IAF: Taking Off into Info-Tech Environment

29 Feb, 2000    ·   335

N. K. Pant analyses the IAF’s attempts at providing IT input into tactical planning

The armed forces in the technologically advanced countries are feverishly at work developing appropriate offensive cum defensive IT capabilities and incurring considerable expenditure in this new frontier of knowledge. It is now a foregone conclusion that integration of information technology in the tactics of warfare will be a battle-winning factor in the new millennium. This means collection, assessment and then fusion of data from all over the field units, which is then used to best effect by hitting the enemy at the correct place. Armed forces headquarters at various command levels collect a wealth of data on all aspects of their activities for storing in the mainframe or mini computers. This massive information base is required to be processed and made available on ‘as required basis’ over network systems. In the new emerging IT scenario, the side that possesses the best information and can use it, will have a decisive advantage over the adversary that has slow and incomplete information chain. The war strategy has already gone high tech with sophisticated image generation computers replacing three-dimensional maps and models. 



The IAF is in the process of drawing up ambitious plans to computerise and network all the field units and headquarters for operational and support roles by 2003. The process of networking besides providing timely information for decision making, will also ensure interoperability with Army, Navy and relevant civil agencies. The Air Force has already initiated Project " Inventory Material Management On -Line System" to computerise its inventory and proposes a wide area communication network to meet the requirements of data communication. Each field unit and the headquarters would have its local area network, which in turn will be integrated with wide area network to provide an overall data communication infrastructure of the entire organisation. The resultant network shall enable the IAF to have computer-to-computer contact between any two machines. The ultimate objectives are integration of command and control system at unit; Command HQ and Air HQ operations centre for conducting operations, interoperability within IAF and with the relevant external agencies and attaining the capability to develop training and war-gaming software. 



IT presents itself as the best example of dual use technology and has rightly been termed as one of the cheapest and most cost effective weapon system. This particularly suits the Air Force, which has always been victim of a perennial cash crunch. Come what may, IT is going to play a decisive role in augmenting the effectiveness of the IAF and Indian software experts will have a great role in it. For instance, Air Force requires integrated Geo-Spatial data for strategic planning, network analysis, war situation analysis and terrain simulation for which definite solutions are available with Indian software companies. Similarly, the know- how of automatic target recognition from aerial images is available with one of the IT firms. With faster reaction weapon systems, automation and high intensification of aerial activity there is a corresponding need for accelerating provisioning inputs to facilitate effective and near real time decision making at the command and control posts at the theatre level as well as at Air Headquarters level for which the IAF is rightly looking for solutions and the Indian IT industry is capable of providing the answers.



A significant break through which has taken place in the field of computers is development of visual simulation technology. The aerospace industry in the west was one of the first to use computers to mimic the real world and display realistic representations of virtual worlds. Specialised software applications are already in use that provides pilots with visual cues about friendly and hostile aircraft, creation and management of Geographic Information System (GIS) and digital terrain modelling.



Icons containing information about the aircraft platform, relative size and position allow pilots to have a realistic 360 degrees situational awareness. Moreover, there are graphics workstations which offer unmatched power and flexibility to simulate a variety of difficult military flying situations. The IAF must consider exploiting these low cost IT training options for flight safety and combat training of its pilots to its full advantage. While charting IT road map for the IAF especially in light of the experiences gained during the Kargil air operations, several potholes and pitfalls will have to be taken care of. A highly automated and computerised US Air Force has committed blunders by hitting wrong targets in its air campaign over Yugoslavia .



While information is an indispensable tool, it is also an area of vulnerability. Since the quality of information would always rely on human factor, impeccable staff work remains an indispensable requirement. Offensive or defensive air sorties launched on the basis of erroneous conclusions and faulty data would boomerang causing havoc on our own systems. Moreover, keeping the security aspect in mind, requisite safeguards will have to be devised to avoid unauthorised access to the classified operational data.