No coordination in radio procurement, army, navy and air force could be fighting in silos - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Stuff.

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Friday, 7 February 2020

No coordination in radio procurement, army, navy and air force could be fighting in silos


By Ajai Shukla
Lucknow
Business Standard, 8th Feb 20

Owing to the absence of tri-service coordination in buying radio equipment, the army, navy and Indian Air Force (IAF) could find themselves cut off from each other in future operations, simply because they are unable to communicate and share data.

In planning and procuring their next generation of tactical radio sets, all three services are moving in completely different directions, which could result in their being isolated in battle and unable to coordinate operations.

The IAF is equipping its aircraft and ground stations with cutting edge “software defined radio” (SDR), which will be integrated onto its platforms by Israeli firm, Rafael (not to be confirmed with the French Rafale fighter). The radio sets themselves will be manufactured in India in a joint venture (JV) between Rafael and Indian firm, Astra Microwave, called Astra Rafael Comsys (ARC).

In contrast, the navy has chosen to source its future radio equipment from Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which has developed its own SDR sets. Warships have the luxury of ample space to install their SDR sets, unlike fighter aircraft in which space is critical. Therefor, the navy is not concerned about the size and weight of BEL’s SDR equipment, which is too bulky for aircraft.

Meanwhile, the army is following a third line by inviting India’s defence industry to compete in developing SDR equipment under the Make-2 procurement category. Under Make-2, companies develop equipment at their own cost and offer it to the MoD, which chooses what it likes.

Unless there is intervention by the newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), whose mandate includes coordinating equipment procurement between the three services, the military’s inter-operability could be seriously undermined.

To this day, the army’s armoured regiments encounter serious interoperability problems, simply because some units were equipped with Israeli TADIRAN radio sets, while others operated STARS V2 radio sets built and supplied by BEL.

With these two sets operating on different encryption algorithms, and therefore unable to communicate with each other in secrecy mode, armoured forces are forced to communicate in clear, allowing the enemy to easily intercept and monitor our radio communications.

Starting from 2004, the army bought some 20,000 TADIRAN radio sets. Despite the problems of interoperability with BEL’s equipment, another purchase is being made of over 5,000 more.

In switching to next-generation communications, the IAF has taken the lead. Starting from 2012, it identified SDR as the technology of the future and initiated the purchase of 450-500 radio sets. These are to be fitted across its entire aircraft fleet, as well as ground stations, ensuring secure communications across the entire operational spectrum.

In 2017, a contract worth over $100 million was signed with Israeli firm, Rafael, for almost 500 SDR sets. In 2018, Rafael and the IAF began the complex process of integrating the SDR sets into all the different fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters in the fleet. 

Once that is completed, ARC – the Rafael-Astra JV – will begin manufacturing the SDR sets in India. Contacted for details, Eli Hefets of Rafael stated that Rafale has placed an SDR order worth about $30 million on ARC, and that the radio sets the JV would supply the IAF would have an indigenization component of over 80 per cent.

Hefets stated that, while this production would bring in offsets credits for Rafael, it would continue production even after the Indian military’s requirements were satisfied. “We cannot have a short-term approach towards setting up production of such sophisticated equipment in India. We have trained the workers, bought machinery, qualified the product and sourced sub-systems and components from over 100 small Indian companies. This is for the long term,” said Hefets.

It is learnt that ARC would also be participating in the army’s tender for SDR. However, there is no certainty it would win, which would leave all three services with different – and probably incompatible – radio equipment.

The army order is potentially massive, due to its size. The tri-service Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), which spells out the three services’ equipment requirements out to 2027, states that the army could require about 60,000 radio devices – which include vehicle-mounted, man-portable as well as handheld sets. However, a back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that the real requirement could be twice that number.

The army has already issued a Request for Information (RFI), which envisages a futuristic IP-based, flexible, redundant communications network, based on SDR.



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