An IDC Analysis

(With inputs by Sayan Majumdar)


New Delhi, 28 September 2004

The Indian Navy's rapidly expanding role in and around the Indian Ocean in conjunction with allied forces especially the United States Navy (USN) has resulted in a desperate requirement for more Maritime Reconnaissance/Anti-Submarine Warfare (MR/ASW) platforms. The Navy had carried on this vital role with a handful of Russian origin Illyushin-38 'May' and Tupolev-142 'Bear-F' platforms for more than two decades and they are now showing their age. Matters did not help as in the year 2002 two Illyushin-38 collided in mid-air and were destroyed. However the Russians from their own inventory promised replacements. The upgradation of the Navy's Tupolev-142s had also run into rough weather with differences of opinion arising between Indian, Russian and Israeli authorities, if media reports are to be believed.

However the existing Illyushin-38s are being upgraded to Illyushin-38SD standard by incorporation of the Leninets designed Morskoy Zmei (Sea Dragon) system. The fully digital Sea Dragon encompasses a new Synthetic-Aperture/Inverse-Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR/ISAR) located in a canoe fairing on the belly, a high-resolution Forward-Looking Infrared Sensor (FLIR), a Low-Light TV (LLTV) camera, a new Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system and a Magnetic-Anomaly Detector (MAD) in the aft section of the aircraft. Sea Dragon is designed to detect and intercept surface vessels and submarines within a range of 150-km, as well as detect mines and to carry out maritime surveillance. The suite can also detect airborne targets and can be linked to the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system with precise position fixing. The addition of the Russian R-73RDM2 (AA-11 Archer) Near Beyond Visual Range/Within Visual Range (NBVR/WVR) Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) is a possibility so as to avoid the similar fate of a destroyed Pakistani Atlantic ALT1 by Indian Air Force in the recent past.

The Indian Navy meanwhile had toyed with the idea of buying off-the-shelf P-3C Orion MR/ASW platforms from United States through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program but were intermittently denied the recent models. Also a feeling has by now crept in among Indian Navy officials that United States is actually off-loading a few "junks" in the process. Thus the Navy's attention has by now shifted to the successful European Atlantique MR/ASW platforms. The Atlantic ATL1 entered operational service way back in 1966 and remains in service with the German, Italian and Pakistani navies. Incidentally an Indian Air Force MiG-21 destroyed one Pakistani platform as it snooped in a possible ESM mission over Indian territory in August 1999.

The next-generation Atlantique (note the spelling change) ATL2 has been in service with the French Navy since 1989. With possible multi-Billion Dollar defence deals with France in relation to Scorpene Class Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines and Mirage 2000-5 Mk2 multi-role strike fighters, a package deal of all the proposed weapon systems including the French influenced MR/ASW platform may be convenient in financial and logistic terms.

The latest version of the MR/ASW platform is Atlantique ALT3, which the Indian Navy will do well to evaluate. The Navy may need 30 MR/ASW platforms even in thr near short-term, so if found suitable to meet the mission profiles of the Navy, arrangements could be made for Transfer of Technology of the sensitive sensors and ASW gear to be incorporated into suitable indigenous developed airframes, perhaps in the Indo-Russian Illyushin-214. A MR equivalent of Illyushin-214 if developed will have the added advantage of much higher transit speed to the patrol area from shore bases.

The multi-national Atlantique ATL3 Maritime Reconnaissance/Anti-Submarine Warfare (MR/ASW) aircraft, successor to the Atlantique ATL1 and ATL2, incorporates an enhanced weapon system with a maximum 9,000kg payload, new technology engines, advanced 'glass cockpit' and sophisticated avionics and sensors. The ATL3 airframe is to be produced by the Societé Européenne de Construction de l'Avion Breguet Atlantique (SECBAT) consortium, consisting of Dassault Aviation of France, Alenia of Italy, SABCA-SONACA of Belgium and EADS (European Aeronautics Defence and Space) company, formed by Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace of Germany, Aerospatiale Matra of France and CASA of Spain.

The primary mission of the Atlantique ALT3 is Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Anti-Surface Vessel (ASV) strike. The Atlantique ALT3 is powered by Rolls Royce Allison AE2100H engines, equipped with six-blade composite propellers from Messier Dowty and produces ten percent more power than the current generation ATL2 engines, but use fifteen percent less fuel thus increasing already impressive endurance of the present generation ALT2. This attribute of the engines may be optimally utilised by swiftly moving to the patrol area from shore bases. In typical operational role the "Atlantique sortie" lasts about 12 hours including 8 hours on ASW patrol at 170-knots maintaining a standard altitude of 2,000-ft descending to as much as 300-ft or less if operational requirement demands.

Secondary roles of ALT3 include Search And Rescue (SAR), mine laying and detection and long-range maritime surveillance. The flight deck in accordance to modern trends is designed around a two-pilot operation. Six Liquid-Crystal Displays (LCD) provide both pilots independently with the flight and systems management data, together with pictures from the Electro-Optical (EO) sensor and data from the weather radar.

The aircraft normally carries a tactical crew of eight. They include the Tactical Coordinator (TACCO), the Deputy TACCO, two radar and Electronic Support Measures (ESM) officers and two acoustic sensor officers. The tactical crew has identical workstations each with two full-colour, multi-purpose displays. The Deputy TACCO manages the communications, navigation and EO systems. The TACCO receives the inputs from all sensor operations and, using the tactical aids suite, evaluates the situation and determines the actions to be taken.

The Thomson-CSF Iguane multi-mode radar with integrated Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system has the sensitivity to detect even small periscope-size targets. It can operate in surface search mode and weather avoidance mode simultaneously and carries out track-while-scan. Since the modern submarines are also equipped with sophisticated Radar Warning Receivers (RWR), techniques have been evolved of flying "silently" for a time and switching on the radar suddenly. Any plot on the screen that disappears suddenly is likely to be an embarrassed submarine.

For passive detection the aircraft is equipped with a Forward-Looking Infra Red (FLIR) sensor installed in a spherical turret under the nose. The FLIR carries out search, detection, identification and tracking of targets and has detection ranges of up to 161-km even through a haze. Two camera systems provide vertical and oblique photography. A Sextant Avionique Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), for the detection and location of submarines, is installed in the lengthened tail section of the fuselage. MAD is a short-range low-level aid that "responds" when the LRMP/ASW platform is directly over a "large metal object" (submarine) because of the associated distortion of the Earth's magnetic field and provides a final, pinpoint homing aid before ASW torpedoes or depth charges are fired for destruction of the target. The aircraft's two acoustic sensor operators detect, locate and track submarines using Thomson-CSF Sadang acoustic data processing system. Sixty-four channels can be processed simultaneously.

The ESM system is the Thomson-CSF Arar 13A radar detector. The system automatically detects, analyses, identifies and tracks radar signals and provides high probability of single-pulse intercept even in a dense electromagnetic environment. Intercepted radar signals are analyzed by comparison of signal characteristics against an ESM threat library. Less known, but a MR/ASW aircraft often uses its ESM gear for "silent approach" to its surface targets without employing its own radar. The ESM operator detects if his airborne platform is entering the target warship's "radar lobe". Before the target warship detects the MR/ASW platform, it dives out of the lobe and by repeating the procedure several times can "creep up" on the warship undetected.

The navigation system uses a ring laser gyro inertial navigation system with an integrated global positioning system and a radio navigation suite including VHF Omni-directional Radio ranging (VOR) with Distance Measuring Equipment (DME). The autopilot equipment allows operational flight down to 100-ft. The communications suite includes V/UHF and satellite communications links with NATO Tactical Data Links 11, 14 and 16.

The Atlantique ATL3 has four "hardpoints" under wings with a total capacity of 3,500kg for carrying standard NATO Anti-Ship Missiles (AShM) such as AGM-84 Harpoon and Exocet AM.39, AGM-65 Maverick Air-to-Surface Missiles, AGM-88 HARM High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. For self-defence R.550 Magic, AIM-9 Sidewinder and MICA Air-to-Air Missiles (AAM) are carried. In addition, a large internal weapon bay with capacity to carry a maximum internal payload of 5,500kg can carry a wide range of ordnance and equipment to support deployment for out of area operations. Typical combination of payloads can be loaded in the weapons bay with a choice of up to eight NATO torpedoes, two Exocet AM.39 and four Harpoon AShMs, six mines, eight ASW depth charges, twelve Search And Rescue (SAR) containers, 200 sonobuoys and 70 markers.

In these spheres a lot of modification is necessary as Indian Navy is bound to select a different array of weapons for its missions. The standard AshM in Indian Navy service is set to be an optimum combination of air launched variants of 130-km ranged subsonic (Mach0.9) Kh-35 Uran (SS-N-25 Switchblade) "Harpoonski" with a 145-Kg warhead that has a similar flight profile and characteristics of United States AGM-84 Harpoon. For decimation of enemy Capital warships and high-value shore installations the natural choice will be 290-km ranged supersonic (Mach 2.8) Indo-Russian PJ-10 BrahMos with a 300-kg warhead. Needless to say the deadly combination of Uran and BrahMos far outweighs the standard NATO combination of Exocet and Harpoon.

The standard Anti-Radiation Missile choice should be the Russian new generation dual-propulsion Kh-31R2 (AS-17 Krypton). (This missile is often mistakenly referred to as Kh-31P2. In Russian Cyrillic alphabet "R" looks like "P" and hence the confusion). With a range of around 200-km and a high supersonic speed of Mach 4+ it gives decent stand-off capability and very short if not negligible reaction time to its intended target. After all Kh-31 series of ARM was designed to defeat and destroy the U.S. Patriot Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) batteries with little reaction time. Thus any attempt by potential enemy warships to track Indian Navy MR/ASW platforms by radar either to engage it by SAM or vector fighters towards it will be at their own peril. However the area of interest in NATO inventory to the Indian Navy should be the area of ASW torpedoes and sensors as the NATO alliance invested huge amounts during the Cold War days in these spheres to tackle the formidable Soviet submarine fleet.

For self-defence the standard choice for Indian Navy should be the Israeli Python 5 Near Beyond Visual Range/Within Visual Range (NBVR/WVR) AAM. It inherited all the positive characteristics of its predecessor the Python 4 WVR AAM, which with numerous canard control surfaces and destabilisers is designed around an Israeli Air Force philosophy of a visual identification pass, coupled with a close-in High Off-Boresight Angle (HOBA) capability missile. Python 4 has IR seekers with the ability to look 90 degrees off-boresight and a powerful 6-inch diameter rocket motor that gives it more impulse to get through the energy sapping manoeuvres of a HOBA launch, with enough speed remaining for good kill distance. The Python 4 thrust is low initially to let the missile turn large angles at relatively slow speed before accelerating for the chase.

The next generation Python 5 with Mach 4 speed and 20-km range is a "fifth-generation" missile with a 360 degrees capability facilitated by lock-on after launch capability to deal with rear hemisphere threats. The extended range gives it an added NBVR (Near Beyond Visual Range) capability to its inherent WVR capability. Like Python 4 the fuselage of Python 5 consists of dual canards and rear fins with an improved motor. It now has a dual-wavelength, focal plane array-imaging seeker, able to acquire low-signature targets even in look-down mode against adverse backgrounds and possibly has discriminatory capability against multiple targets. It also incorporates advanced computer architecture, inertial navigation system Infra-Red Counter Counter Measures (IRCCM) and flight-control algorithms. It will provide the Indian Navy MR/ASW fleet a decent self-defence capability with minimum support from the launch platform in emergency situations. In any case the formidable IAF Sukhoi-30MKIs will escort the Indian Navy MR/ASW fleet in sensitive missions as they are blessed with a range of around 3,000-km on internal fuel only excluding drop tanks or in-flight refueling. The combination of drop tanks, in-flight refueling and overseas basing rights facilitating "one way" missions will project the force even further. 

India's geographical position has permitted her to influence maritime traffic in Indian Ocean that originates from the Persian Gulf or Straits of Hormuz or Cape of Good Hope towards Far East. A significant amount of fossil fuel especially petroleum moves in these sea routes along with raw materials essential for the developed Western World and Japan. No wonder the United States Navy keeps a heavy naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region in form of the Seventh Fleet and is the undisputed strongest naval force in the Indian Ocean region.

In addition, one of USN nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN) is permanently stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, to respond to possible contingencies. The British held island of Diego Garcia serves as an important strategic base for strike missions and pre-positioned stocks for the USN. The British Royal Navy and the French Marine Nationale (Navy) further cooperates with the USN. The French Navy itself possessed a small naval base at Saint Denis in La Reunion Islands and do have a separate Indian Ocean Theatre Command (ALINDIEN). Interestingly now there is enough indication of renewal of Japanese maritime ambitions in Indian Ocean and West Pacific with projected constructions of "Flat Tops" and a desire for out of area deployments.

The resurgent Russian Navy will also maintain a heavy naval presence in the Indian Ocean usually as powerful detachments from Russian Black Sea and Pacific Fleets dominated by Udaloy Class ASW Destroyers alike Admiral Vinogradov and Admiral Pantelyev. After all it is enormously economical and convenient to transport materials from "European Russia" to the Far East Russian landmass by sea route than by Trans-Siberian Railway and the sea lanes need to be kept open.

As a matter of concern to India in recent times Chinese forays to the Indian Ocean are becoming apparent with tacit assistance of Myanmar. Having already built up "listening posts" at strategic points, complication for India may arise if China manages to deploy in assistance with Myanmar, a sizable military force down at Tenasserim. The Chinese already dominates the Parcael and Spratly Islands from which the Chinese naval forces can move to the Indian Ocean through the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Sumba straits. The possession of Spratly Islands have developed into a potentially fierce point of conflict as three nations, China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim those island territories in totality with partial claims from Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei. Even if no significant Chinese surface combatants are deployed in and around the Indian Ocean in near term, couple of nuclear powered attack submarines my move in for semi-permanent deployment. 

Possibly as a counterbalance the Indian Navy and USN have initiated active cooperation and joint patrolling in selected strategic areas of the Indian Ocean. The eastern periphery and narrow waterways seem to be the "favourite choice". An ASW patrol in the narrow waterways of various straits will keep track of sub-surface movement and deployment from one operational area to another in addition of combating notorious piracy in the region.

As a sign of significant expansion of ambitious cooperation, the Indian Navy has now geared up for deployment in the Persian Gulf region and that too with a powerful Surface Action Group comprising of Delhi Class Destroyers and Talwar (Krivak III) Class Frigate. Thus peacetime from now onwards will have very little effect in the deployment and operational role of Indian Navy MR/ASW platforms.

The Indian Navy MR/ASW platforms must continue monitoring surface and sub-surface vessels in and around the Indian Ocean as a way of providing early warning of possible confrontation or conflict and distribution of naval units. Usually these roles will be multi-national affaires between India, United States and possibly Japan with data and information transmitted and shared between MR/ASW platforms of several nations for constant monitoring of surface and sub-surface naval activities.

Indian Navy thus needs a formidable MR/ASW platform for effective monitoring and coordination of allied naval forces in the Indian Ocean region and the choice needs to be made without any compromise.

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