India is embracing medium- and long-range precision-strike weapons, short-range directed-energy air defenses and unmanned combat air vehicles as key aspirations for its future arsenal, according to a technology plan expected to be released imminently.The need for these capabilities is spelled out in the defense ministry’s ambitious Technology Perspective and Capability Road Map 2010, its first effort to provide industry with an overview of what the armed services hope to field by the middle of the next decade. The document’s stated intent is to drive the “technology and development process” of prospective developers, contractors and bidders in India and abroad, and to “provide industry an overview” of ministry aims. The extent to which such desires can be adequately funded, and met by industry, national or otherwise, remains a big question.
The position paper identifies as a goal the ability to field long-range subsonic cruise missiles for precision strikes against high-value targets. The 625-mi.-range Nirbhay cruise missile is now being developed for both land and air launch.
At the other end of the precision-strike range, the road map spotlights interest in loitering munitions. New Delhi has already tapped Israeli and European guided-weapons manufacturers in this area, and in March, the Indian army formally expressed interest in a medium-range loitering missile system.
In terms of directed-energy systems, the paper calls for the ability to be able to engage “enemy unmanned aerial vehicles in the 8-10-km. [5-7.2-mi.] range, capable of being designated and controlled by appropriate detection and tracking systems.” Such systems would likely be laser-based. The directed-energy requirements also include “dazzlers,” low-power lasers, for special forces to disrupt optical sensors.
India’s list of air power, surveillance and missile needs are also detailed in the road map, reflecting the capital commitments the Indian air force is already making in these areas.
The document glosses over New Delhi’s well-known requirement for fixed-wing aircraft (fighters and tactical and heavy-lift), while emphasizing the critical technologies the air force wants as part of its rotary-wing procurements.
The air force could sign deals for the acquisition of 150 helicopters in the next four years. Arguing that Indian airpower will progressively focus on air dominance and effects-based operations—until recently a vocabulary associated with the U.S. Air Force and Europe’s main air forces—the document underscores the need for day/night standoff strike, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV) and an increased number of force-multiplier platforms such as airborne early warning (AEW) and tanker aircraft. The air force is also in the process of developing the capabilities provided by the A-50 Phalcon AEW aircraft, along with its Ilyushin Il-78 tankers.
While India continues to look to Israel as a provider of tactical UAVs—the addition of further Searchers or Herons is likely—the state-owned Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) is conducting a feasibility study of an indigenous UCAV design concept.
“UAVs with advanced sensors and weapons are going to dominate all facets of the future battlefield and hence the need to acquire the necessary UAV expertise indigenously,” the road map document states. “These should be capable of carrying payloads such as weapons, [synthetic aperture radar] payloads, electro-optical devices, [and] electronic and communications intelligence.”
As a complement to increasing its inventory of precision-guided weapons, the document also spells out the air force’s far-reaching surveillance and target-acquisition capabilities, including long-range battlefield surveillance, remote sensor systems and the ability to track cruise missiles from airborne platforms.
Improved air defenses are identified as a near-to-medium-term requirement, including an overhaul of India’s air defense ground environment. The military is looking to replace its obsolescent Soviet-era surface-to-air missile systems through programs with Israeli and European industry. The air force will look to acquire air defense weapons “from ground-based mobile platforms capable of engaging all kinds of projectiles-—rockets, mortar/ artillery, UAVs, missiles, fighter aircraft, helicopters, precision guided munitions and other stand off armament.”
The emphasis on air defense reflects the findings of numerous parliamentary committees and government-led security audits that have identified shortcomings in India’s air defenses.