by Air Marshal BN Gokhale PVSM, AVSM, VM (Retd)

In modern warfare EW has taken a preeminent place than just being a force multiplier. Over the years the Indian Armed Forces have been consciously making efforts to upscale this capability. It is now equally important to pay attention to the aspects of cyber war, as it could be a ‘game changer’ in the future conflicts. In order to ensure an integrated approach to this essential capability, the need for forming at the earliest a tri-Service cyber as well as Space commands cannot be over emphasised.

US President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address on 20th January referred to his government’s resolve in ensuring cyber protection. In the light of North Korean cyber-attack on Sony Entertainment channel and subsequent US reprisal, the very fact that such reference was made in this important Presidential address to the nation, indicates the importance cyber warfare is gaining in this era of net-centricity.

Dominating EM Spectrum

Battle space today is increasingly dependent on the use of electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. While Network Centric Warfare (NCW) has become essential form of operations, protecting such a capability is becoming equally challenging. Apart from radar emissions and various types of Information Technology (IT) enabled communications, the increasing dependence on cyberspace for the command and control functions makes EM spectrum vulnerable to the integrated domains of electronic and cyber warfare. Defending newer disruptive technologies fielded to disable or degrade both, the hardware as well as the software, is therefore a daunting task. This was amply demonstrated during ‘Operation Orchard’, the successful attack by Israeli Air Force on a nuclear reactor under construction in Northern Syria, on 06th September 2007.

A specially programmed UAV, similar to US Suter airborne network attack system, had apparently sent an embedded bug as part of the reflected radar echo to one of the Syrian Air Defence radars. This false echo had in turn disabled the entire AD network for a considerable period of time, allowing the Israeli F-15s and F-16s to destroy the site without any resistance from the Syrian AD missiles or interceptors. While downing of Malaysian Airline flight MH-17 by a surface-to-air missile has made news, ‘YouTube’ also demonstrates the fitment of deception capability on civil airlines of Israeli Elta-ELM 2160 Flight Guard against a shoulder fired missile. While Marconi invented the wireless radio communication in 1896, the first known use of interception and spoofing of a radio message has been reported in the Russo-Japanese Naval Battle of 1905. An initial form of Electronic Warfare had taken birth. Later it was in the Second World War that the techniques of jamming adversary’s radars gathered momentum. Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) operations by F-4G Phantom aircraft became a necessity in the Vietnam War, with Wild Weasel aircraft of the US Air Force used extensively to jam the Vietcong radar and missile systems. It is reported that due to their contribution, the USAF aircraft losses came down by nearly 70 per cent. In the 1967 War Israel had used communication jamming extensively. But it was in the midst of Yom Kippur War of 1973 that the need for a robust yet agile EW capability came to the fore, to minimise initial heavy Israeli aircraft losses to different varieties of Egyptian AD missiles.

Only Kinetic Attack

The Indian Air Force started building Electronic Warfare capability only after the Indo-Pak 1971 War. Till then both India and Pakistan were yet to acquire low-level radar coverage and surface-to-air missile defences. As such, low-level attacks were reported mainly by visual observers or MOPs. In both 1965 and 1971 Wars, IAF had resorted to few aerial attacks against Pakistani radar located at Badin. However, in these wars there was lack of any specific IAF strategy for neutralising the command and control capability of Pakistan. With Pakistani deployment in the 70s of low-level chain of MPDR sensors, terminal AD missiles like the Crotale and an integrated airborne interception capability, the IAF had to embark on rapid build-up of EW resources. In 1978 a dedicated EW squadron, with a mix of Canberra and MiG-21 aircraft was formed, fi tted with standoff and escort pods respectively; to provide a suppressive shield to the embedded strike force. Strike tactics were evolved based on ‘burn through’ ranges for the terminal attacks. 

Gathering of Electronic intelligence (ELINT) and Communications Intelligence (COMINT) became essential, but accuracy in locating and in particular ‘fingerprinting’ the Pakistani sensors needed much better technology for the interception equipment. In the Bekaa Valley War of 1982, the Israeli Air Force had aptly demonstrated the need for accurate ELINT and effective use of EW, which had neutralised the Syrian Air Defence network, along with partial incapacitation of their Command, Control and Communication (C3) system. Since the Syrians were using similar Soviet sensors and interceptors, the lessons were somewhat worrisome for the Indian

Air Force. The inbuilt Soviet EW equipment lacked versatility as well as adequate power output. As such, the IAF had to import EW pods from countries such as Italy and France. That is when IAF mastered the art of configuring Western equipment on varied Soviet platforms. Due to limited radii of MiG-21 EW escort aircraft, emphasis was also laid on acquiring Airborne Self Protection Jamming (ASPJ) pods.

The USAF doctrine of ‘aerial dominance’ displayed in the Gulf Wars highlighted the need to attack and disable enemy’s C3 system, in the initial stages of war. By destroying the radar network along with communication grid makes the enemy not only ‘deaf and dumb’ but also ‘blind’. For the past few years the IAF as well as Indian Army and Navy have been on the path to acquire similar capability. Acquisition of better signal intelligence (SIGINT) capability, both ground based and airborne, provides the IAF with a more accurate Electronic Order of Battle ie EW ORBAT.

The IAF inventory also possesses Anti-radiation Missiles (ARM) on manned and unmanned platforms, as well as improved ASPJ for protection against the terminal defences. However, most of this capacity build-up has taken place mainly against Pakistan, with not much information on the Chinese EW ORBAT. 

Indigenous Systems

Since EW systems are highly classified in nature, efforts for indigenous development were given priority from the very beginning. A specialist lab, DARE was set up by DRDO in 2001 by renaming ASIEO established in 1986, to develop specific electronic as well as avionics projects. DARE followed a collaborative approach with private industry partners such as CMC and TATA Power, as also with selected international companies. Over the years DRDO has become a ‘single window’ supplier of EW systems for the IAF and other two Services. It has developed a static as well as mobile ESM system Divya Drishti, capable of ‘fingerprinting’ sensors.

It is also upgrading ESM capability of the ground based as well as airborne platforms of the IAF. The AEW&C Embraer aircraft will also have such capability. In order to cater to Service specific requirements, DRDO has also developed a comprehensive EW system known as Samyukta for the Army, which can also give useful inputs to the IAF. Along with UAV and Aerostat based ELINT and COMINT payloads, IAF should shortly be in a much better position to glean requisite information on adversary’s EW ORBAT. DRDO has also developed EW suites for airborne platforms with Tarang Radar Warning Receiver and Tempest deception jamming pods. Su-30 is configured to carry the Kh-31 anti-radiation missile and with the fitment of Siva High Accuracy Direction Finding (HADF) pods, cuing this missile for SEAD operations would bolster the IAF capability.

Then there are other indigenous projects like missile approach warning system (MAWS) and directional infrared counter measures (DIRCM) for evading enemy’s anti-aircraft missiles, to be fitted on all platforms including fighters, transport and helicopters. While Pakistan has already established an EW test and training range purchased from Turkey near Sargodha, DRDO is also building two test ranges in Southern India. The test ranges will not only be able to test various ‘communication’ as well as ‘non-communication’ EW systems, but will also help in fielding varied electronic equipment to check the aspects of electro-magnetic interference (EMI) and electro-magnetic compatibility (EMC). The IAF is in midst of inducting newer platforms including the much anticipated 126 MMRCA and the indigenous Tejas aircraft. But equally important is its emphasis on induction of force multipliers and support systems such as the AWACS, ground and airborne data linking, better interrogation friend or foe (IFF), airborne Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on interceptors etc to name a few. Such enhanced capability would enable the IAF in carrying out ‘silent interceptions’ and other operations, somewhat immune to interference and ‘noise’. 

Cyber War

While the emerging EW scenario seems quite encouraging for the IAF, it would be equally important to pay attention to the aspects of cyber war. Apart from the Israeli ‘Operation Orchard’, the Russo-Estonian stand-off of April 2007 and the Russo-Georgian conflict of July 2008 have lessons for this new dimension of silent but unidentifiable enemy action. In both these conflicts most of the essential networks such as power distribution, communication network and even banking were bombarded by Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, thereby causing a crash or jamming of the networks. Equally important was the aspect of not being able to trace the origin of attacks, as proxy servers had been used from remote out-of-country locations. Similar crippling effect on Net-centric Systems just prior to the start of a conflict can well change the outcome; especially in a short duration war envisaged in our region.

With almost entire hardware being imported for the Indian networks, there is a constant need to sanitise the systems from possible embedded bugs. Such ‘trapdoor’ or ‘Trojan Horse’ are known to lie dormant for a considerable length of time and are programmed to be activated by a routine system command, but in effect disabling the system. One such example of the disruptive capability of cyber attacks is of the Stuxnet malware injected through Siemens hardware into the Iranian uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, which experienced serious technical malfunction in November 2010.

In order to avoid direct attacks from the Web, Intranets within the Service need to be totally isolated. The computer ports need to be disabled to avoid insertion of any inadvertent or intentional viruses. There is also a need to establish standard operating procedures for an effective back-up and plans for disaster recovery. In this context a number of countries like US, Russia, China have created dedicated teams of cyber warriors and the Chinese are known to have a strategy known as Integrated Network Electronic Warfare (INEW) along with a doctrine to fight under such conditions. The Indian Armed Forces have been demanding for many years formation of Joint Cyber Command for similar capability. In modern warfare EW has taken a pre-eminent place than just being a force multiplier. Over the years the Indian Armed Forces have been consciously making efforts to upscale this capability. It is now equally important to pay attention to the aspects of cyber war, as it could be a ‘game changer’ in the future conflicts. In order to ensure an integrated approach to this essential capability, the need for forming at the earliest a tri-Service cyber as well as space Commands cannot be over emphasised.

The writer has flown over 3,500 hours on a variety of combat and trainer aircraft. He has seen active operations during the 1971 Indo-Pak hostilities on both Eastern and Western fronts