to deter or shape a confrontation would be to use ground forces to backstop regional allies. This would be far less escalatory than placing vulnerable surface combatants into a kill zone, where the threshold for a Chinese strike would be significantly lower for attacking a surface combatant in the commons than a ground force in the sovereign territory of a neighbour. Even more fundamentally, the US should certainly think hard before entering a shooting war with China. One should likely ask the same question Caspar Weinberger and Colin Powell recommended we ask: Is a vital national security interest threatened? An additional question might be warranted as well: Is the challenge serious enough to warrant the application of the full range of conventional and special operations forces? If the answer is no, then it is unlikely the issue is of vital national interest and the US should find alternative means of resolution.
In the final analysis, it appears that ASB is essentially ‘shock-and-awe’ expanded from an opening act to a complete campaign approach. The US should work to improve Navy and Air Force inter-operability through increased training and experimentation, but as with many bureaucratic initiatives, ASB has escaped its banks and threatens to unduly influence the composition of the joint force and distort critical relations with an essential trading partner by solidifying a symmetrical arms race the US is structurally committed to losing. The US therefore needs to put ASB back in its tactical riverbed and develop a more comprehensive and winnable strategy for dealing with peer and near-peer competitors.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

(Updated) Naval Updates

As part of its efforts to undertake 24-hour surveillance and patrolling of the Pangong Tso Lake in Eastern Ladakh, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently inked a contract with US-based Tampa Yacht Manufacturing (TYM) under which the Indian Army will from next year begin receiving 17 TEMPEST 35-SPC high-speed armed patrol interceptor craft from the US-based shipbuilder. The 35-SPC is fully customisable, with featured enhancements and modifications for enhanced domain awareness that include, state-of-the-art navigation equipment consisting of GPS, sonar, echo-sounder and compass, 360-degree pan and tilt infra-red night-vision camera, gun mounts for 12.7mm and 7.62mm crew-served weapons, and threat level NIJ Level III and Level IIIA ballistic protection. The vessel’s cockpit includes a helmsman and engineer helm stations with shock-mitigating seats, and side-seating for 10 armed squad members.

Under another contract, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has ordered a total of 50 fast interception craft from TYM for use by the Border Security Force for riverine patrolling. Designed for coastal and offshore operations in varying sea and weather conditions, the 44-FCI fast interception craft is capable of achieving a maximum speed of 55 Knots, with a minimum sustained cruising speed of 38 Knots. With a minimum range of 225 nautical miles at wide open throttle and a cruising range of 300 nautical miles, the fully-outfitted 44-FCI is powered by a pair of inboard MAN R6-800hp electronic controled turbo-diesel engines. Each engine is fitted with a 1.12:1 gear ratio TwinDisc MGX gears for low-speed manoeuvrability and Arneson ASD-11 surface-drives for optimum performance.

Meanwhile, two recent RFIs issued by the Indian Navy (IN) deserve assessments. The first RFI deals with C/D-band (old L-band) three-dimensional air-surveillance radars for warships displacing 3,000 tonnes and above. This means that the UN is on the lookout presumably for new-generation radars (since the RFI states ‘state-of-the-art’) that are of the active phased-array type and which can be installed on board warships like the to-be-built four Project 15B guided-missile destroyers (DDG), the seven to-be-built Project 17A guided-missile frigates (FFG), and the three Project 15 Delhi-class DDGs, whose mid-life upgrade (or stepped life-extension programme, or SLEP) us already running four years behind schedule, and has yet to take off. It is thus evident that the IN at last wants to go beyond the THALES Nederland-developed and BEL-assembled RAWL-02 (PLN-517) radars that continue to faithfully serve the IN’s frontline warships like the five Kashin 2-class DDGs, three Project 15 Delhi-class DDGs, three Project 16 Godavari-class FFGs, three Project 16A Brahmaputra-class FFGs, and the sole Leander-class FFG—INS Taragiri. For the four Project 15A DDGs, the THALES Nederland-built Smart-L (its S-1850M variant equipping South Korea’s Dokdo-class LHDs) would undoubtedly be the frontrunner, while Selex Sistem Integrati’s Kronos-3D NV would fit the bill for the seven Project 17A FFGs. On both these warship types, the IN has already pre-selected the E/F-band (old S-band) Israel Aerospace Industries/ELTA Systems-built EL/M-2248 MF-STAR liquid-cooled active phased-array radar (which has also been selected in a four-array configuration for INS Vikrant as well as for the three Project 15A Kolkata-class guided-missile destroyers, and may well be retrofitted on to the three existing Project 15 Delhi-class DDGs in the near future). Judging by the present-day pace of procurement-related activity within the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it can be expected that a final selection and the consequent procurement contract will be inked by 2013.

The second RFI—issued by the IN’s Directorate of Special Operations & Diving—deals with the procurement of an integrated combat system (ICS) that will integrate the special operations sea-warrior’s capability of day/night surveillance, ballistic protection, communications and firepower through an integrated network at individual and group levels. The essential requirements for all components of ICS would include lightweight, military ruggedness and water proof/resistance for operations in coastal and marine environments. The RFI states that the ICS should provide enhanced capabilities including tactical awareness and fighting ability in hostile environments, while its network should enable Group Commanders to remotely monitor and control operations and synergise their combat power for maximum effectiveness and successful execution of the mission. The ICS is thus essentially required for effective command, control and information-sharing in the age of network centricity to maximise individual and group combat capabilities while engaging the enemy. The RFI adds that the ICS should significantly improve the intelligence, identification, designation and engagement capability of the individual sailor.

What this means is that the IN does not want to make the same mistakes as the Army has done with its F-INSAS programme and has therefore decided to proceed with its own, customised and tailor-made version of the F-INSAS. Individual components of ICS-related hardware being sought include modular integrated communications helmet; diver’s electronic beach reconnaissance aid fitted with an electronic compass, Doppler velocity log and GPS receiver; digital laser rangefinder; power management kit; full-range Oxygen gas system; drysuit; standalone hydrographic mapping unit for clandestine hydrographic reconnaissance; software-defined multi-band inter/intra team radio; long-range beyond-line-of-sight communications systems using a rugged VSAT terminal and  fourth-generation tactical booster amplifier; 4G wireless smartphone; and day/night gunsight. Companies—majority of them US-based—that are expected to take part in the RFI exercise include BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin Advanced Development & Ventures Business Development, Natick Soldier Systems, MSA, THALES, Harris Corp, L-3 Communications, Motorola, ITT Defense, Carl Zeiss Optronics Inc, Raytheon ELCAN, Aimpoint Inc, Trijicon Inc, and Rockwell Collins.—Prasun K. Sengupta