When the August-launched GSAT-7 satellite became operational in mid-September last year the Indian Navy became better able to keep under surveillance its area of concern which spans three huge water bodies-the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. It will improve the network centricity between its airborne, surface and sub-surface weapons platforms.
Already, with the arrival of the first of the Poseidon P-8I maritime reconnaissance and strike aircraft, the upgradation of the vintage Il-38 and Tu-142 and the induction of UAVs there has been an improvement in the maritime surveillance and even strike capabilities. But there is an absolute need for an overarching ‘eye in the sky’ with a resolution of image better than one meter.
The The GSAT-7 is an advanced communication satellite to provide wide range of service spectrum from low bit rate voice to high bit rate data communication. Its transponders on board allow for secure communication links over a wide bandspread given that it carries antennae for UHF, S, C and Ku bands. Its payload is designed to provide communication capabilities to users over a wide oceanic region including the Indian land-mass. The data links have been created indigenously to ensure encryption security.
The advantages of a satellite-based network centric warfare system linking all airborne and surface fighting platforms are enormous and India too needs to keep abreast with an adequate number of satellites in orbit to ensure a day and night and 24×7 coverage of its areas of interest.
The three oceans surrounding India and the landmass itself require an intricate network of satellites in orbit so that information is collectable on a short timeframe basis.
The current visitation period of the G-SAT is 24 hours on a 74 degree east longitude and geostationary orientation. The Indian military establishment, be it the army, the IAF or the navy requires a visitation of 12 hours or even less because modern day warfare requires information by the hour not in days.
While GSAT-7 in its place in the sky is able to give the navy in particular a wide-angle view of the oceans even in that ambiance where surface vessels can travel at 40kmph, looking for and keeping track of such platforms requires a faster revolution.
This can only be achieved by additional assets at different points in space so that one or the other of the satellites will provide real time information of passage of hostile vehicles through India’s area of interest. A time division of surveillance of once every hour would require up to a dozen satellites in polar orbit.
Clearly, waiting for the cryogenic segment of the GSLV launch vehicle to fructify will not do. India needs to send aloft at least two more dedicated spies in the sky to be able to get a better fix on potential enemy movements not just in the seas but also along the vast land periphery.
Of course greater situational awareness could be achieved through airborne surveillance platforms with flight capability of staying on station on the edge of the littoral for between four to six hours. But that will require an extremely large fleet of airborne reconnaissance platform that, going by the cost per Poseidon P-8I aircraft, would be astronomical.
Given the size of the littoral and the paucity of satellites India has opted to acquire a dozen of the Boeing aircraft. However, given the limited range of the Poseidons (compared to the Tu-142) India will also have to buy airborne refuellers to make optimum use of the P-8I aircraft. A cost-benefit analysis would appear to favor a larger number of satellites rather than more Poseidons in the surveillance and reconnaissance role.
Given that there are three dimensions to maritime security-in the air, on the surface and below the surface-India will also have to improve its communications capabilities vis-à-vis its submarine fleet which is on the nuclear threshold.
To be able to ensure that the Arihant nuclear submarine is able to respond to the command to launch its nuclear weapons in the event of an attack on India, the person with the hand on the nuclear button has to be able to communicate the command to the submarine’s Captain.
Land-to-sea communications are best enabled with the Ultra Low Frequency wavelength. It requires a very huge antenna covering several square kilometers of land. If the minimum nuclear deterrent is to be truly effective it is the submerged wing that needs to be operational and connected to the epicentre of political power at all times. India can easily find land on the Deccan plateau to create a ULF network to communicate with its submarines both nuclear and conventional in real time.
On the other wavebands the submarine has to surface to raise its antenna to listen and respond to conversations. The move is fraught with danger as it reveals the presence and position of the submarine and leaves it vulnerable to being tracked and attacked.
Some wavebands can penetrate the ocean waters upto a depth of 30 meters and the submarine Captain can listen to commands but cannot respond over the telephone. His only response has to be to act on the received instructions.
Given that nuclear submarines will have to operate as far away as the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Navy
will have to fabricate an adequate communications link between the central high command and the submarine on duty outside Chinese territorial waters so as to deal with any contingency.
Additionally the Ministry of Defence needs to assess the possibility of laying undersea sensors to listen to the engine and propeller signatures of passing surface vessel and submarines and create a dossier identifying the vessel, its nationality (through visual observations by own surveillance aircraft) and ascertaining its business in Indian contiguous seas.
India is blessed with outlying island groups on both the eastern and western seaboards. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in particular lend themselves to laying undersea sensors to monitor the crowded sea lanes through the Malacca Straits. Ditto is the case with the Lakshadweep and Minicoy group on the western seaboard. If India can use its diplomatic clout it should also deploy such undersea sensors at appropriate locations all along the Indian Ocean littoral.
Airborne platforms of several kinds are increasingly being used to create a network centricity –most of them are in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles replete with new types of sensors. While more endurance is being built into fixed wing UAVs to help patrol great distances over water bodies without any landmarks, there is a growing awareness of rotary-winged UAVs for electronic early warning, target acquisition, search and rescue and even attack roles.