GSAT-7 bolsters Indian Navy's Network Centric Warfare (NCW) capability

Discussion in 'Strategic Forces' started by AVERAGE INDIAN, Sep 23, 2014.



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    In recent years, IN has inducted a range of new ISR platforms including the Boeing P-8I Neptune and a host of UAVs besides upgrading older reconnaissance assets with new electronics to considerably augment its inventory of network capable platforms.

    Effective maritime domain awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is a strategic imperative for the Indian Navy (IN). Achieving this goal dovetails with IN's continuing evolution as a network-centric force with consistent investment being made in various command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) programs. IN's emerging network centric warfare (NCW) ethos ultimately paves the way towards true MDA by providing a core around which broader inter-agency networks can be built. The need to manage dispersed forces operating across wide expanses of ocean while keeping them informed is driving IN more than ever before to pursue space based initiatives as reflected by the operationalization of the GSAT-7 satellite whose efficacy was validated in the TROPEX series of exercises conducted earlier this year. IN's desire to operate a large fleet of nuclear submarines in the years ahead will only heighten its need to exploit space for NCW goals as well as spur further domestic development of very long range communication systems.

    In recent years, IN has inducted a range of new ISR platforms including the Boeing P-8I Neptune and a host of UAVs besides upgrading older reconnaissance assets with new electronics to considerably augment its inventory of network capable platforms. But to actually achieve the old cliché of moving from being a 'platform centric' to a 'network centric force', IN has known for some time now that it would have to deploy high bandwidth digital communications that facilitate 24x7 secure internet connectivity between its various assets and establishments.

    As such IN's Weapons Engineering Electronics Establishment (WEESE) laboratory working together with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Indian private sector created a first naval enterprise network in the mid-2000s which operated in the high frequency (HF) and very high frequency (VHF) spectrum but also employed very small aperture terminal (VSAT) Ku-band communications via GSAT class civilian satellites. However, the data bit rates and coverage footprint of this particular scheme were rather limited. At the same time IN's use of INMARSAT terminals for the same purpose wasn't exactly secure or cheap either.

    It was clear that IN needed a dedicated multi-band satellite that could provide wide coverage and high data transmission rates thereby facilitating secure digital transmission of instructions, reports and intelligence in real time. This led to the conceptualization, creation and subsequent launch of GSAT-7 on board an Arianespace launcher in August 2013. Positioned at 74 degrees east, GSAT-7 weighs 2650 kg with a payload power of around 2 kilowatts (kW) and a designed mission life of 7- 9 years. Based on ISRO's I-2K bus, GSAT-7 carries payloads operating in the ultra high frequency (UHF), S, C and Ku-bands providing a great degree of versatility to relay various types of transmissions. GSAT-7's geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) of 249-kilometre perigee, 35,929-kilometre apogee at an inclination of 3.5 degree with respect to the equator allows it to provide a coverage footprint of some 3600 km across IOR.

    Now GSAT-7 was developed under Project Rukmini (GSAT-7 is also referred to Rukmini incidentally) which also included the deployment of new maritime VSATs on Indian naval ships. These VSATs have been supplied by Orbit Technology, Israel and are linked to a deploying ship's CIC computers, navigation and sensor equipment while being able to cater for the ship's roll, pitch and yaw and turning rate. The last part is a crucial aspect of maritime VSATs as their antennas need to be stabilized with respect to the horizon and true north, so that they maintains line of sight with the satellite overhead. VSATs supplied by Orbit are dual offset Gregorian terminals sporting 45 inch radomes for transmission and reception. Incidentally, domestic development of such VSATs is also under way at DLRL, Bangalore.

    All of this now rides BEL's current Data Link-II system which is more capable than the older data link system mentioned above. Moreover Link-II is also being used by other Indian military services thereby paving the way for using GSAT-7 as a 'jointness' tool as well. Indeed, GSAT-7 though under the operational control of IN will likely become a part of the envisaged Aerospace Command that the new Modi-led government is definitely looking to expedite. Indian military NCW growth may require a certain amount of pooling of resources, especially in the space based segment.

    One example of this is already underway in the form of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) which is expected to give the Indian military, positioning and targeting independence in and around IOR. Two of the intended seven satellites for the constellation, IRNSS-1A and 1B have already been parked in geosynchronous orbits in space and once fully operational by end 2015, IRNSS is expected to provide a positioning accuracy of less than 15 metres across IOR. IRNSS signals will be in the L5 and S bands broadcast through a phased array antenna to maintain continuous coverage and signal strength. The importance of IRNSS for secure C&C activities by IN cannot be overstated. The entire NCW concept ultimately hinges on the ability to securely leverage geographically referenced information that allows military commanders to utilize multi-faceted data to both locate friendly forces as well as direct networked fires towards the opponent's platforms and nodes. However at the crux of any such geographical information system (GIS) riding an enterprise network is the availability of accurate and uninterrupted global positioning and navigational data from an overhead satellite constellation which is what IRNSS will provide.

    Ultimately it is the interplay of GIS data and target information from space based reconnaissance assets that enable the business end of NCW. And when the playground is the vast expanse of open ocean itself, space enabled NCW can really come into its own in a veritable game of 'digital battleship'. Thus despite having smaller resources at its disposal as compared to the Indian Air force(IAF) or the Indian Army(IA), IN has pushed ahead with space based NCW enablers. Indeed even with a relatively small budget at the time, IN joined the other two services in funding some aspects of the Technology Experimental Satellite (TES) launched in 2001. TES demonstrated some very important attributes for military satellites including a new generation attitude and orbit control system, high torque reaction wheels, a new reaction control system with optimized thrusters and a single propellant tank, light weight spacecraft structure, solid state recorder, X-band phased array antenna, improved satellite positioning system, miniaturized TTC and power system and two-mirror-on- axis camera optics. TES also sports a panchromatic camera with a spatial resolution of 1m, and an experimental synthetic aperture radar (SAR). TES actually paved the way for RISAT-I and even the OCEANSAT series of satellites which provide maritime movement, ocean topography, sea state and bathymetric data to IN. Bathymetric data is of course particularly useful for IN's submarine fleet.

    In the future, IN will also operate electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellites that will track electromagnetic emissions in the maritime domain to get a fix on target. However whether it is electro-optical data or SAR data or signals intercept data, the system will ultimately depend on communication satellites of the GSAT-7 variety. During TROPEX-2014 GSAT-7 handled large amounts of C&C and targeting data with good signal strength to make the missile firing exercise a success. However TROPEX-14 also demonstrated that just one GSAT-7, though significant, will not be adequate given IN's expanding footprint and the need to tie in more space based GIS and reconnaissance tools.

    Indeed the space based segment for IN will have to grow in tandem with its induction of more nuclear submarines that will need a complex communications system that can maintain C&C over them without compromising their operational doctrine which hinges to a great extent on stealth. Now no matter how many overhead assets IN manages to deploy, its submarines will always have to stay incommunicado for certain lengths of time to retain the advantage of surprise.

    In order to send coded instructions to them when they are lurking in silent mode as a precursor to more detailed C&C and targeting data, very long range narrow band communications are essential. This is why IN has also invested heavily in very low frequency (VLF) and extremely low frequency (ELF) systems. One such facility was inaugurated recently as INS Kattaboman, Tamil Nadu. This facility, featuring the highest mast structures in India has been built by Larsen & Turbo with antennas developed by DLRL. VLF transmissions can reach submarines lurking at a depth of 20 meters and consist of short instructions usually related to spatial deployment or weapons employment. For ballistic missile submarines however ELF may be required as they lurk at deeper depths, if not for anything but to bring them to the surface. IN no doubt wishes to replicate USN's Submarine Satellite Information Exchange Sub-System (SSIXS) and for that being able to send instructions to bring submarines to a depth where they can use UHF communications is imperative.

    Going forward the picture is one of IN ships being 24x7 internet capable with each other, and connected to shore headquarters forming the backbone of the National C3I system which connects with the Coastal Security Network and has establishments in some IOR island states to pave the way for an Indian led MDA framework in the Ocean that bears its name.

    Follow Saurav Jha on twitter @SJha1618. Send your feedback [email protected]

    Saurav Jha's Blog : GSAT-7 bolsters Indian Navy's Network Centric Warfare (NCW) capability

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