Bengaluru headquartered Navratna Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has signed two contracts worth Rs. 3,102 crores with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The MoD and BEL-Bengaluru concluded a contract for supply of the Advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) suite for fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force. The overall cost of the contract is estimated to be Rs 1,993 Crores. The MoD also signed a contract with BEL-Hyderabad for the Instrumented Electronic Warfare Range (IEWR) for the Indian Air Force. BEL also signed an MoU with the Army Design Bureau of the Indian Army for collaboration in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Defence applications. All these contracts assume immense significance especially when it comes to making India a self reliant nation in terms of defence production and research.
As per BEL, the supply of advanced EW systems will significantly enhance the battle-survivability of the IAF fighter aircraft while undertaking operational missions against adversaries’ ground-based as well as airborne fire control and surveillance radars. The EW suite has been indigenously designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). At the same time the contract regarding the Instrumented Electronic Warfare Range (IEWR) for the Indian Air Force is being termed as a significant step towards enhancing the capabilities of the IAF to prepare for future warfare. The overall cost of the contract is estimated to be Rs. 1,109 crores. The IEWR will be used to test and evaluate airborne Electronic Warfare (EW) equipment and validate their deployment in an operational scenario.
Similarly the MoU with the Indian Army seeks to bring together the Army, ADB (Army Design Bureau (ADB), and BEL under one roof to jointly carry out research activities for the development of innovative AI solutions for the Indian Army. BEL and ADB will co-develop AI-based projects for the Army. The MoU will be executed in a collaborative manner through a nodal organisation named Artificial Intelligence Incubation Hub (AIIH). The AIIH will be co-chaired by the ADG, ADB, and Director, R&D, BEL, with members from the Indian Army and BEL. The MoU also has the provision to co-opt representatives of academia and industry/start-ups.
Defence experts point out that electronic warfare has been a component of modern conflict and has advanced far beyond jamming radios. They also point out that electronic warfare systems are increasingly capable of sensing, exploiting, and manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS).
“EW is becoming a priority and a development focus as a relatively inexpensive and easily implemented means of interrupting the operation of an enemy's radar and other systems, as well as shielding one's own equivalent systems from interference. With so much modern technology relying on the electromagnetic spectrum, the war for electrical superiority is constantly waged on the airwaves. In modern warfare, military personnel heavily rely on the EMS for navigation, positioning, communications, and other capabilities,” pointed out Girish Linganna, a defence and aerospace expert and Director of ADD Engineering Components India Limited.
He said that the advanced EW suite is a critical element of modern air combat. These weapon systems provide long or short range, guided, loitering and fire control capabilities, enabling the defence team to secure and protect their airspace and ground-base and in October 2018 India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had struck a deal with Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for EW suites to be integrated with a few Mark-IA Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
“The IEWR facilities help in testing and evaluating airborne Electronic Warfare (EW) equipment and validate its deployment in an operational situation. The project essentially foregrounds the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India and will contribute towards fulfilling the journey towards self- reliance,” remarked Linganna.
Defence experts also observe that when it comes to fighting wars, it is not merely the men but the deadly combination of well trained men and most capable machines that places a military in a superior and advantageous position. With the security situation in the India’s neighbourhood continuing to remain highly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and major military powers in the region investing in the development of sophisticated weapon systems and platforms for improving their operating efficiencies specifically in terms of combat capabilities, it becomes a need of the hour for the Indian armed forces in general and the Indian Army in particular to begin investing in modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to gain an advantageous position over the adversary.
“While the developments in the past few years in the context of India having been positive with the launch of National Strategy on AI by the elite government owned think tank NITI Aayog, the repercussions did not reach as expected in the context of adoption of AI by the armed forces. The United States, China and Israel have already been demonstrating a number of AI projects for their defence forces at least for a decade with their armed forces launching system design challenges, coordinating with academia and industry for prototypes and even buying foreign platforms. Some interesting projects, systems and technologies include Project Maven which is jointly used by the US Air Force and CIA to comb through footage from uninhabited aerial vehicles and automatically identify the hostile,” added Linganna.