Building Network-Centric Defence

In June 2011 the Royal Thai Defence Force took a giant step towards its long term ambition to implement a Network-Centric Defence Force where units can share information to combine more effectively the capabilities of assets over the entire force.

The step came as the Royal Thai Navy signed contracts with Saab for upgrade of the Combat Management System and provision of Tactical Data Links for the H.T.M.S. Naresuan Class frigates. The contract in 2011 was followed in 2012 by a similar contract for upgrade of the Combat Management System and provision of Data Links for H.T.M.S. Chakri Naruebet and in 2013 for the first vessel in the new frigate class built by DSME. Saab is the supplier of the key system components in all contracts.   In 2014 the Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force successfully exchanged radar and tactical information over data links between the Saab Combat System on the RTN vessel H.T.M.S. Chakri Naruebet and the RTAF Saab 340 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft and the Saab Gripen fighter jet. Since then successful tests have also been carried out between the RTN vessel H.T.M.S. Naresuan and the RTAF Saab 340 AEW and the Saab Gripen.

With support from Saab and Avia Satcom, the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTN and RTAF) have demonstrated capabilities available only to a small exclusive group of forces in the world. With determination and careful planning the Royal Thai Armed Forces are now in possession of capabilities which brings Thailand to the forefront of forces in the Asian region. Along with local support built by Saab through technology transfer to Saab’s local partner Avia Satcom, both the RTN and RTAF have not only secured a unique interoperable capability but also secured in-country competence to ensure long term availability of the systems delivered by Saab.

The linked data systems integrate usage of modern equipment, which help increase the tactical capacity of both military forces to coordinate operations with improved efficiency. Once the implementation is completed, there will be an integration of radar signals from both types of radar from both military forces. This will improve target detection, information sharing and joint attacks.

Tactical Data Links are used to distribute target information to all connected units (Airborne, Maritime and Ground) in a networked system.  
Some of the benefits with Tactical Data Links are
• Clear target distribution and coordination between units using same Tactical Situation Picture
• Tactical Data Links are more secure, robust and jamming resistant than voice
• Various Platforms share information to improve the total situation picture within and beyond range of own sensors
• Using other unit members Tactical Data Link information means that own radar can be silent
• With Tactical Data Links, completely voice silent operations are possible

These developments are the cornerstones of the Network-Centric Defence which is the most ultimate use of all available resources in a defence force system.

The future of a modern defence force is to connect to the same network to be able to meet various situations and threats with its best available systems.

A Network-Centric Defence Force is characterized by

• Shared sensor information for outstanding situational awareness
• Real time information availability for all connected units
• New systems can be added easily on line to the network
• Robust and secure communication systems

According to Carl-Erik Leek, Executive Vice President, Saab, “A modern defence force must be prepared to meet a broad variety of threats and be capable to operate in various scenarios. The connected units in a Network-Centric Defence can both be ground based, on the sea and in the air. Various systems can be combined for different tasks and it will also change over time. Whatever the mission is, it should always be at least one command and control system to lead the operation, sensor systems to create the situation picture and a weapon platform (airborne, naval or ground based) to intercept the target. All systems should be connected to the same Network and share the information. Networked Centric Defence improves and enhances the mission effectiveness and joint capabilities.” Tactical Data Links are crucial for sharing data. There are many different types of tactical data links, some are specifically designed for national defence use only and other are used internationally in a combined force with coalition forces.   Saab has a very long experience of developing tactical data links. One of the first used data link in the world was the fighter data link created for the J35 Dragon Fighter in the early 60’s. The ground based Command and Control System sent tactical information like heading and distance to the intercepted targets. A number of short pre-defined text messages could also be sent to the fighter pilot. In the 80’s the next generation of tactical data link was introduced for the JA37 Viggen Fighter. More information with extended transmission capacity could be sent from ground to the aircraft. A fighter link was also introduced to make it possible for a group of Viggen fighters to exchange their own data and sensor information.   The big step into the Network-Centric Air Force started in the late 90’s when the Swedish Air Force introduced the new multirole Fighter JAS39 Gripen, the new airborne radar sensor system Erieye AEW&C, the new digitized data link system TARAS and the new Command and Control System, STRIC. Many upgrades and new systems have successively been integrated. The fundamental idea of this system remains and it is still in operational use due to a long term and coordinated plan.

A Network-Centric Defence Force will always feel modern and up to date due to new systems and capabilities will be improved and added over time. It is also more cost efficient to keep the systems on a very high level of performance over time compared doing Mid Life upgrades every 20 years. The future is here and now and the Network-Centric Defence is the utmost flexible use of armed forces platforms and systems for various situations