Time is Now for Revolutionary Military Platforms

Sub Title : Platform configurations need a serious relook

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2022

Author : Col Ashwani Sharma

Page No. : 21

Category : Military Technology

: January 21, 2022

Militaries analyse and learn their lessons from the past operations and prepare accordingly to fare better in the next war. In the process, they often end up preparing for the previous wars. It is a universal phenomenon and examples abound. With technologies emerging at a rapid pace since the turn of the century, it is imperative to examine and see if we are not falling into the same trap. This feature does just that, albeit briefly.

It is a well-established fact that future wars will be fought in a technology-intensive environment. The biggest difference will be made by innovations in CEMA which has enabled multimode communications, battlefield transparency, AI in defence and immense potential for EW and cyber warfare. Disruptive technologies, on the other hand, will create an asymmetry in the weapons grid by bringing down fire from unexpected directions and times.

As we look into the future, the tactical battlefield will not be restricted to a duel between two opposing land forces left to fight after the battlefield has been shaped. Set-piece battles involving a detailed attack plan in successive phases on an objective with a well laid out defensive network will be few and far between. Instead, we can imagine a mobile defence versus an offensive manoeuvre. Fleeting encounters between forces will increase in numbers and success will be defined by the annihilation of enemy forces during these encounters, in a war of attrition. An integrated networked battlefield calls for an intense involvement of all fighting elements providing synergy to each other in order to get the better of the enemy’s forces.

Virtual reality, Simulation and Artificial Intelligence will play a dominant role in strategizing for war and assist in the tactical decision during the conduct of operations.

For ease of understanding, this battlefield can be divided into the following layers: –

▪ Surveillance grid

▪ Command and Control Grid

▪ Communications grid

▪ Weapons grid

▪ Logistics Grid

The electromagnetic spectrum will be the common denominator and link the various layers.

These grids will assist in the layout of mobile defences pivoted on fixed ones, thus providing the basis for mobile manoeuvre warfare. Fleeting encounters with high technology weapons and munitions will become more commonplace than deliberate phased operations which are currently the norm. Pre-emptive strikes will disrupt the plan and preparatory phases of current warfare will become the first target. For example, a defender would rather acquire and disrupt the attacking force in its assembly areas, rather than wait for it to strike. Early acquisition through multiple surveillance sensors and availability of precise and loitering weapon systems enable this capability.

Stealth munitions, Loitering weapon systems, unmanned ground and aerial platforms and various types of missiles will be the biggest disruptors in the tactical battlefield.

Surprise and deception will be hard to achieve. It will be a no brainer to identify the difference between the traditional ‘main’, ‘subsidiary’ and ‘feint’ thrust lines.

Similarly, deception in defence will be hard to achieve with all the defences and obstacles visible to the attacker well before the commencement of the attack.

Innovative solutions like defensive tunnels with signature management would have to be devised.

Overall Impact on Warfighting

♦ EM spectrum and CEMA will play a crucial role throughout the conduct of war, mobilisation onwards,

♦ Fluidity in battle will increase exponentially from the mobilisation stage itself and remain so throughout the battle,

♦ Long-range vectors with increased lethality and precision will upset the balance of power,

♦ Emerging disruptive technologies along with long-range vectors will cause instant asymmetry,

♦ Unmanned and manned teaming will become imperative, resulting in a reduction in the human interface. Reduction in the human interface will result in lack of ethics,

♦ Tube launched munitions will make way for guided munitions,

♦ Mobility and signature management will become key factors in ensuring protection and survival.

Info wars will affect conduct of kinetic actions as well as non-kinetic operations.

A fresh approach to ascertain the requirements of future platforms is called for. An agile tank with SMART munitions and a high probability of survival, an IFV to move the infantry safely through a dense weapons grid and tubeless Artillery with guided munitions stand out readily.

Tanks and their supporting elements therefore will have to operate in smaller combat groups, with integral capabilities against CEMA, CE and KE munitions with various disruptive technologies thrown at them.

Tactical Grids, established within the Integrated battlefield, will permit manoeuvre thus facilitating coordinated moves within a theatre, where air and EW superiority has been achieved.

With this background let us examine the impact of technology on various fighting arms.

Artillery and Firepower. Artillery guns, ammunition and wagons carry massive signatures, which put a question mark on Artillery’s survival. Conventional protection by virtue of long ranges is no longer valid.

Traditional reliance on gun tubes for delivering the massive and sustained amounts of explosives at the target end may not be needed, as long-range precision vectors and munitions can find their way to the targets precisely in a much shorter time frame.

Prophylactic fire can cause collateral damage and also waste a massive amount of munitions in ‘area neutralisation’. In this day and age, it may not be needed as warfare moves towards shorter durations, focussed objectives and quick gains before the adversaries attempt to contain escalation.

Are we therefore slowly moving towards tubeless munitions, external propulsion and guidance rather than conventional reliance on tube artillery?

There is also a big effort on loitering munitions and drones carrying warheads that have the ability to ‘seek and destroy’. Add to this guided rockets and missiles of almost every range (short, medium and long). Such a firepower capability possesses utmost surprise, greater ‘shock value’, and precision to hit just the target(s) that we wish to neutralise.

Are then tubeless munitions the answer for Future artillery? A pragmatic mix seems like a good answer, as new doctrines of warfare evolve and are accepted. A certain amount of capability to create mass suppressive fires and fire assaults must be retained, even as precision and autonomous vectors and munitions are key to future firepower.

Mechanised Forces

Post-WW II, NATO and WARSAW pact countries built huge armies that ranged against each other with sophisticated tanks, APCs and IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles). IFVs later assumed the form of ICVs. The concepts were modified to use manoeuver by mechanised columns deep inside the enemy territory to lure his strategic reserves into battle at a time and place of his own choosing. Establishing ‘Pivots of Manoeuver’, was one form of this concept which contained a firm base established as the anvil, and a hammer consisting of mobile columns (read armour) waiting in the flanks to draw and destroy the enemy.

Air Land battles, a form of Joint Operations was put forward and practised by the US Army, calling for synergy amongst the land, air and maritime forces to annihilate the enemy in a combined action. In the subcontinent too, the ‘Combined Arms Concept’ was firmly in place.

The development of nuclear weapons, in particular, tactical nuclear warheads, and the threat of use, somewhat blunted the mechanised columns’ capability to strike deep. Surveillance through satellites, SAR, HALE< MALE UAVs etc took away the surprise that manoeuvre and speed could achieve. Remotely, autonomous and precision munitions carry a punch that can counter conventional firepower through accuracy and lethality. Furthermore, CEMA has changed the very complexion of warfare.

That is not to suggest that mechanised platforms have lost relevance. On the contrary, they are the only means to close in and destroy the adversary and physically occupy the ground, while providing protection and mobility. Troops in the open in deserts and plains are a big No.

What has changed is the shape of platforms and the tactical drills which they must devise to ensure survival and success? We look at the operational attributes in brief.

Future Battle Tank

As against the traditional Iron Triangle, this is the suggested Iron pentagon for a future tank. Its shape thus will evolve as per the operational and technological imperatives. With the given electronic and electrical features and a number of sensors (tethered drone, mini radars included), the future tank is likely to be a fast-moving, all-terrain armoured vehicle capable of swift manoeuvres with precision fire. It has to be low on signatures. It must be light in weight and preferably powered by electricity which it will also be needed to power its subsystems.

ICV/Troop Carrier. If future columns must always be mixed on the combined arms concept, ICV must go back to being a protected troop carrier. With an infantry stick mounted inside, it is a lucrative target, which must be kept protected through tactical drills and not be exposed to enemy fire as far as possible. It must ensure protected and speedy movement of the men inside the vehicle. Given the operational environment that it operates in, its firepower must at best be suited to extricate itself from a difficult situation. The bulk of the fighting must be left to the futuristically designed battle tanks.

Wheeled versions of tanks and ICVs must be planned for as we design future platforms. The advantages in terms of strategic mobility and easier manoeuvre are obvious.

AWACS on Ground. This brings to focus an important variant of the battle tank, purely from the point of view of communications and sensors. Let us call it a Ground-based Early Warning & Control System (GWACS). Forming an essential part of a battle group, GWACS will be the eyes and ears of the tactical commander. It will operate as the focal point of the Surveillance, Communications and Weapons grid. Technologies on board this vehicle can be in tune with the various grids that it supports and controls.

Infantry. Queen of the battle remains irreplaceable due to its versatility and unique ability to hold ground. Infantryman’s survival, however, is no longer guaranteed in traditional defences and field fortifications like bunkers and pillboxes due to precision and lethality of munitions. Infantry’s survival in the present day and future battlefields lies in protected mobility, tactical flexibility and dynamic tactical drills. Just as pike bearing phalanx changed to rifle firing squads to fixed defences and dispersed platoons, the time has come to move to the next level.

Infantry need not hold ground in frontal defences (linear or nodal) in large numbers. Instead, it must have a marginal (1/3rd) presence in frontline defences with the bulk (2/3rd) held in mobile reserves to reinforce threatened localities and approaches. To do that inherent protected mobility is inescapable. Protected, highly mobile troop carriers are back in fashion.

Infantry soldiers’ personal gear and weapons must evolve to be combat effective. The personal weapon must conform to the philosophy of warfighting. Range, the volume of fire, precision etc must flow from how we wish to fight and consequent basic firepower in the hands of a soldier. It cannot be for the sake of holding a weapon.

R&D and defence industry must start catering for exoskeletons for troops serving in difficult terrain for improved efficiency and endurance.

Forced by technology to operate in smaller teams and remain dispersed for the most time, situational awareness will play a larger role. Wrist-worn devices are commercially available for fitness and medical purposes. The technology can be developed further to include communications and situational awareness. Solutions to manage power needed to support these devices could be from solar-powered batteries or long-lasting litho/ Nicad batteries.

Clothing and personal gear must be devised to provide protection as well as facilitate functional use of weapons and equipment. Lessons must be drawn from the fact that most soldiers hesitate in wearing Bulletproof jackets and helmets. As per a recent study carried out under the aegis of SIDM, troops find the protective gear to be unwieldy and heavy, un-ergonomic, heat-trapping and unhygienic. Protective clothing is also designed and provided as a standalone garment, which may not necessarily fit well with the dress worn underneath. In some cases the BPJ has a similar set of pockets and pouches as that of the combat dress, thus making a cumbersome combination. A clear policy must be in place about the level of protection that must be provided to troops in operations to ensure optimum performance.

Engineering Support Groups. Mobility and manoeuvre is key to survival and success in battle. It is almost impossible for combat columns to negotiate obstacles without support from Combat Engineers.

The ability to provide strategic mobility must score high on the Engineers’ wish list. They must have the capability to provide infrastructure for switching forces and enable their build-up at minimum time and cost penalty. This is an ongoing peacetime capability, as the Corps of Engineers in the subcontinental context must possess. Engineers can and must provide alternate routes as a matter of policy as interdiction in depth areas will take place.

Capability to support the movement of large, medium and small combat groups must be retained for move within own and adversary’s land. This capability caters for alternate corridors in case of interdiction of permanent infrastructure. For smaller obstacles, however, the speed of operations must improve in order to provide quick mobility and manoeuvre to fighting echelons. This capability also must increase in numbers as creating a bottleneck is a strict ‘NO’. Instead, multiple channels of ingress may put the adversary in a decision dilemma.

The ability to detect and clear mines in a shorter time would also greatly enhance mobility.

Electricity requirements are growing by the day, as a number of sensors and platforms need regular charging, thus needing generators and charging stations. In the near future itself, the need to cater for charging stations within the TBA will become indispensable, a capability that must be acquired by the Engineers.

Operating in mountains and high altitude terrains, Combat Engineers must be able to develop infrastructure in quick time. For this, they need to be equipped with integrated logistics capability, perhaps by way of logistic drones and ATVs.

Electronic Warfare. CEMA is no longer a mere chapter in military precis or a redundant part the opening narrative of a wargame to draw student officers’ minds to its existence. It is a reality, and a potent threat as CEMA will affect all operational actions including the kinetic part throughout the military intervention and times preceding and succeeding it. New technologies and threats are emerging largely in the EM Spectrum(or draw heavily on it), it is imperative that the EW groups stay one step ahead.

Inability to decipher enemy intentions and predict actions results in delayed reactions. Examples abound across the globe including the subcontinent. The deciphering of satellite images, monitoring of radio traffic and AI can help generate adequate warning signs of impending danger. Failure to predict often results in unacceptable costs. Build the capability not only to detect but also to achieve surprise.