Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Trajectory Of MUM-T Systems In India

By Aritra Banerjee

The financial implications of the blossoming unmanned systems sector are increasingly apparent, particularly for the subcontinental power of India. In a landmark moment, India’s state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) introduced the Combined Air Teaming System (CATS), an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) system that includes three types of UAVs for varying mission profiles. According to HAL, CATS is a pioneering integration of manned and unmanned platforms designed to infiltrate heavily defended enemy airspace.

Compared with the international arena, major advancements have included Boeing’s Loyal Wingman unmanned system, Russia’s stealth fighter Su-57 and attack UAV Okhotnik joint flight initiative, Israel’s Elbit Systems with its UAS swarms RAS technology, and South Korea’s stealth UAV development project. Turkey has successfully trialled an autonomous taxi and take-off roll for its Kizilelma Fighter UAV, and Europe’s Future Combat Air System programme is propelling the development of a family of networked air vehicles.

The key concern with the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) paradigm, a concept India wholeheartedly embraces, has been the risk of drones inadvertently alerting enemy integrated air defence system (IADS) networks. To mitigate this, the conception of a multi-tiered ‘distributed team’ of varied unmanned aircraft working with manned types has been proposed.

As India and other nations continue to pursue MUM-T, emphasising autonomous UAVs, AI technology is expected to undergo further enhancements. Unmanned platforms are set to become more independent and reliable. However, as suggested by Colonel Singh, two critical questions remain: establishing the ideal timeline for the development and deployment of M-UMT systems and defining the role and limitations of tasks to be performed by unmanned systems.

MUM-T offers a new tactical framework to navigate the complexities of future air combat. While AI’s primary role is to aid humans in decision-making, the increasing reliance on autonomous unmanned systems for strike missions will likely push boundaries, blurring the distinction between AI and human control. As suggested by Col. Singh, policymakers need to consider the implications of granting greater autonomy to unmanned systems and explicitly define their limitations.

Strategic Context

Reflecting upon the strategic principles of famed military strategist Liddell Hart, Colonel Singh posits that the future of conflict may largely rest in unmanned systems. The recent conflicts, such as those in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Russo-Ukraine dispute, emphasise the utility of unmanned systems in modern warfare. These offer a cost-effective and efficient alternative to conventional warfare, reducing costs and risks through wireless control.

In comparison, unmanned systems have seen a significant surge globally. For example, the USAF trained more drone pilots than traditional fighter and bomber pilots for the first time in 2011. Moreover, in a recent announcement, USAF Secretary Frank Kendall unveiled plans to deploy 200 Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) stealth fighter aircraft and 1,000 drones, known as Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCAs).

On the other side of the globe, China is integrating its advanced fighter jet, the J-20, with a fleet of drones to augment firepower and enable early-warning and combat reconnaissance missions. Similar trends are apparent across Europe, Korea and Australia, marking a global shift towards integrating manned and unmanned systems.

In light of these developments, Singh explains that Manned-Unmanned Teaming (M-UMT), which involves synchronised deployment of soldiers, unmanned and manned air and ground vehicles, robotics, and sensors, is considered a key solution to maintaining air dominance, which has become increasingly challenging in recent years.

The concept of M-UMT presents its own challenges, including the added responsibility on a human crew, task distribution between manned and unmanned systems, defining the degree of autonomy for unmanned systems, and ethical issues surrounding armed drones. Furthermore, ensuring communication interoperability across a diverse range of platforms remains a critical hurdle.

While the integration of manned and unmanned systems presents significant challenges, the potential benefits in terms of cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency make it an attractive avenue for future exploration. It is an area of modern warfare that India and the world are heavily investing in, aiming to secure an edge in future conflicts


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