SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

I am confident that SP Guide Publications would continue to inform, inspire and influence.

— Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Indian Navy Chief

My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Boosting ISTAR Capabilities

Integrating Advanced ISTAR Platforms for Aerial and Land Dominance for elevating India's Security

September 22, 2023 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Raytheon Intelligence & Space, Bombardier, Roke
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


Raytheon's Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)

India is set to bolster its surveillance capabilities by procuring three Bombardier Global 6000 private jets for conversion into advanced Intelligence, Surveillance, Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) platforms. These jets will be equipped with state-of-the-art sensor packages developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to enhance the Indian Air Force (IAF) capabilities.

DRDO's Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) laborotary will play a crucial role in developing the sensors for the ISTAR programmes. The sensor package will include a Multispectral (EO-IR) Long Range Oblique Photography (LOROP) sensor, a geospatial intelligence procsessing and exploitation suite, and artificial intelligence machine learning (AIML) capabilities for image intelligence, automatic target recognition, change detection, and a Common Operating Picture (COP).

DRDO's CABS lab takes charge of developing advanced ISTAR capabilities domestically

ISTAR plays a vital role in national security. The primary function of ISTAR platforms is to intercept enemy signals and provide critical information to ground commanders, enabling them to make informed decisions about counterstrikes. It offers precise targeting data, helping ground forces determine the optimal weapons and their exact deployment.

The ISTAR equipped aircraft will maintain a two-way communication link with all reconnaissance platforms, including satellites, other aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), helicopters, and ground reconnaissance vehicles. This seamless coordination ensures that real-time intelligence is shared among all relevant assets, enhancing situational awareness and response and response capabilities.

Bombardier Global 6000 Private Jet

Initially, India had planned to procure these aircraft directly from the US defence contractor Raytheon, which would provide the technology for the ISTAR programme. However, it now appears that DRDO's CABS wlll take charge of the programme to develop these advanced surveillance capabilities domestically. India's pursuit of these advanced ISTAR platforms underscores its commitment to integrate cutting-edge technology and domestic expertise to elevate our aerial surveillance capabilities. However, this needs to be integrated with state-of-the-art land systems in order to effectively dominate the modern battlefield buzzing with hundreds of swarm drones, missiles and hypersonic platforms.

The ISTAR equipped aircraft will establish seamless coordination with all reconnaissance platforms, ensuring real-time intelligence

The Decision Centric Warfare currently being progressed by the US Department of Defence (DoD) states that the role of AI will be to support human decision-making. For example, AI will create operational plans and propose them to the commander. The US Army is seeking AI help for continuous, real-time predictive visualisation of enemy actions, spurred by fears that human analysts won't be able to keep up with complex warfare. Under the project 'Real-Time Threat Forecasting' the US Army wants the system to

  • predict what the enemy will do just minutes before the enemy actually does it;
  • continuously update that forecast as adversaries change tactics, and;
  • have the system operable on a ruggedised laptop.

The integration of aerial ISTAR platforms with a state-of-the-art ISTAR land system is the linchpin in India's ability to effectively respond to evolving security challenges

UK-based defence contractor 'Roke' has received a contract to deliver an ISTAR system for the British Army called 'Zodiac'.

Concurrently, the UK-based defence contractor 'Roke' has received a Pound 40 million contract to deliver an ISTAR system for the British Army to enable the Army undertake data-led decision-making in the land environment to gain operational advantage. Under the programme called 'Zodiac', Rokewill integrate sensors, deciders and effector systems to deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ISTAR system that will operate in the Degraded, Denied, Intermittent and Limited-Bandwidth (DDIL) communications environment of the modern battlefield.

ZODIAC will provide the platform for the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into the Army's ISTAR processes, integral to digitalising the Army's Sensor-Decider-Effector chain, contributing to faster decision-making, lower cognitive burden on operators, and more efficient use of the Army's resources. Roke will work closely with a trusted consortium of industry partners comprising 6point6, General Dynamics Mission Systems United Kingdom, Nexor, QinetiQ, and Sierra Nevada Corporation Mission Systems UK Ltd, to advance the ZODIAC project, ensuring that the Army can take advantage of industry's foremost technical capabilities on a continuous and enduring basis.

As of now it has not been announced when the three Bombardier Global 6000 private jets will be procured, whether the CABS multiple sensors package is ready or still under development, whether their fitment on the private jets will be undertaken by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) or Raytheon, and; time schedule by when these ISTAR platforms will become operational. But as important is the development of an ISTAR land system equivalent to the British Army's Zodiac and 'Real-Time Threat Forecasting' system of the US Army. It is the integration of the aerial ISTAR platforms with a state-of-the-art ISTAR land system that would enable India to effectively respond to evolving security challenges and safeguard its territorial integrity.