Looking across the span of generations of aircraft developed, the twentieth century, particularly the latter fifty years has seen a jump across four generations. The turn of the century saw aircraft types that have been best described as Gen 4 to 4.5 with the former of the likes of F-16, F-15 and Mirage-2000 while the latter encompassing aircraft like the SU-30, F- 117 and the F-22. F-35 is perhaps the only one presently to be called a fifth generation fighter. Concurrently, with this development, targeting mind-set moved from mass production and destruction, to niche warfare with a focus on precision targeting. To keep pace with changed mind-set, the sensors and weapons, both airborne and ground based also benefited from advancement in technology making the battle space very lethal.
During this period, the cyber, space and electronic warfare dimensions have added value, transparency and lethality to both friend and foe. Further, the elements of Counter Insurgency (CI) operations have created a dilemma where there are precision guided munitions (PGMs) that can literally thread a needle day and night. However, the target or the enemy too, has become invisible. To add to all this is the new and expanding role of the media, both social and the conventional in the national security construct. This then, is the fifth generation operational scenario for which we need to train our soldier pilots.
Enabled by phenomenal processing power of the computers and nanotechnology, the new capability in the hands of the operational and the scientific community is the ability to harness the improved capability of the modern sensors and the ability of rapid and secure data exchange. Harnessing all this together into a fused picture gives the pilot, as well as the decision makers on the ground, a new leverage for much improved situational awareness (SA). All this then brought forth the three key elements of Advanced Stealth with fighter performance, Integrated Sensor Fusion and Net Enabled Operations for the fifth generation platforms. Along with all this is the ever competing desire of qualitatively good and fast decision-toexecution process or in other words reduction in the sensor to shooter time giving value to the four elements of Speed, Access, Reach and Accuracy.
Air Warriors of the future
Appreciating the operational environment of the future, where the platforms out-perform the operators, the soldier pilots would certainly need special skills. One thing for sure, they would have to be team-men who are mentally agile, flexible and above all committed and decisive. Fence-sitting would have to be forgotten as a virtue of the past if the force is to be kept viable. It may be desirable to find technological tools not only to assess their motor skills before induction, but also their aptitude for excelling in the increasingly demanding operational environment.
While the fifth generation environment has benefitted immensely by integrated sensor fusion for better situational awareness and effect; in spirit, we have unfortunately not fully appreciated the potential of similar integration across the various disciplines that constitute our joint combat power. Similarly, we cannot afford to isolate and insulate the pilot any more. There is certainly a case for lean and mean force; but finally each air warrior will need to understand his or her unique position in the team and fuse their capability for the final combat objective. Technology would have taught us a lesson then.
The Air Force aims to train across the envisaged spectrum of capabilities up to the limits inclusive of surprise elements that may be faced by the engaged forces. Such readiness and training in the form of joint exercises will add to the critical leverage and agility. These joint exercises will also underscore the importance of optimising available resources and fill in for capability gap of each service. Often, realism in this training suffers due to various reasons like operational discretion, logistics of scale and constraints of flexibility. In addition there are limitations in creating a dynamically responsive enemy and means of deriving tangible analysis for debrief. Here again, modern technology can assist in providing teeth to training with systems like the ACMI (Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation).Similarly, solutions like the EVA (Embedded Virtual Avionics) for advanced trainer aircraft helps to effectively download operational training to less expensive trainer aircraft and delivering a more capable pilot at the end of pilot training pipeline. It is perhaps ideally suited for today’s advanced training aircraft like the M-346 and the Hawk-132. In fact, EVA may find its place in the TX programme of the USAF. The ultimate training solution that can help combat elements to train for a wide spectrum of operational missions is the ground-based multi-dome mission training centre (MTC) like Elbit System’s SkyBreaker. It is a complete squadron mission training solution which provides full flexibility of variation in the friendly and enemy computer generated forces (CGF), ensuring a seamless real-time interface between men-in–the-loop and the CGF. These virtual entities are capable of both simulation as well as stimulation of virtual sensors like weapons and electronic warfare (EW) that operate in a dynamically interactive scenario. While doing so, they are enveloped in a fully immersed and integrated near realistic computer generated imagery (CGI) of choice. Most importantly, at the end, it provides mission repeatability and tangible results for debrief at a fraction of the cost of live exercises that are so hard to execute. As an added thought, in the modern day, it is rarity to witness a “manto- man” conflict. The focus has shifted to “many-to-many” emphasising the importance of teamwork, ideally with leverage from numerous available systems and support platforms.
A better part of the twentieth century has been spent in identifying and developing the lead technologies of Advanced Stealth in fighters, Integrated Sensor Fusion and Net Enabled Operations. These have been embedded into the fifth generation of fighters. Anyone having the ability of deploying such assets would have unthinkable advantage. They would be able to shape the so called combat cloud as a key element of the battle space within which the various deployed aircraft interact to craft air dominance in pursuit of Joint force objectives.
It is widely believed that you cannot do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in business tomorrow. With the shrinking budgets and increasing cost of modern platforms, innovative ways will need to be considered to keep the operational teeth sharp within the constraints of available assets. Live, virtual and constructive simulation tools like ACMI, EVA and MTC mentioned earlier will ensure that realistic operational capability is never diluted in the emerging battle spaces of tomorrow.
Ever improving technology will always have its push factor to improve the aircraft, weapons and sensors technology, data integration and fusion and consequently the tactics that ensure survival in the unforgivingly lethal battle space. What will tilt the scales in a symmetric engagement are the quality of training and the ability of the leadershipto harness a well-integrated team. General Curtis Lemay said “man is yet to make a computer that is dedicated to God or country”. Technology is important, but it’s the man behind the machine that will finally matter. He has to be trained well.
An alumnus of the NDA, The HC Course, and The NDC, New Delhi, AVM Amit Aneja, AVSM, VM, VSM was commissioned in the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in December 1976. A graduate of Air Command and Staff College in USA and National Institute of Defence Studies in Japan, he also attended the Air Battle Management and Planning Course at CASPOA in France. A Qualified Flying Instructor, he has over 3000 hours of flying experience in various frontline fighter squadrons to include Kiran, Hunter, Gnat, MIG 21 and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft. He was the Commandant of the Air Force Academy at Dundigal, before retiring from the IAF.