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NCW: Progressing net-centricity

Lt Gen PC Katoch (retd)
Lt Gen PC Katoch (retd)
[email protected]

<< With Indian military rapidly developing its capabilities towards becoming a Network-Centric force, there is a need to accord priority to tri-service NCW philosophy and accelerate R&D in acquiring critical technologies >>

Net-centricity, the enabler to Network-Centric Warfare (NCW), is important to the defence forces. Military networking is far more challenging than industry networking since the former is heavily dependent on wireless communications with heavy demand for security and requires robust resistance to hostile actions. NCW is information superiority enabled war-fighting concept that generates increased combat power by robust networking of sensors, decision makers and shooters. It allows military to evolve a confluence of weapons, sensors and decision making, all of which ride on information superiority. Net centricity helps achieve holistic integration and synergy since sharing of information enables a force to optimise the full potential of dominant manoeuvre, precision engagement, full dimensional protection and focussed logistics.

Why the need?
Twenty first century threats demand national net centricity, as borders between peace and war as well as external and internal battlefields have blurred. Multiple domains of conflict spectrum are simultaneously in play as asymmetric wars are being waged with impunity. Emerging trends of warfare have greater emphasis on the sub-conventional. Force application throughout the conflict continuum must be at the locus of engagement with the adversary. National level applications must be in place 365 days and 24×7 even Progressing net-centricity during peace since the military continues to be engaged in low intensity operations and homeland security is a continuous affair. NCW is the linkage of people, systems and platforms to form a self-synchronised, networked force that creates shared battlespace awareness providing information superiority and speed of command. The focal point is the networked force – a combination of various standalone computer systems, weapon platforms and people forming an integrated organisation that communicates speedily. The concept at the highest level constitutes the military’s response to the information age. The themes of NCW that have emerged over the years constitute information superiority, speed of command, selfsynchronisation, linking people and platforms, network force and shared battlespace awareness.

The Indian military scenario
In the 21st century conflict situations, decisions have to be taken with great swiftness and efficacy and the entire consultationdecision making process has to be radically telescoped. Conflicts are expected to be short, fast-paced and intense. In both pro-active and reactive roles, early prediction of information would become a key to success. Focus is on attaining access to information which is resident in an information network and its speedy dissemination so that the commander’s intent can be translated into decisive action. NCW allows us to move from an approach based upon the massing of forces to one based upon the massing of effects. This allows us to reduce our battlespace footprint which in turn reduces risk because we avoid presenting the enemy with attractive high value targets. Empowered with knowledge derived from a shared awareness of the battlespace and a shared understanding of the commander’s intent, our forces can display initiative to meet the commander’s intent and be more effective when operating autonomously. NCW permits effective linking among entities in the battlespace. Dispersed and distributed entities can generate synergy and responsibility and work can be dynamically reallocated to adapt to the situation. This would result in increased tempo of operations, increased responsiveness, lower risks and lower costs, increased combat effectiveness, and would enable commanders to cope with telescoped timeframes available for decision making. While national net centricity would be incrementally upgraded, armed forces jointness is an absolute imperative because conflicts cannot be won by a single Service. The requirement is of a top down approach within the military.

The term NCW broadly describes the combination of strategies, emerging tactics, techniques, procedures and organisations that a fully or even a partially networked force can employ to create decisive warfighting advantage. In implementation, human behaviour precedes information technology. Being small sized as compared to the Army, our Navy and Air Force have better intraservice net-centricity but we lack inter-services handshake without which we cannot achieve NCW capabilities. Presently, the military does not even have common data structures, symbology and interoperable protocols. True ‘system of systems’ approach is yet to come. Voice, data networks, radio communications are not interoperable to desired degree and radio sets differ in frequency bands, wave forms and secrecy algorithms. Interoperability is feasible though difficult since technologies differ and the process incurs avoidable additional costs. Common data applications are yet to be conceived. There is absence of knowledge management, and a common unifying secrecy algorithm for the Services hasn’t been developed though technological solutions exist. No common enterprise GIS has yet been developed. For effective transformation from platform centric capabilities to network centricity, a phased shift in existing technology of the three Services and horizontal fusion amongst them at laid down hierarchical structure is a must. Cultural change is warranted through aptitude based selection procedures to influence values, attitudes and beliefs of future leaders. Warfighter must have a thorough understanding of system capabilities and the ability, initiative and innovativeness to employ capabilities for best effects. Although development of automated systems is currently underway in the Services, managing the actual transition requires both the technological and psychological aspects of change.

Cyber capability should include ability to prevent cyber attacks and if these happen, contain them effecting swift recovery. We must make ‘cyber dominance’ an essential component of our war doctrine. It is also vital that operational and tactical networks of the military have high mobility and robust ECCM. A policy for simulation and war-gaming too must be developed.

Courtesy: www.bdicode.co

Indian Army
The Army has been focusing on transforming into NCW capable force through leveraging emerging technologies, which requires alterations in concept of operations, doctrine, organisations, force structure and above all, imbibing the NCW culture in the psyche of the warfighter and commanders. The Tactical Command, Control, Communications and Information (Tac C3I) System under development by the Director General Information Systems (DGIS) is the mainstay of net-centricity in the Army, with the Tactical Communication System (TCS) providing requisite communications in the Tactical BattleArea (TBA). Tac C3I will provide state-of-the-art C4I2 connectivity from Corps down to warfighters in TBA comprising the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS), Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS), Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCCS), Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS) and the Battlefield Management System (BMS). CIDSS will integrate all the systems. Tac C3I will also integrate the Electronic Warfare System (EWS) under military operations and the Electronic Intelligence System (ELINT) under military intelligence. The Army Strategic Operational Information Dissemination System (ASTROIDS) under development by DGIS will provide upward connectivity from Corps HQ to Army HQ.

Development CIDSS (sanctioned May 1998) test bed comprising one Corps HQ, one Divisional HQ, three Brigade HQs and nine Infantry battalions was to be completed in Stage 1 of Phase 1, however, only a truncated test bed could be undertaken in phases in absence of TCS and complications in porting of security solutions. Further development of the system for Stage 2 of Phase 1 (equipping and integrating remaining infantry formations and units of the Test Bed Corps) and Phase 2 (extending CIDSS to other arms and services of Test Bed Corps, integration of CIDSS with other components of Tac C3I and equipping one designated Strike Corps) is being undertaken by BEL but is running behind schedule by about four years. In Phase 3, two Corps will be equipped in one year depending upon the funds available. Equipping the existing 13 Corps in Phase 3 will take about seven years.

BSS was conceived as an automated system with dedicated intracommunication integrating surveillance sensors at Division and Corps level on a customised GIS platform with multi-sensor data fusion undertaken at the Surveillance Centre for providing inputs to the CIDSS. Phase 1 test bed has been completed and operational validation accorded. It was developed on turnkey basis by BEL in collaboration with Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR). Phase 2 (also by BEL) involves equipping all Corps, after successful completion of ‘proving phase.’ This too is behind schedule by a few years. As per the initial plan, equipping was to commence in 2010 after the ‘proving phase’, however, BEL has been facing problems akin to ACCCS of limited indigenous capacity in applications, design and software customisation though bulk of hardware and technology was imported. Test bed for ‘proving phase’ of Phase 2 should come through this year.

ACCCS was sanctioned in March 2002 for developing a networked solution for automated tactical and technical fire control by artillery. The orders were placed on BEL post approval as ‘Buy and Make’ project. Tactical computers were procured from Elbit, Israel, for the test bed with ToT provision. Balance hardware was obtained by BEL commercially from indigenous sources or manufactured. Final phase of equipping the Army is underway and should be completed by end of the current year. This is the first operational information system that has been fielded in the Army. Contract for the AD C&RS was signed in March 2008. The project was based on the Army’s philosophy for AD C&RS. As per initial plan, the fielding of the test bed was to Courtesy: www.bdicode.co be done in December 2009 but is yet to materialise. Moreover, the initial test bed was planned as an independent test bed and its integration with Indian Air Force’s Air Defence System (also under development) was to be done at a later stage – a mistake recognised and rectified in 2008. An integrated test bed looks likely by the end of this year.

BMS was envisaged to enable faster decision process by commanders with reliable operational information provided in realtime and an ability to quickly close the sensor-to-shooter loop by integrating all surveillance facilitating engagement through CIDSS, exploiting technology for mission accomplishment in the TBA by rapid acquisition, processing and transfer of information, enhanced situational awareness, capability to react to information, sharpen ability to synchronise and direct fire, plus establish and maintain overwhelming operational tempo. The system customised to specific army requirements needs to be first integrated and tested in a controlled environment in a test bed laboratory, after which validation trials would be undertaken in field conditions. After successful validation in field, equipping would begin. BMS would comprise a tactical hand held computer with individual warfighter and tactical computers at Battle Group HQ, and combat vehicles enabling generation of common operational picture by integrating inputs from all relevant sources by integrated use of GIS and GPS with a high data rate. Phase I comprising test bed laboratory and field trials is delayed by almost three years. Presently, BMS and F-INSAS are being progressed concurrently though BMS too caters for infantry. The Defence Acquisition Council approved the BMS as ‘Make India’ project in 2011, following which the DG Acquisition ordered an Integrated Project Management Study (IPMT), which is underway and should be completed by the end of 2012. Thereafter, an Expression of Interest (EOI) would be issued by MoD to PSUs and RURs, likely in early 2013, with a response time of about four months. With nomination of prototype developers, development time (about 12 months) and the Test Bed, Phase 1 is likely to be completed by 2016 or so. Accordingly, Phase 2 (Equipping) will get delayed from initial plan of 2017 to 2021 and Phase 3 (Change management and upgradation of system) from 2022 to 2026. Initial estimate of Rs 350 cr may double and the overall project cost of fielding the BMS may jump from initial estimate of Rs 23,000 cr to Rs 70-80,000 cr or even more. The private industry should invest heavily into R&D and develop stateof- the-art prototypes since two developers are likely to be chosen.

The TCS that had been approved twice in past should have been fielded into the Army 15 years back. Adverse effects of truncated test beds would lead to avoidable problems coming up at fielding/ equipping stage that could have been corrected at test bed stage. This also leads to avoidable additional costs that may accrue due to the requirement of upgrades immediately after fielding these systems.

Way ahead
The government may consider appointing a permanent board charged with ‘National Net Centricity and RMA’ as adjunct to Ministry of IT. MoD should consider separate DPP for ICT systems cutting on present procurement time that is not conducive to state-of-the-art procurement. A level field must be ensured for private industry participation. The military must accord priority to tri-Service NCW philosophy and follow up road map without waiting for a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Integrated tri-Service software must come up simultaneous to the Defence Communication Network. Needless to mention that information security must be ensured under holistic information assurance both at the national and military level.

An NCW capable military also entails that surveillance resources at national level be integrated into networks, which in turn should provide necessary inputs to designated firepower resources to react in real-time. We should accelerate R&D to acquire critical technology, innovate and absorb the same. We need to create joint organisations to achieve synergy and seamless interoperability, build a robust ICT infrastructure, effectively managing the transformation and increasing technical threshold of users.

It is imperative that adequate technological infrastructure be nurtured to meet the hardware, software and joint doctrinal challenges. We need to look at policies for sharing information and establishing priorities and processes for data exchange and engagement of targets. Cyber warfare technology needs to be nurtured to develop an edge against the adversary by denting his networks and downgrading his fighting ability.