Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

Sub Title : Eyes and ears to achieve strategic and tactical decision advantage

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2021

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)

Page No. : 63

Category : Military Technology

: January 25, 2021

Late in Aug 2020, a provocative military movement by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was blocked by Indian Army troops who moved in quickly to occupy dominating heights on the South Bank of Pangong Tso. This was a consequence of effective Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance inputs indicating that PLA was attempting to move in to occupy the same area.

Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance are methods of obtaining Information, which is then analysed, and the Intelligence so compiled fed to commanders for action. ISR is vital for military operations, it provides decision-makers and troops better situational awareness of the strategic and tactical sphere. Briefly:

  • Intelligence. Actionable inputs derived from surveillance and reconnaissance, fused with other available information.
  • Surveillance. Persistent monitoring of a target, a prolonged and dedicated activity.
  • Reconnaissance. Information-gathering conducted to answer a specific military question normally within the Area of Interest, a rapid and targeted activity.

Surveillance and Reconnaissance methods range from Visual Observation, Electronic means, Satellites, Airborne platforms, ship borne platforms and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (including  swarms of Nano Drones).

In a world full of strategic one-upmanship, deceit and surprise, very few nations are ready to share intelligence in real/near real time. Self-reliance and indigenisation are therefore crucial to obtain real time actionable information. Sharing of information and intelligence also requires safe, secure and efficient data networks right till the forward edge. The process is continuous through peace and war. An important step in the intelligence gathering activity is fusion of information provided by several sources, this often leads to information overload. Modern tools of Big Data and AI have to be applied to sift through and obtain Intelligence from this complex baggage.

The success of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in recent conflicts (in Libya and in Nagorno-Karabakh) will tempt more countries to go on the offensive. – Leonid Barshefsky, Bloomberg Opinion.

An analysis of the war also indicates that the key to Azerbaijan’s success were not the shooters but the sensors and networks which complemented the sensor to shooter loop. The methodical use of air-launched precision strikes by Azerbaijani forces to systematically degrade Armenian air defence assets confirms the importance of a large stock of short to long-range kinetic strike munitions paired with dispersed intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance, or ISTAR, capabilities – Franz-Stefan Gady, Alexander Stronell, World Politics Review.

The year 2020 has been militarily very hectic for India: ongoing low intensity conflict with Pakistan and violent transgression of the LAC by China.

Drawing lessons from the Nagorno-Karabakh and analysis by experts, India cannot ever afford to complacent in matters of National Security. To be able to monitor its belligerent neighbours, India must keep its eyes and ears open and attentive; state of the art ISR capability is an inescapable necessity.  Some essentials integrated processes that need to be developed/strengthened/enforced by India are:

  • ISR Training and Education including Strategic Thinking and Freedom from Information Overload for Senior Leadership and Refining of Tactical Procedures based on enhanced Situational Awareness at Tactical Levels.
  • Doctrine, procedures, and formats to enhance interoperability, security and reliability in sharing of information.
  • Integrated, secure and scalable networks for sharing of data and applications. Simply stated, ISR today is a Network enabled capability and India like all advanced militaries will have to make the transition from a platform-centric to a more integrated network-centric force structure.

ISR capability complements weapon systems in being effective at the right time and right place on the right target. When credible information about a mission is available, the operational task is performed more efficiently, e.g. the air strike on the terrorist camp in Balakote by the Indian Airforce. To be operationally effective, ISR must be persistent, accurate, flexible, and stealthy.

The ISR needs of India also increase due to its unique geostrategic challenges and opportunities.

  • India has 15107 Km of land border and a coastline of 7517 Km. India also has a total of 197 islands accounting for 2094 Km of additional coastline. 50% of these land borders are hostile (LOC and IB with Pakistan – 3323 Kms, LAC and IB with China – 3488 Kms). These borders comprise a vast variety of terrain encompassing deserts, plains, riverine deltas, hills, mountains, high altitude, and glaciated regions. Many of the borders are very porous due to the terrain and ethnic affinities of population on both sides of the borders.
  • Unlike most other modern armies, Indian Armed Forces are more likely to launch their battles from the security of their own soil. This enables the establishment and maintenance of a well-coordinated ISR Network riding on secure and easily scalable high-capacity data communication networks with plug and play services.
  • Strategically, India is placed at a very dominating position in the Indian Ocean, it will not be wrong to say that the Indian Ocean lies in the backyard of the Indian Peninsula. However, China has made some very desperate and successful attempts in the recent past to counter India’s natural hegemony in the region. India must build a fool proof ISR capability to monitor and dominate the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Asia has the biggest density of missiles and nuclear powers compared to other continents. To add fuel to fire, these nations share land borders and have adversarial relationship. India and Pakistan are the only nuclear armed nations in eyeball-to-eyeball contact that have an armed face off nearly every day, tactical uncertainty reigns supreme along the very volatile LOC.

The enormity of its geostrategic challenges will require India to be always organised and prepared to meet challenges of uncertainty, and, what better than a modern state of the art ISR to overcome this uncertainty since:

  • ISR strengthens the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop of a commander helping him to make decisions in the face of uncertainty. This applies to all Ops of War and types of terrain.
  • ISR makes the Sensor to Shooter response sharper. (Sensor to Shooter response is the time it takes from when an enemy target is detected by a sensor to when it is attacked). This involves quick target discovery, identification, profiling, and accurate location tagging thereby increasing flexibility, agility, and cooperative engagement in the battlefield.
  • Enhanced Situational Awareness, a consequence of ISR ensures freedom of activity at the tactical level wherein units and subunits can operate autonomously, seek opportunities, and reinforce success.
  • ISR provides sharp and actionable intelligence and counter-intelligence complementing anti-terrorist operations and minimising collateral damage.
  • India’s Northern Borders consist of exceedingly difficult high altitude and harsh weather areas. Patrolling and defence of these areas is a serious challenge. Aerial and electronic surveillance of the LOC and LAC can reduce troop involvement and still ensure security.
  • Enhanced ISR capabilities will improve the Indian Navy’s blue water capability and Maritime Domain Awareness to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

In the final count, ISR capabilities in the modern era help build analytically-driven military plans. The Indian Armed Forces must employ all available ISR means in an integrated manner to retain an edge over potential adversaries.

Editor’s note: In our next issue we intend discussing ISR structures to match up to the emerging challenges of 21st Century warfare.