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Information is the new weapon

Industry and armed forces came together at Defcom India 2010 to discuss the future of net-centricity in Indian Defence

Netcentricity has been the buzzword among Indian armed forces for quiet sometime now. While the Indian Air Force took the lead with the launch of its digital information grid, the Air Force Network (AFNET), the Navy and the Army are still working in this direction. In this context, Indian Army’s Corps of Signals in association with Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) organised a two-day seminar-cum-exhibition in Delhi. Th e event provided an excellent opportunity for people from defence industry, academia and services to come together and exchange their views on the subject.

Inaugurating the event, Union Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju, said, “Armed Forces are on the threshold of an exciting new era of net-centricity in which they hope to network all sensors, shooters and commanders on converged infostructures.” He added, “Providing connectivity for strategic and tactical networks is a challenge, as dispersed forces operate over large geographical areas with diversities in terrain, climate, local conditions and operational uncertainties.”

General VK Singh, Chief of Army Staff , who was also present at the occasion, talked about the shift of battle space from being platform centric to network centric. He said, “A strong, robust and secure information grid is therefore a prerequisite for this. Th e information grid must always act as a force multiplier and an enabler for the soldier as well as the commander in the battlefi eld.” He then spoke about the capabilities that the armed forces would acquire once they become net-centric. “Once equipped, I see our armed forces increasingly harnessing the power of data and voice networks, thus converting decision makers, sensors and shooters into an effi cient and lethal mix of fl exible, coordinated and a fast moving combat force that uses information as a weapon to strike with pinpoint precision, and bring unprecedented fi repower to bear with a much smaller strength in numbers”, he said.

Lt Gen VS Tonk, Deputy Chief of the Army Staff too reiterated Gen Singh’s vision. “Net-centricity in itself has become a weapon system rather than a support system”, he said, cautioning, “It is, therefore, very important to ensure cyber security.” Successive technical sessions further deliberated upon the net-centricity, its applications and security. Th e fi rst session of the seminar focussed on ‘Converged infostructure for a transformed force’, which was also the theme of the event. Th e session was meant to present the users’ (Army, Air Force and the Navy) perspective to the audience. Giving the viewpoint of the army, Maj Gen AK Srivastava, talked about the future of warfare and stressed upon the need for identifi cation and development of new technologies, “Cyber war is no longer limited to scientifi c fi ction. It is now a reality and a potent domain of warfare. Also, the future is likely to see a shift in the pattern of warfare – from conventional style to asymmetric warfare.” He then explained how network centricity will help the forces prepare for future battles, “Timely fl ow of processed information between sensors and shooters are essential enablers for this transformation.” Talking about Indian Air Force, Air Commodore Hemant Sharma said, “IAF is on a fast track to enhance its communication and IT infrastructure to become net-centric. We launched AFNET earlier and will be rolling out 3G WCDMA in six months’ time.” He added, “Our mission is to ensure mobile phone for all IAF personnel.” He also stressed upon the need for a secure network. Briefi ng the audience about the problems Indian Navy faces in ensuring security of Indian waters, Capt SK Chhetre said, “Navy is a 3-dimensional force as it has to maintain vigil on surface, above surface and under surface.” He then explained how latest technologies will help the navy in fulfi lling its duties. Describing network centricity as a continuous and evolving process, he said, “Interoperability among the three forces is essential.”

Th e session also had another speaker from the army, Maj. Gen. MK Gupta. Speaking about the information sharing philosophy for network centric operations, he raised an interesting point by talking about the dedicated ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) units, “We can’t have multitude of units collecting information in bits and pieces. We need to have dedicated independent ISR units so that the ambiguity and multiplication of the information isn’t there.”

Th e following sessions belonged to the industry who talked about the emerging technologies and their impact on warfare, potential security threats, solutions provided by various companies and challenges faced by industry. For example, Dr Peter Holliday, Chief Defence Architect, CISCO, talked about the importance of right devices and secure applications among defence services, and then explained how CISCO technology, also known as CISCO Motion, can help in this direction. Similarly, Luca Piccollo, Head of Deployable and Mobile Systems Engineering, Selex Communications, talked about the threat of jamming and the solutions provided by Selex in this regard. Meanwhile Gopi Srinivasan, IT Architect, IBM, raised an important point when he said, “In order to benefi t from personal experience and bridge the gap between the old and the new, it is important to create an interaction platform, especially between freshers and people who are due to retire.”

Th e discussion was carried forward by other delegates who talked about the importance of network security. While Edwin Faier, Director of Engineering, Ultra Electronics, defi ned information as a pre-requisite for military dominance, Pamela Warren, Cybercrime Strategist Director, Mc Afee, talked about cybercrime and how hackers can break into security corridors and collect confi dential data while creating stress on secure network. “Adversaries don’t go through security, but they go around security,” said Sanjay Burman, Scientist ‘G’, Centre for Artifi cial Intelligence & Robotics, DRDO. He then talked about the importance of laying sound infrastructure, “While coordination is the key for eff ective management, infrastructure is required for eff ective performance.” While Burman concentrated on information security, his colleague, MV Rao, delivered a talk on the topic, ‘Scalable and Deterministic Networks including Network Management’ wherein he talked about GIS and NMS (Network Management System). “GIS is a part of NMS and we have taken up indigenisation of both – GIS and NMS.” Stressing upon the importance of IT, he said, “Th ere was a time when offi ces had no computers. Th is scenario is unimaginable today. Infrastructure needs to be planned, everything is getting IT based.”

Meanwhile, talking about the possible challenges that the future is going to throw before the users, Col D Kaushal, Commander, 21 Signal Group, said, “Mission demands information superiority for victory, and net-centricity is the way to go. But one of the greatest challenges for the next generation tactical networks is going to be the handling of bandwidth constraints as the requirement for bandwidth is likely to grow in future.”

Th e problem was soon addressed by Dr Vikram Srinivasan of Alcatel Lucent India Ltd who explained diff erent ways of putting a given spectrum to the optimum use. “Right now, we have spectrums across a broad range. Each of these spectrums is associated with a particular licence,” he said, adding, “Th e idea is to sniff er out and use appropriate pieces of spectrum for appropriate links for appropriate traffi c demands.” By the end of the two-day seminar, everyone agreed that IT is becoming an integral part of the defence sector and in future, even a weapon system would be identifi ed with an IP address. As Lt Gen D Kumar (retd), Chief Executive Offi cer & MD, Tata Advance Systems Ltd., said, “We have to have a network which is application-oriented network.”

Th ere was also an exhibition alongside the seminar which generated a lot of interest among the servicemen and visitors. Nearly 30 companies like Rockwell Collins, Rolta India, Selex Communications etc. put up their stalls at the event.
Aditi Bhan, Assistant Editor