In very recent times we have seen three battles—the one between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and the very recent conflict in Israel. There are three basic lessons to be drawn from these. Rule 1: to win the war we need to strike from a distance and with the element of surprise. Rule 2: We need to hit precisely on the target. Rule 3: We need to avoid collateral damage and the bad publicity that comes with the collateral damage especially after hitting women and children. Weak is the new strong with all the media/social media berating the stronger party as being ruthless.
The solutions to all these problems point to a common one—build precision attack weapons. Be it the guided missiles fired from Bayraktar TB2 drones or the R9X Ninja fired to take out high value targets. Research has shown that guided weapons require four or more times less the number to do the same job as is needed by its unguided counterpart.
The development will need technologies and feeder technologies and some of them are listed below. First, we will talk about the components that are needed to make precision weapons and then we will talk about the systems approach.
The eyes and ears of any guided weapon are its seeker (or a GPS-based guidance system for stationary target). They come in many types ranging from the laser-based, RF-based, infrared, active radar guided to optical seekers. They all have various pros and cons but suffice to say that we in India are not confident of making our own seekers.
This technology is so crucial that we will need to invest significant R&D effort and money in its development. The effort must come jointly from the DRDO and the private industry. The US model of awarding development projects to 2-3 competing entities is a good idea. The current technology of artificial intelligence (IR) married to optical sensors for guidance should be vigorously pursued. Though development of the seeker is a complicated project by itself, we should marry it to one weapon development project for testing and approval.
Actuator and Motors
The most common method for guidance is the presence of control surfaces. The deflection of these surfaces causes the weapon to turn in the direction of the target. The design of control surfaces (usually fins/canards) and the mechanical fabrication are relatively easy. However, precise deflection requires highly accurate motors and actuators. These must be miniaturized to fit in the overall guidance module and should be reliable. In some of the cases, these may be connected to valves and electronics.
In India, we still do not have the capability to design valves/actuators/motors of such small size that are also capable of taking the shock and vibration loads during launch. For the uninitiated, an artillery shell can experience a 15000-G acceleration during firing. This again is a critical technology with multiple uses in missiles, aircraft, UAVs and land systems. Like my recommendation in seeker, this should also be funded separately and with the success tied to a weapon system.
The onboard computer that houses the guidance module is not just a software in the traditional sense. Nor is the AI module in the electro-optic sensor that will ‘identify’ the target. These are high end physics simulations and are core to the performance of the system. Unfortunately, these have been treated as software development projects in many cases.
The idea that development of these modules requires deep understanding of the weapon systems, the physics and complicated mathematics is under appreciated. This under-estimation of the complexity will also lead to underestimation of remuneration to the private industry thereby reducing the manpower pursuing this area. If people making Excels and PowerPoints earn much more than people raking their brains over partial differential equations to be solved on a small chip, we are going to lose most manpower.
It is vital that these mission-critical software be treated differently from, say, purchase of operating systems. Separate groups both in public and private sector need to be nurtured. Weapon systems of the future will be highly dependent on its electronics and software. The technology is more human-intensive then capital intensive which is the forte of our country. We cannot miss the technology bus again.
Finally, the Holy Grail—the systems thinking. Even if we are successful in making the seeker, actuators, motors, and the onboard computer, they all need to fit into the system to function and deliver the mission requirements. While designing these systems there will be constraints of space, power available in the battery for actuation of systems and working of the seeker, problems in the safety and arming mechanism or the fuse. The more we think, the list will only grow bigger.
Most of the weapons today are system of systems and hence we need a robust approach for entire system design. There is the need for the one man who will see the system from the bird’s eye-view and take decisions, will issue orders on trade-offs and optimize performance almost always in multidisciplinary scenarios. The science of systems thinking needs to be vigorously promoted. The major part of this science is again software which we Indians are good at.
Systems thinking require close and frequent communication between various design groups. Processes need to be designed such that there is no breakdown in communication. Systems thinking approach and their associated mathematical models will de-clutter the decision-making process and remove personal likes and dislikes. Math does not lie unless you want it to.
My most important recommendation in “To Do” is TO DO. My personal experience is that we do not work efficiently if there is no specific goal. We need to identify a precision-guided weapon system and create different teams who will do the technology development. These teams will work on the development of subsystems as mentioned above or create feeder technologies. All the teams will be guided by the project management office who will control the development parameters and take decisions about trade-offs in design. This will be the all-powerful office with the right to overrule smaller teams.
The future of weaponry is precise. This time we cannot miss the bus. Let us begin.
– The writer is Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, Zeus Numerix, a Pune-based defence and space solutions providing company.The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda