Security Expert

Enhancing situational awareness with SDR-based data-links

Prasun K. Sengupta

The introduction of AEW & CS platforms into the subcontinent by the Pakistan Air Force (seven Saab 2000s of the Kamra-based No.3 Sqn and four CETC of China-supplied ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3s of the Masroor-based No.4 Sqn) in the previous decade, and followed by the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) procurement of three A-50I PHALCONs from Israel and three locally-developed EMB-145Is earlier this decade) has seen aircrew of both air forces act like air-traffic controllers for military aircraft on operations. Due to this, the AEW & CS platforms have become as proficient in an offensive role as in a defensive role. In the former, the aircrew on board the AEW & CS platforms can now guide both combat and combat-support aircraft on to targets during offensive engagements, be they on land, in the air or at sea. While doing this, the platforms still maintain their defensive roles by informing friendly pilots what other aircraft are within their area of operations, be they friend or foe. The A-50I, for instance, can detect low-flying targets within a diameter of 400km or 215nm. At medium-altitude, it can detect targets within 520km or 280nm. Thus, one A-50I cruising at 9,150 metres (30,000 feet) has a radar coverage of 312,000 square kilometres. It is capable of controlling six airborne interceptions and managing three tactical strike missions at the same time, an EMB-145I can control three interceptions and manage one tactical strike mission at the same time) airborne near Pathankot at the same time.

RAFAEL’s BNET-AR SDR-based Tactical Data-Link

Such AEW & CS platforms can also pass on the recognisable air surface picture (RASP) to either a land-mobile ground exploitation station (GES) or to one of the IAF’s sector operations centres (SOC) of the Integrated Airspace Command, Control and Communications (IACCCS) network via either a secure C-band line-of-sight data-link, or a secure Ku-band SATCOM beyond-line-of-sight data-link, following which the GES or the SOC provides ground-controlled intercept cues to friendly airborne combat aircraft via secure VHF/UHF voice/data tactical data-links. Alternatively, the AEW & CS platforms can directly provide situational awareness cues to the combat aircraft via secure L-band tactical data-links. However, as the events of February 27 illustrated, the lack of VHF/UHF-/L-band two-way tactical data-links on-board the IAF’s fleet of combat aircraft enabled the PAF to adopt swarm tactics when attacking a Brigade Support Depot at Narian in Jammu with standoff precision-guided munitions.

When it comes to offensive air operations inside hostile airspace, VHF/UHF-/L-band two-way tactical data-links (which, in essence, are software-defined radios) are imperative for airborne battle management and consequently the IAF had called for their procurement in the previous decade. While the HAL-developed SDR-2010 has been available since 2011, it was only last year that the IAF commenced efforts on procuring 473 + 3,125 SDRs worth Rs 630 crore (including the integral tactical data-link component) for achieving real-time connectivity between all IAF aircraft/helicopters and the IACCCS’ terrestrial and airborne combat and combat-support elements. For its 83 projected Tejas Mk.1A L-MRCAs, the IAF has specified RAFAEL of Israel’s BNET-AR SDR for installation. However, the IAF’s first combat aircraft to possess such tactical data-links will be the 36 Rafale M-MRCAs that are destined for re-equipping the No.17 ‘Golden Arrows’ and No.101 ‘Falcons’ squadrons at Ambala and Hashimara, respectively.

L-band Tactical Data Link

For supplying the BNET-AR SDRs to the IAF, Hyderabad-based Astra Microwave Products Ltd and  RAFAEL Advanced Defense Systems Ltd of Israel have formed a joint venture company called Astra Rafael Comsys Pvt Ltd (ARC) that will carry out production, integration, customisation, marketing, sale, life-cycle support and additional activities connected with the operationalisation of the BNET-AR SDRs. The ARC plant is spread across an area of 48,000 square feet, the ARC plant in Hardware Tech-Park (In the close vicinity of Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad.


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