“The future of our nation depends on airpower. It is essential to our national security,” said Maj. Gen. Khalid Bin Abdullah Mubarak Al Bu-Ainain, commander of the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense (AFAD), at the Defense News Middle East Air Chiefs Conference here in Dubai yesterday. “We are driving toward a netcentric future with a desire for effects-based warfare. We want to produce only the effects that are intended.”
Since 1995 AFAD has been undergoing a thorough transformation, building toward network-centric operations (NCO). According to General Khalid, the backbone of the modernization effort is instituting and continuously improving a robust and effective command and control system. In the mid-1990s the first elements were put in place when the Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter was introduced, fitted with a locally adapted datalink known as LU-2 (Link–UAE 2). The network has been expanded and refined since, a process that will result in a system that fully integrates all elements of the armed forces. This NCO system is currently being tested and should be operational at the end of 2007.
General Khalid’s vision for 2008 comprises an “infosphere” or secure intranet, with an air operations center (AOC) at its hub linked to air bases, air defense sites, naval operations centers and land forces by the Al Sharyan fiber-optic networking AFAD aircraft are connected with each other and the ground by an in-flight datalink. Reconnaissance assets such as ground stations, satellites, aircraft and UAVs will feed information directly into the network in real time.
The UAE’s network is linked by fiber-optics to command centers in other Gulf Co-operation Council states. Although the LU-2 link is UAE-specific, it was developed with interoperability in mind and allows UAE forces to work closely with other GCC forces, and as part of wider coalitions. The GCC net allows a complete air picture of the region to be available to member states, and is to be upgraded to provide an anti-ballistic missile defense function.
NCO introduces a radical change in culture for the military, and requires a completely new mindset. The challenge, according to the general, is to transform all the new-found information power into combat power, in turn demanding new relationships between warfighters. Khalid neatly summarized the netcentric challenge as changing from “being inline to being online.” Training of personnel to operate in this new culture is paramount to the success of its implementation, and the AFAD has already been working hard in this area for several years.
Operations that are netcentric and effects-based allow a smaller force to engage over a wider area, but planning has to be based on the information that is available and the effects that are to be achieved. Traditionally, campaigns were fought with sequential targeting, first destroying the enemy’s warning assets before turning to air defenses and then to other target sets. In a netcentric model the flow of information is such that it allows planners to identify “centers of gravity” within the enemy’s organization–targets whose disabling would have a massive effect on the overall ability of the enemy to fight.
The downside of NCO can be the sheer amount of information available, and reducing clutter is a key element of making networks perform efficiently. This is especially true in the cockpit, where aircrew can become swamped with information without careful mission planning and systems that filter out extraneous information. To further reduce workload, and to improve net efficiency, ground stations have been placed all over the UAE to enable a seamless communications coverage. Previously, pilots would have to change comms settings as they flew from one region to another, but the ground stations remove this burden.
Since 1995 the UAE AFAD has been assembling elements of its network-enabled forces. Modern fighters such as the F-16 Desert Falcon and Mirage 2000 are key players, but gaps in capability remain. An important facet is airborne early warning, which is under study at the present time. General Khalid told Aviation International News that a number of systems are currently being evaluated, including the E-2 Hawkeye, Boeing 737-based platform and Ericsson’s Erieye airborne radar. Furthermore, using aerostat-based radars is another option that is being appraised. General Khalid expected that a decision on what platform or platforms would provide AEW coverage for the UAE would be made some time next year.