The IAF’s shift to IACCS is a major step towards Net Centric Warfare
Gp Capt GD Sharma (retd)
In defence, the information domain is inherently dependent on several dissimilar systems wherein, it is difficult for a military commander to obtain a complete picture and then decide. His insight and planning are hampered by proprietary systems viz Command and Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance, weapons and sensor systems with each focusing on only a limited area.
In such a situation, decision-makers’ inability to acquire accurate situational awareness, can lead to catastrophic results. To overcome this dilemma and to shorten the sensor to shooter link, the air forces across the world are shifting to Net Centric Warfare (NCW) tools. In this regard, the Integrated Air Command and Control Systems (IACCS) is a significant step taken by the IAF towards NCW. The media reports suggest that in our neighbourhood too, both Pakistan and China have automated/ informationised their air operations. Hence, progressing in this direction is a paramount requirement to face their individual/collusive challenge.
The concept of NCW originated in America in the late Nineties in a paper titled ‘System of Systems’ published by the Institute for National Security Studies. Later, this found a place in a ‘Joint vision 2010’ document issued by Joint Chief of Staff which essentially laid stress on the information superiority achieved with the application of full spectrum dominance. Thereafter, department of navy in its publication titled ‘Copernicus: C4ISR for the 21st century’ explained the importance of networking of sensors and shooters, which leads to a flattened hierarchy and resulting in faster reaction ability, enhanced precision and increase in speed of the command. US strategist David S. Albert later articulated the concept in greater details in his book titled, Net Centric Warfare: Developing and Leveraging the Information Superiority. We are aware that the US has employed this concept of network-centric operations with great advantage in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pioneered by the US, India is surely and steadily moving ahead with NCW. The backbone of the entire system is fibre optics-based network called Air Force Network (AFNET), on which indigenously developed IACCS rides integrating all ground-based and air sensors, weapon systems, air bases and other air force establishments. The connectivity of the sensors/agencies to IACCS command and control is achieved through wide areas network.
Air Force Network
The IAF took a step towards becoming a network-centric combat force first by replacing its outdated Tropo communication network and then developing IACCS for integration and presentation of data. Tropo communication was based on the tropo-scatter technology of the Fifties which suffered from atmospheric interferences and was unsecure and jam-prone. In comparison, AFNET provides reliable, safe and secure communication. AFNET has been developed indigenously at the cost of Rs 1,077 crore by HCL in collaboration with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). It offers up to 500MBPS encrypted secure bandwidth for operations.
AFNET incorporates the latest traffic transportation technology for transferring the internet protocol (IP) packets over the network using multiprotocol level switching (PMLX). There is a large Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) with stringent quality of service which facilitates robust high quality of voice, video and conferencing. Shifting to fibre optics based AFNET has provided the much needed secure and jam-proof communication which links all its ground-based sensors weapon systems and static establishments such as air bases, air movement cell etc.
Subsequently, with launch of dedicated air force communication satellite GSAT-7A later this year by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), it will be possible to exploit the full potential of IACCS as the satellite will provide the much-needed linkage with remotely located ground sensors and airborne platforms such as Airborne Warning and Aircraft Control System (AWACS) and Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO’s) Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft. The satellite will enhance NCW capabilities of the IAF and thus enhance its global operations when needed. As per the media report, the IAF will also get another satellite GSAT-7C within couple of years which will further boost its network-centric operations.
On 14 September 2010, the IAF launched its much-awaited digital information grid, AFNET, signifying a new era of communication and information. During its launch, the air force showcased the versatility of AFNET by demonstrating remote control of a practice interception by a MiG 29 aircraft formation operating somewhere in the western sector while carrying out a simulated interception of an enemy aircraft.
IACCS is completely a homegrown project. It is indigenously developed and designed by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) at the cost of USD1.3 billion and is ably supported by air defence stalwarts who shared their domain knowledge during its development. As of September 2015, five years after the deployment of AFNET, the IAF has established five nodes of the IACCS in the western sector facing Pakistan at Barnala (Punjab), Wadsar (Gujarat), Aya Nagar (Delhi), Jodhpur (Rajasthan) and Ambala (Haryana). The system has since then been connected with vital AD nodes and has provided network-centric capability to the air defence forces in the Northern and Western sector along Pakistan and China border and steadily extending it to other vital areas for pan India coverage.
The primary objective of IACCS is to integrate and present air situation derived from different types of sensors viz the IAF, army, navy, civil radars, AWACS/ AEW aircraft and mobile observation posts (MOPs). The data from the air bases, civil agencies received through air force movement cell/ATCs is also collated to present a comprehensive Air Situation picture at IACCS command and control centre. This is done to ensure that any intrusion by airborne object viz; hostile aircraft, helicopter, drone or micro-light, balloon etc. can be detected and tackled as soon as it takes place. All major formations and static establishments have been linked on the WAN and even have intelligence inputs – live videos from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and images from AWACS are transferred seamlessly to present a comprehensive air picture at the IAF’s central locations. The combined air situation picture is made available at several central places at strategic (Air HQ), operational (Command HQ) and tactical level (Field Level) for appropriate decision taking and redundancy.