I have been pondering over this for over an year now as to why not our security efforts in Kashmir use Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) extensively to carry out regular recon missions and when needed, appropriate air raids. I am working on military avionics right now and thought, it would be worth the time discussing my thoughts on this topic.
If we were to use a Swarm of RPA’s and execute the Cooperative Hunting mission over the high risk regions of Jammu & Kashmir, what would that look like and what will be the key elements of such a system? How will the Swarm function as a single unit and what type of technology do we need to make that possible and efficient? Let’s dig.
Out of the total land covered by Jammu and Kashmir, only 17% is reported for land utilization, out of which 53% is classified as forest cover. Out of the total forest cover, 59% of the forest cover is comprised of Very Dense Forest and Medium Dense Forest. Also 57% of the total forest cover exists at altitudes greater than 2000 meters. This leaves the security efforts in those regions vulnerable to natural adversaries including extreme weather, unreachable terrains and limited or no visibility.
Border security is always top priority and securing the borders of high altitude landscapes with dense forest cover just makes the work more dangerous and complicated. Unmanned systems is definitely an option that will save a whole lot of tax payers’ money and the lives of the soldiers we risk by deploying them in those regions which are notoriously famous for unlawful entry and terrorist activities.
The current trend in the RPA domain is Cooperative Hunting or more commonly known as Swarm Operation, where multiple RPA’s are engaged in a collaborative format to achieve a common objective. The critical element of this application is the concept of RPA’s supporting each other to achieve the mission objectives.
Here’s a baseline formation scheme that I have in mind for our Cooperative Hunting Convocation (CHC), shown in Figure 1 below:
Figure 1 Formation Concept for a Cooperative Hunting Mission
For the sake of this discussion we will assume the CHC (shown in Figure 1) begins the mission with incomplete knowledge of the terrain and target locations. Before we proceed to the mission, we need to understand the roles of each member of the CHC.
These will execute the pre-mission survey of threats and also as decoys during the mission. These will be lowest in altitude and be the first eyes to look over the target area for a preliminary assessment of the region (weather, visibility and threats).
These will be the navigational wing of the convocation, scanning the target area, detecting the targets and tracking their movements. The spotters will serve as the primary eyes of the convocation. These will stay above the scouts in altitude as per the mission needs from the navigational standpoint.
These will be the attack wing of the convocation, executing the attacks on the targets as marked by the spotters. These will carry the largest volume of ammunition in the convocation and will stay above the spotters in the formation. These will get out of the formation as per the attack task allocated by the commander.
This will be the primary decision maker for the CHC. The commander will collect mission data from every other member of the convocation, process it and supply the members with appropriate information, eventually reducing the mission-level decision making workload for the other members. The commander will also keep track of mission objectives and derive tactical objectives for every other member of the convocation.
This will serve as the primary point of contact between the CHC and the command & control center that controls the cooperative hunting mission. The signaller will remain above the rest of the convocation at all times such that the rest of the convocation will be in contact with the command & control center as long as they are in contact with the Signaller.
Mission Algorithm at the CHC Level
The mission algorithm for a typical cooperative hunting mission will decide the decentralized interaction within the CHC, as indicated by the cross-functional process flow diagram in Figure 2 given below:
Figure 2 Decentralized Mission Algorithm within the Convocation
As we can see in Figure 2, the commander drives the cooperative hunting mission initiating the crucial steps of the mission and guiding the individual mission tasks as per the inputs from the members of the CHC.
The interaction described in Figure 2 is specific to the ‘cooperative’ element of the mission and therefore the signaller is not included. In the broader mission algorithm, which will be comprehensive, the signaller will be represented as connected with all the members of the CHC since that will be the means to send back platform-level and mission-level data when direct links with the members get disturbed during the mission.
The primary mission computing will be executed by the commander where the platform level data from the members and their task status will be compared with mission objectives to determine each member’s suitability with the task to evaluate and revise mission task allocation in an ongoing basis. This way, the CHC, in a state of regulated autonomy, will be efficiently executing the mission objectives while preserving the safety of the members.
The scouts and spotters will be following a flight pattern similar to that of a ‘sweep’ protocol, except, their flight loops will be so designed as to make sure, the areas they together sweep will under their view at all times until the end of the mission. This way the CHC will have a constant wide angle view of the target area within which detecting, tracking and engaging the targets will be more reliable than in the usual case where the mission command has to wait until the designated RPA gets over the target area.
The data from the scouts will also drive the CHC’s overall mission profile, touching all critical elements such as the flight patterns, flight speeds, sensor sensitivity/modes and task sequencing. This indicates the dependence of the CHC on distributed data, centralized computing and subsequent platform-level flight planning to meet the needs of mission-level ‘cooperative’ task executions. Also this way, when one member of the convocation goes down, the others can redistribute the mission objectives among themselves and the CHC can restructure itself to the changing mission conditions. This element of ‘cooperative restructuring’ will enhance the reliability of the CHC which in turn will substantiate the investment made on the CHC assets.
The very concept of cooperative hunting mission refers to the element of autonomy the system will execute mission objectives. The significant feature here will be the regulatory element of the autonomy, which will keep the cooperative system architecture from exceeding any limits. In other sense, the command and control centre from where each of the RPA will be piloted by trained pilots, will decide when to let the system attain the autonomy.
In operational terms, the autonomous mission will be executed in batches of ‘Autonomous Mission Executions’ where depending upon the mission requirements, the RPA’s will be precisely controlled by the pilots. The continuos state of autonomy for the CHC will depend on the health of the platforms, the compliance of the cooperative architecture with the mission commands as issued by the command & control center and level of degradation of the system functionalities irrespective of the states of their health.
Fault Tolerant Cooperative Control
The RPA’s should have fault tolerant control systems which can reconfigure to make the RPA suitable (as far as possible) to the mission objectives, making it eligible to execute tasks based on the level of system degradation it might be subjected to (by enemy fire or extreme weather). The system health data will be used by the commander to continuously asses the RPA’s ‘fit’ for specific mission tasks and will only be allocated tasks that are within the capabilities of the concerned RPA. This way, the CHC architecture is embedded with an element of fail-safe operational mode where the individual members will not act beyond their level of competence.
At the platform level, each RPA (scouts, spotters and shooters) will be broadcasting its health status while calculating its capacity to executing mission tasks. The commander will be constantly monitoring the members’ health status and use that data to compute the mission status, success probabilities and alternate task allocations (active system restructuring options). Figure 3 given below presents a brief overview of data-links between the members of CHC among themselves and with the command & control center:
Figure 3 Control-Specific Data-Relay Scheme
The fault tolerant control system depends heavily on the computation of the platform-level data being relayed to the commander from the members as indicated in Figure 3.
The CHC needs robust & intuitive mission computing capability and this narrows down to custom-designed, verified and validated software built into the mission systems. The processing modes and methods must be specific to the operating conditions in Jammu & Kashmir. The software platform must be able to provide opportunity to integrate multiple sensors across platforms and allow the systems to share data as designed. The transformation module will be a crucial element of the system as it will translate data from sensors into formats and values that other systems can easily receive and use in their computations.
Needless to say, high throughput connectivity is the basic need for the CHC to function. Air-to-Air links will remain prominent in the architecture as the convocation will share and process large volume of data among themselves. High throughput connectivity will let the system enjoy the luxury of distributed sensing & storage while also implementing centralised computing. Besides, majority of cooperative hunting missions in Kashmir is going to be beyond line of sight and therefore high throughput is just absolutely necessary.
Multimode sensors capable of adjusting to Kashmir’s extreme weather conditions must be integrated on to the RPA’s. The sensors should provide configurable operating modes such that they are optimised to suit the mission needs. With a large section of forest cover over high altitudes, visibility issues are going to be a common affair and therefore the sensors should be developed with strong high altitude very dense forest cover as part of the operating conditions.
Cooperative Architecture Evolution
The CHC architecture for Kashmir’s security measure has to be evolved and not bought as a plug-and-play toy-set. The platforms should be bought along with the systems, integrated and verified at platform level. The mission computer software needs to be developed in parallel such that the Indian forces in Kashmir can operate the Cooperative Hunting Convocation in their own terms. Troop familiarisation with international systems will compromise the quality of the desired command and control capability. This will also drag the architecture’s efficiency down.
The CHC Architecture should be evolved such that, moving forward, Indian forces can integrate any number of RPA’s and manned platforms to the system and they should function as one collaborative unit or multiple cooperative hunting convocations. Open system architecture will have to be the basic assumption behind this entire effort.
Improved Border Security
There has been multiple infiltration attempts along the line of control in Kashmir and many lives of Indian soldiers have been lost along the borders, just so a bunch of militants wanted to conduct a short-term sieges along the border in a demonstration of intent to claim segments of Indian borders. The last time I worked on Systems Tool Kit, the Indian border was not even a closed loop. The north end of the Indian line-of-control is a segment of dotted line with a visible gap, indicating uncertainty over the extent of the border in those regions. The geography and weather conditions of those regions are not human-friendly and the Indian forces have to risk more to even make a presence there.
With custom-designed Cooperative Hunting Convocations comprising diverse types of remotely piloted aircraft, the Indian forces can take the war to the adversaries with enhanced capabilities any given time. Hoping to see a secure border and technologically advanced border security measures.
If you wish to discuss more on what the system requirements might be from the supplier's standpoint, do join the discussion on my LinkedIn post.
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Command & Control Image in Fig 3:
Icons in Fig 1: