Lt Gen P Mohapatra (Retd)
<< Transformation of Indian Army into a networked force is no easy task given the nature of warfare that the Army is involved with >>
The Indian Army is in the process of transformation into an agile, lethal, versatile and networked force to meet the current and emerging threats and challenges across the entire spectrum of conflict including fourth generation asymmetric and virtual threats.
Technology and transformation
All armies of developed and developing countries in the world are transforming in some way or the other. Technological advancements in all spheres of war fighting activity have been the catalyst to this process. Defense force transformation consists of three components – doctrinal, organisational and technical.
In the technological sphere, transformation in the information domain is important because of its contribution to the creation of a truly net centric force that can create decisive military effects in support of a strategy to defend national interests. Network Centric Warfare (NCW), the military embodiment of information age concepts and technologies, is redefining the basic source of combat power, enhancing the value of some while devaluing others. Manoeuvre, mass, surprise, firepower and logistics have for centuries been basic attributes in the military realm. But in the information age, information is transforming both the concepts of mass and manoeuvre, redefining firepower and greatly simplifying logistics. The massing of forces is being transformed into massing of effects. Manoeuvre is more about correctly positioning forces or being able to have small groups move successfully on a non-linear battlefield. The mass previously associated with firepower is being increasingly replaced by precision. Transformation in the technological domain requires the ability to acquire battlefield transparency, process information, make decisions and distribute information over wide areas at high data rates, on the move and across all echelons.
These capabilities are the enablers of network-centric warfare. The information age envisages the edge of the battlefield being empowered to make decisions based on command intent and self synchronisation derived from high quality shared awareness and collaboration.
Development of infostructure
The Network Centric era will necessitate the integration of all battlefield entities from the highest headquarters right down to the forward most fighting elements, so as to synergise resources and retain the capability to concentrate maximum force at the point of decision in an acceptable time frame. This integration will apply across the entire spectrum of war fighting activities of the field force and in particular to surveillance, intelligence gathering, collation, navigation, targeting and decision making. For achieving this, a robust, scalable and secure army info infrastructure is required. The development philosophy of this infrastructure would consist of three distinct layers – a well developed, robust and resilient physical transport layer; an agile switching layer; and a well-defined enterprise wide services layer. These layers would be common for both the strategic as well as the tactical domain. However, the technology applicable to both may be different due to constraints of mobility, bandwidth, line of sight, etc. It is therefore, imperative to use the right technology in the right domain. The transport layer could vary from wireline to wireless technology. The switching layers should be based on fast convergence technology and the services layer should provide a framework for all applications to seamlessly interwork with one another. In fact, we would be transiting from a distributed to a virtualised environment.
Strategic and operational communication infrastructure
This infrastructure has to be based on a countrywide, secure, multi-service and multi-protocol converged Next Generation Network (NGN) based on dedicated optical transport. It would be an Adaptive Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) based nation-wide layer, highly resilient IP/ MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) backbone with gigabit optical carrier ethernet transport access. The network would be managed and operated through multiple geographically redundant Network Operation Centers (NOC) and Network Management Centers (NMC). There would be a need of a satellite overlay based on MF-TDMA (Multi-Frequency, Time Division Multiple Access) technology. Such a system, once established, would cater to futuristic communication requirements at the strategic and operational levels. ASCON (Army Static Switched Communication Network) Phase IV for which the Request for Information (RFI) has been issued, Network for Spectrum (NFS) being executed by the BSNL and the Defence Communication Network (DCN) cater to these futuristic needs of the Army in particular, and the latter two, to the combined requirements of the three services.
Today there is a differential between the existing (or envisaged) robust backbone network and the communications available to the cutting edge field forces on the fringes. This gap needs to be bridged at the earliest. The Battlefield Management System (BMS) and the F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System) programmes are steps in this direction. Apart from soldier systems, there is a need for a cohesive and comprehensive radio philosophy for the Army. This would include entities such as a soldier, platoon, company and battalion level communications. Additionally, communications for higher Headquarters (HQ) such as the brigade, division, corps, strategic radio communications and also communications for the supporting Arms and Services, Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV), Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICV), airborne and ground-to-air communication have to be included in the overarching philosophy.
Apart from Combat Net Radio (CNR) which is an indispensable component of the war fighting machinery, satellite and cellular communications provide a great deal of versatility. The adoption of technologies associated with software defined radio, mobile ad-hoc networks; sat-phones and mobile satellite terminals with transponders resident on indigenous satellites; mobile cellular technologies such as LTE, WiMAX, WCDMA, TETRA would be the requirement in the foreseeable future, especially in the tactical domain. Notwithstanding the technologies involved, the fundamental guiding principles behind equipping a soldier remain unchanged, namely, mobility, miniaturisation, bandwidth, Quality of Service (QoS), ease of operation, interoperability, location determination, encryption and scalability.
Tactical Communication System (TCS) for mobile strike formations is another endeavour currently under way. This programme has been categorised as ‘Make’ to promote participation of the Indian industry and has made considerable progress. This system is based largely on broadband radio relay with network nodes, network communication nodes and sectoral nodes of varied capacity at different echelons would provide the much needed requirements of mobile formations and also assist greatly in indigenisation.
Geospatial intelligence has revolutionised the way we engage in warfare. The entire ambit of command, control, communication, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, targeting, terrain analysis, simulation and logistics and other management functions is contingent on having reliable and accurate GIS. A host of platforms providing geospatial data will abound the battlefield to include satellite imagery, aerial photographs, UAVs, sensors of various types, GPS enabled devices and so on. There would be disparate data sources with multiple and different representation of the same physical objects dictating the need for a robust, accurate and automatic technique to enable full data integration. The information would also have spatial and non-spatial components at different layers to be displayed in a manner to assist decision-making. Data emanating from various sources has to be tagged properly to make access, archiving and discovery simple. Data inputs from all C4I2SR components to include Battlefield Surveillance Systems (BSS), Air Defense Control & Reporting Systems (ADC&R), Artillery Command and Control Systems (ACCS) et al would be analysed and processed through Command Information and Decision Support Systems (CIDSS) to assist decision making.
For enhancing inter-service synergy, a common communication platform is a pre-requisite. Joint services infrastructure like the NFS and DCN will be the key enablers to usher in the necessary synergy. For joint operations, the availability of a Common Operational Picture (COP) at the tactical, operational and strategic levels is a must. The demand for use of open standards and protocols and a framework for open integration are aspects being addressed at the inter-service level.
As we move through the process, it must be remembered that technology is both a catalyst as well as an inhibitor. While we acquire and field newer technologies, where trillions of bytes of data flow across the network in seconds, our vulnerabilities have also increased. Security will always remain paramount. Aspects of media bulk encryption, network and application layer security, authorisation and authentication, access control and risk management would all have to be addressed holistically.
In western armies like the US Army or even some of the armies of the NATO countries, there has been a shift in focus post cold war and 9/11 to essentially expeditionary forces, due to emerging asymmetric threats germinating in other countries. In Indian context, the conventional and nuclear threats are consistent and our potential adversaries remain unchanged. Threats of asymmetric warfare are, however, gaining ground. The Indian Armed Forces, therefore, have to possess the capability to fight across the entire spectrum of conflict situations. Those of us who were witness to the Kargil conflict would recall that it was fought, albeit largely, and where it counted, in the first generation league, in the nature of trench warfare! While this allusion is not intended to detract from our avowed objective of moving towards net-centricity, it should at the same time help to realign our focus to the versatility of operations that the Indian Armed Forces are likely to face. We today have our forces deployed all across our large border and in the hinterland with sizeable deployment for counter insurgency operations. It is a pan India presence with troops in the border deployed in extremely inhospitable terrain and weather conditions. When we talk of transformation, we must remember this unique character of deployment of our forces and our own threats and challenges.