Skip to content Skip to footer

Pakistan’s C4I Evolution

Compared to India, Pakistan’s ability to acquire the latest fighter aircraft and other sophisticated weapons (especially from the West) is markedly more limited. However, the nature of modern warfare is that there is more to the accumulation of assets. The key to building an advantage is not the asset in of itself, but its benefit, such as additional striking range, greater target detection, and expanded situational awareness.

Pakistan is working to improve its capabilities across each of the aforementioned areas, but its focus on building situational awareness is interesting. To improve its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, Pakistan is investing in acquiring and organizing its land, sea, air, and space-based assets.

Radar: Recognized Air & Maritime Picture

In 1999, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) started an initiative to build one coverage picture using the radars of each of the tri-services. Designated the ‘Recognized Air and Maritime Picture’ (RAMP), the system is active and leverages the PAF’s airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft alongside the land and sea-based radars of the Pakistan Army (PA) and Pakistan Navy (PN), respectively.

The benefit of the RAMP is that each tri-service arm has a ‘complete’ radar picture without coverage gaps. Each individual surface-based radar will have a bling spot due to the curvature of the Earth. However, with the RAMP, the viewer can draw on feeds from gap-filler radars and AEW&C. Moreover, each service arm is getting information on adversary aircraft and ship movements, thus informing them on how to deploy their assets, especially stand-off weapons (SOW) and other ISR systems.

ELINT/SIGINT/ESM: Leveraging Drones

Pakistan currently has two new medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in development: the Shahpar-2 by the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) and the 1.5-ton UAV by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). Combined with a growing satellite communications (SATCOM) capability, Pakistan will gain the ability to operate drones at long ranges.

From an ISR standpoint, drones can support Pakistan’s ISR in multiple ways. The oldest method, one that Pakistan already employs, is building real-time visual-feeds of areas of interest. Pakistan’s current drones, notably the Falco and Shahpar, can be equipped with electro-optical (EO) turrets and provide those feeds.

However, those UAVs are limited in capability due to their lesser payloads and lack of beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) communication. The latter limitation requires the drone operators to be within a certain range – usually 280 km or less – to operate the UAVs. But with satellite communication (SATCOM), Pakistan’s new drones will not have this limitation; with BLoS-capability, they can potentially operate at up to 1,000 km.

With SATCOM and BLoS-capability, Pakistan can deploy UAVs for long-range missions, such as patrolling the borders. However, it is unlikely that Pakistan would limit its drone usage to simply monitoring borders. It will likely look at other applications as well, notably electronic intelligence (ELINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and surveying areas or terrain for mapping.

Pakistan has an interest in understanding India’s air defence deployments, especially those of its medium and long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM). ELINT helps in this regard because it can detect, identify and geolocate those radars of interest. However, deploying ELINT at a pervasive-enough level to spot changes on a real-time or near-real-time basis is difficult with land-based vehicles and manned aircraft. The former set move slow, and the latter are high-value assets that one would keep away from an active conflict area.

However, a MALE UAV equipped with ELINT sensors could be a different story. These drones would cost less to operate per sortie but stay in the air for 30-40 hours at a time. In fact, drones also eliminate various limiting factors that prevent long-haul manned ISR missions, such as crew or operator fatigue. With these personnel on the ground, switching operators to manage long-haul ELINT operators is much easier. Finally, Pakistan would not be as concerned about losing drones to enemy fire as it would manned aircraft.

Likewise, Pakistan is also investing in various SIGINTs capabilities, especially at sea through its submarine upgrades and new surface warships. SIGINT is similar to ELINT in that it involves monitoring the space for radio frequencies, but it is focused on communications as well as electronic warfare (EW) and electronic countermeasures (ECM). One application (among many) is monitoring and recording enemy signals to add to an EW library. In turn, Pakistan would use that library for radar or communications jamming.

Pakistan seems to be working on artificial intelligence (AI) applications as well, so when it comes ELINT and SIGINT, the data collecting, processing, and organizing could become automated in the long-term. If Pakistan can remove the bottlenecks to leveraging the data, it would have an incentive to greatly expand the number of ways it collects said data. For both ELINT and SIGINT, drones seem like the optimal way to rapidly build those collection methods in a cost-effective manner.

Pakistan could also use its new drones for surveying and mapping terrains. In this case, it may equip these UAVs with both synthetic aperture radars (SAR) and EO. It can use drones to survey less accessible and/or remote areas on a routine basis. Doing so would allow Pakistan to build awareness of those areas as well as potentially map them should it have an interest in accessing them in the future. However, Pakistan will not need to strictly rely on drones for this role; it would also rely on satellites.

Satellites for Enabling Drones and Imaging Intelligence

The quiet revelation of the PAF’s ‘Space Command’ shows an organized effort to build-up satellite assets and cohesively manage them. Pakistan has yet to explicitly commission ‘military satellites,’ but the intent to acquire various space-based capabilities is certainly in place.

The Shahpar-2 and PAC UAV both contain room for SATCOM terminals. Pakistan’s upcoming satellite, the PakSat-MM1R, will contain C, Ku, and Ka-band transponders. Pakistan could potentially use the latter two bands to operate its MALE UAVs at BLoS ranges. Besides more pervasive border surveillance, SATCOM can unlock an expanded ELINT and SIGINT coverage through drones.

The Government of Pakistan’s 2021-2022 Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) budget allocates funding for the study of a ‘Pakistan Remote Sensing Synthetic Aperture Radar Satellite’ (PRSS-S1) and the ‘Pakistan Optical Remote-Sensing Satellite’ (PRSS-O2). The latter is supposed to offer imaging capabilities with a “sub-meter” resolution. There is also a PRSC-EOS program aimed at launching three optical remote satellites by 2023 – this is likely aimed at building a more rapid image-taking capability.

Basically, within a few years, Pakistan will have the capacity for imaging from space and low-level (or back-up) imaging and real-time monitoring capability through drones.

Like the RAMP, it will be worth seeing if Pakistan makes this information accessible to a joint-services feed for the Army and Navy. The latter will have access to this information, but the concept of a unified space and air-based imaging plus radar feed would be significant. It would amount to a maturation of Pakistan’s C4I capabilities, one that could unlock ‘equalizers’ to fill the conventional arms gap with India through the effective allocation, deployment, and use of key assets (e.g., stand-off-range weapons).

For example, this C4I element could help Pakistan expose enemy air defence sites near the border and, in turn, neutralize them through drones and land-based guided missiles (like the Fatah-1). India would have no incentive to deploy a high-cost asset like the S-400 near the border in that scenario as it would become a target. Through long-term imaging, mapping and ELINT/SIGINT operations, Pakistan could also build a significant level of familiarity with surrounding terrain and India’s asset movements, thereby making the prospect of neutralizing nearby air defence assets a realistic outcome.

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment