While it is indisputable that the Indian Air Force (IAF) desperately requires large numbers of close air-support (CAS) aircraft (to replace the 95 already decommissioned MiG-23BNs and 140 remaining MiG-27Ms that will have to be decommissioned between 2017 and 2022), the solutions proposed by the IAF require some scrutiny. For, a lot will depend on A) how the IAF configures the mission avionics of its 40 Tejas Mk1s and 126 Hawk Mk132 advanced jet trainers (AJT), and B) the type of low-cost precision-guided munitions (PGM) to be acquired, so that such platforms become ‘survivable’.
The single-seat SP-series Tejas Mk1s, for all intents and purposes, will not be MRCAs, due to their sub-optimal radar warning receivers (due to unresolvable EMI issues) and lack of internal self-protection jammers. Consequently, the Tejas Mk1s won’t be ‘combat survivable’ inside hostile airspace and will therefore be used for only defensive counter-air and CAS missions, AND NOT FOR tactical interdiction missions. And since CAS missions are flown only A) in support of friendly ground forces engaged in contact battles, and B) for blunting an enemy’s multi-echelon thrusts used armoured and mechanised forces, such missions won’t be subjected to attacks by hostile ground-based MR-SAMs. The threats faced by the IAF’s Tejas Mk1s and projected Hawk Mk132 ‘Combat Hawks’ (when operating at altitudes between 5,000 feet and 10,000 feet above ground-level) will therefore be limited to only SHORADS and VSHORADS/MANPADS. And these threats too can be neutralised if the CAS platforms are armed with standoff, lightweight PGMs and not with licence-built OFAB 100-120 and OFAB 250-270 pre-frag bombs and 250kg and 450kg HSLD bombs, as is presently the case.
Another factor that has greatly enhanced the IAF’s ability to lend lethal, synchronised CAS throughout the forward-edge of battle area (FEBA) is the availability of a range of battlespace surveillance tools, such as RAFAEL-supplied RecceLite pods and their Bharat Electronics Ltd-assembled and RAFAEL-supplied RecceLite Ground Receiving Stations, IRDE-developed/BEL-built mast-mounted long-range thermal imagers (LRTI), IRDE-developed/BEL-built manportable long-range surveillance systems (LRSS), and RAFAEL-supplied Recce-U real-time ISR kits that will be mounted on board the locally-developed Rustom-1 MALE-UAVs. All these tools will go a long way in eliminating the prospects of blue-on-blue engagements of the type that took place during the 1965 and 1971 wars.
The ‘Combat Hawk’ concept calls for using them as single aircrew-manned platforms, for which the front-cockpit of the tandem-seater requires a radical upgrade. The upgrade package therefore includes the installation of:
* Two large SAMTEL-HAL Display Systems-supplied AMLCDs on which superimposed flight attitude/flight-control data as well as real-time target acquisition/tracking data will be displayed.
* A new HAL-built open-architecture mission computer.
* HOTAS controls supplied by UK-based ULTRA Electronics Ltd.
* Integration of ELBIT Systems-supplied TARGO helmet-mounted display system and Litening laser designator pod (LDP).
As for the weapons suite, there are several options available for both the Tejas Mk1 and ‘Combat Hawk’. For instance, lightweight PGMs (typically carried by triple-ejector or dual-ejector racks) like MBDA-built Brimstone, THALES-developed FF-LMM, IMI-developed Fastlight, IAI-developed MLGB, and Lockheed Martin’s Scalpel are worthy of being considered.
For self-protection, WVRAAMs like MBDA’s AIM-132 ASRAAM and RAFAEL’s Python-5 are available for the ‘Combat Hawk’, while the Python-5 WVRAAM/Derby BVRAAM combination has already been selected for the Tejas Mk1.
However, during CAS missions, it will be preferable for the Tejas Mk1s to be armed only with Python-5s for self-protection, since such missions—flown by either the Tejas Mk1 or ‘Combat Hawks’—always be escorted by the IAF’s upgraded Mirage 2000Is or upgraded MiG-29UPGs conducting offensive air-superiority sweeps.
All it takes for the Indian component of cyberspace to go into a senseless tizzy is for a ‘Bandalbaaz’ masquerading as a journalist to highlight selected quotes from a certain Minister’s interaction during a media conclave, and draw spectacularly outrageous conclusions. This in turn gets to be ‘assumed’ as being the gospel truth, with the end-result being a classic case of the blind leading the blind. Take, for instance, the following two selective quotes that originated 48 hours ago:
“By buying 36 Rafales instead of 126, I have saved the cost of 90 Rafales,” Parrikar said, adding that this amount was around Rs.900 billion (US$15.51 billion). “We will use this money to buy Tejas LCA priced at around Rs.1.5 billion each,” he added.
“By buying 36 Rafales at a price less than (what was quoted in response to) the earlier tender for 126 aircraft, I have saved the cost of 90 Rafales. We will use that money to buy Tejas LCAs”.
Now here’s what it all means. Under the original M-MRCA procurement process for an initial 126 Dassault Aviation Rafales, the first 18 (12 single-seaters and six tandem-seaters) were to be acquired in flyable condition off-the-shelf, for which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would have had to pay only the acquisition costs and related support infrastructure costs. For the remaining 108 Rafales that were to be licence-built in India (74 single-seaters and 34 tandem-seaters of which 11 were be built from semi-knocked down or SKD kits, 31 from completely knocked down or CKD kits, and 66 made from indigenously manufactured kits or IMK), the MoD would have been required to fork out A) the industrial production costs (for setting up the domestic industrial infrastructure and training a skilled pool of human resources); B) acquisition costs that were to be paid to the MoD-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); and C) support infrastructure costs for creating the squadron-level and intermediate-level MRO facilities.
Now that the original scheme for procuring 126 Rafales (plus 63 options) has been abandoned, the MoD will, under Phase-1, be required to pay only the acquisition costs and related support infrastructure costs for the first 36 Rafales. Under Phase-2, an industrial consortium comprising Dassault Aviation and its Indian counterparts from both the private-sector and public-sector will supply up to 153 locally-assembled Rafales. This consortium—to be dominated by the private-sector—will raise the necessary funding required (for creating the domestic industrial infrastructure and training a skilled pool of human resources) entirely from the capital markets, and will charge the MoD only for the fleet acquisition cost. In other words, the MoD’s Department of Defence Production & Supplies will no longer be required to foot the bill for industrial production costs of the 171 Rafales.
Consequently, this enormous pool of money saved will be invested in R & D activities for the Indian Air Force’s Tejas Mk2 MRCA and the Indian Navy’s LCA (Navy) Mk2. Since both these MRCAs will be brand-new designs, at least five flying prototypes for each type will be required to be built, and each type—Tejas Mk2 and LCA (Navy) Mk2—will be required to undergo at least 2,000 hours of flight-tests before they are awarded their respective airworthiness certifications. For all intents and purposes, these are herculean tasks that require substantial R & D funding-levels, about which I will soon elaborate further in greater detail below.
Standoff DEW For SEAD
Standoff DEW For SEAD
But first, let’s dissect the joint India-Israel project to co-develop an air-launched, standoff EMP-emitting missile, which, for all intents and purposes, will be India’s first operational precision-guided directed-energy weapon (DEW). It may be recalled that in the night of September 6, 2007 in the desert at Al Kibar, 130km (81 miles) from the Iraqi border and 30km from the northern Syrian provincial city Deir el-Zor, a fleet of ten IDF-AF F-15Is conducted OP Orchard, which involved the destruction of heavy-water reactor then under construction with North Korean expertise and Iranian funding. In that raid, the IDF-AF had used a RAFAEL-developed precision-guided, standoff DEW to shut down Syria’s ground-based air-defence sensors—a move that would go on to be the optimum model for future surgical air-strikes.
Israel offered to co-develop a variant of this DEW with India on July 7, 2008 during an official meeting in Pune with the DRDO. This was followed by two additional meetings held in Delhi with senior DRDO and IAF officials in August and September 2008. The joint R & D project officially began in mid-2010 and series-production of this DEW will commence later this year, with the Kalyani Group being the prime industrial contractor from the Indian side.
This air-launched, fire-and-forget, expendable DEW, whose main role is to render electronic targets useless, will make use of the airframe of RAFAEL’s Spice 250 rocket-powered PGM, and will have a range of 120km. It is a non-kinetic alternative to traditional explosive weapons that use the energy of motion to defeat their targets. During a mission, this missile will navigate a pre-programmed flight plan (using fibre-optic gyros) and at pre-set coordinates an internal active phased-array microwave emitter will emit bursts of selective high-frequency radio wave strikes against up to six different targets during a single mission. The EMP-like field which will be generated will shut down all hostile electronics. Thus, the whole idea behind such a weapon is to be able to destroy an enemy’s command, control, communication and computing, surveillance and intelligence (C4SI) capabilities without doing any damage to the people or traditional infrastructure in and around it. In other words, it can eliminate an air-defence facility’s effectiveness by destroying the electronics within it alone, via a microwave pulse, without kinetically attacking the facility itself.
For the IAF, this air-launched DEW will be a ‘first day of war’ standoff weapon that can be launched outside an enemy’s area-denial/anti-access capabilities, and fly a route over known C4SI facilities, zapping them along its way, before destroying itself at the end of its mission. Because of its stealthy design, long-range and expendability, it will fly where no other manned airborne assets could and because it does not blow anything up, its use does not necessarily give away the fact that the enemy is under direct attack in the first place. In that sense, it is also a psychological weapon, capable of at least partially blinding an enemy before it even knows that a larger-scale air-attack is coming. The IAF plans to arm its upgraded Mirage 2000Hs and the yet-to-be-acquired Rafale MMRCAs with this DEW and also with RAFAEL’s Spice-1000 PGM.
Interestingly, Ukraine last February during the Aero India 2015 Expo was also showcasing an air-launched DEW, whose poster is uploaded below.