In­dian Army’s Align­ment for Net-cen­tric Com­bat

Net-cen­tric­ity calls for sweep­ing re­vi­sions in the man­ner of en­gag­ing in war­fare. As a corol­lary, it re­quires re­struc­tur­ing of the fight­ing, sup­port­ing and lo­gis­tic ele­ments, which in turn ne­ces­si­tates ap­pli­ca­tion of across-the-board re­forms in the man­age


Net-cen­tric­ity calls for sweep­ing re­vi­sions in the man­ner of en­gag­ing in war­fare. As a corol­lary, it re­quires re­struc­tur­ing of the fight­ing, sup­port­ing and lo­gis­tic ele­ments, which in turn ne­ces­si­tates ap­pli­ca­tion of across-the-board re­forms in the man­age­ment of the mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tion.

Lt Gen­eral (Retd) Gau­tam Banerji

“What I can­not do now is the sign of what I shall do here­after. The sense of im­pos­si­bil­ity is the be­gin­ning of all pos­si­bil­i­ties.” —Sri Aurobindo

IT WAS IN THE 1980s that the In­dian Army took baby steps to­wards a process which has to­day mor­phed into the con­cept of ‘net-cen­tric­ity’ in con­duct of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. A decade later, mil­i­tary pol­i­cy­mak­ers had en­vis­aged that the process would, in nat­u­ral course, cas­cade to the realm of rev­o­lu­tion in mil­i­tary af­fairs (RMA). Fur­ther down the line, at the dawn of the 21st cen­tury, it was ex­pected that a RMA-in­duced mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme would lead to In­dian Army’s over­due ‘trans­for­ma­tion’—an up­grade that would be in tune with tac­ti­cal and sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ments of the time and in con­form­ity with the po­lit­i­cal man­date of the state within a cost-ef­fi­cient fis­cal al­lo­ca­tion. That alas has not hap­pened as the na­tion lands up spend­ing about 2,00,000 crore from its deficit bud­get. Ar­guably, it fails to reap the cor­re­spond­ing ben­e­fits of as­sured de­ter­rence and peace-div­i­dend.

In this ar­ti­cle, an at­tempt has been made to ex­am­ine as to how we could choose the right align­ment to­wards net-cen­tric­ity of the mil­i­tary struc­ture. Doubtlessly, this is a pleas­ant call as it raises hope that such a course of mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion might trig­ger man­i­fes­ta­tion of true and com­pre­hen­sive trans­for­ma­tion of the In­dian Army in the com­ing days.

Net-cen­tric­ity and Mod­erni­sa­tion

It may be noted that RMA-in­duced mod­erni­sa­tion of the mil­i­tary struc­ture calls for sweep­ing re­vi­sions across the en­tire gamut of en­gag­ing in war­fare and when de­scribed in a more pro­found sense, it is but a ‘trans­for­ma­tion’. In­deed, net-cen­tric­ity is just one of the many com­po­nents of equal salience, all of which must func­tion in syn­ergy to bring about true mod­erni­sa­tion, and con­se­quently, to op­ti­mi­sa­tion of de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties. To be re­ally ef­fec­tive, there­fore, net-cen­tric­ity must be com­ple­mented, firstly, with cor­re­spond­ing mod­erni­sa­tion and re­struc­tur­ing of fight­ing, sup­port­ing and lo­gis­tic ele­ments, and se­condly, by in­sti­tu­tion of re­forms in the man­age­ment of in­duc­tion, train­ing, scal­ing and ad­min­is­ter­ing mil­i­tary men and ma­te­rial. Sim­ply put in strate­gic par­lance, net-cen­tric­ity is one ‘sys­tem of sys­tems’ that serves a cost-ef­fi­cient, mod­ernised and pro­foundly trans­formed mil­i­tary struc­ture.

Net-cen­tric­ity is a tool of war­fare which is ac­quired by near-seam­less in­te­gra­tion of many ‘net­works’ to en­able the en­tire mil­i­tary force in pros­e­cu­tion of pre­cise and pre­dom­i­nant op­er­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, net­works that per­form the func­tions of trans­mit­ting com­mand, lo­gis­tic, in­tel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and fire con­trol signals through ded­i­cated me­dia, when in­te­grated into one sys­tem and made ac­ces­si­ble to the low­est fight­ing, sup­port­ing and lo­gis­tic ech­e­lons, brings about net-cen­tric­ity of the war ma­chine.

Ar­chi­tec­ture of Net-cen­tric Mil­i­tary Force

Look­ing from top down, be­low the in­te­grated Net-cen­tric War­fare Com­mand Cen­tre (NCWCC), the sec­ond tier of net-cen­tric hi­er­ar­chy con­sists of over two dozen or more of such broad cat­e­gories of net­works which would be func­tional at wartime. Apart from the more vis­i­ble func­tions of com­mand, con­trol, lo­gis­tics, in­tel­li­gence, fire sup­port and the like, the rest of the two dozen odd net­works serve a wider range of func­tions such as sur­veil­lance, elec­tronic war­fare, move­ment con­trol, mine war­fare, nu­clear war­fare, in­ven­tory man­age­ment, etc.

At the third tier, there would be vary­ing num­bers of ‘nets’ which are ded­i­cated chan­nels for ex­change of in­for­ma­tion data among dif­fer­ent units and for­ma­tions that per­form spec­i­fied op­er­a­tional roles in warfight­ing. For ex­am­ple, nets that are ded­i­cated to fire­power would serve var­i­ous units and for­ma­tions which pro­vide fire sup­port from air, field and medium ar­tillery, multi­bar­rel launch­ers and mis­siles, as well as the an­cil­lary ele­ments that serve the pur­pose of ac­qui­si­tion, anal­y­sis, des­ig­na­tion and dam­age as­sess­ment of tar­gets. In cer­tain cases, to ob­vi­ate over­crowd­ing and yet leave open the choice of ac­cess, some of th­ese nets may opt to have an­other ech­e­lon of ex­clu­sive data ex­change be­tween cer­tain in­ti­mate groups—the mis­sile group, for ex­am­ple. When amal­ga­mated with other nets—com­mand and in­tel­li­gence nets for ex­am­ple— into one whole, nets co­a­lesce into a net­work to serve a par­tic­u­lar func­tion of warfight­ing.

As it would be noted, the sec­ond and the third tiers—the net­works and nets re­spec­tively—con­form to the eter­nal mod­els of con­trol­ling bat­tles. There is re­ally noth­ing new to this ar­chi­tec­ture. What re­ally makes dif­fer­ence in the con­tem­po­rary era is that in­put col­lec­tion, pro­cess­ing and trans­fer func­tions are ex­e­cuted faster, in com­pre­hen­sive de­tails and with near-per­fect ac­cu­racy, to be de­liv­ered in near-real time across a much wider base of force-ele­ments.

The pre­ced­ing dis­cus­sion may give an im­pres­sion that net-cen­tric­ity is all about trans­fer of data signals of var­i­ous op­er­a­tional con­tent through a mix of state-of-theart elec­tronic and elec­tro­mag­netic me­dia. But that is only par­tially true. Apart from high ca­pac­ity, high speed and wider con­nec­tiv­ity through ver­ti­cal as well as hor­i­zon­tal me­dia, the cause of net-cen­tric­ity must be served by equally im­por­tant ‘as­sets’ of digi­tised data­bank, col­lec­tor sen­sors, data con­vert­ers, in­tel­li­gent com­pu­ta­tion and in­put fil­ters, all man­aged by cadres of tac­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ists, and reg­u­lated by log­i­cal pro­to­cols and pro­ce­dures. Each of th­ese as­sets have their own at­tributes and there­fore have to be specif­i­cally de­signed, des­ig­nated, au­then­ti­cated and fi­nally con­strued, for a net-cen­tric force to have good prospects of get­ting bet­ter of an ad­ver­sary in the field of bat­tle.

We may there­fore delve into the nu­ances of or­gan­is­ing the afore­men­tioned as­sets.


Digi­ti­sa­tion is an im­per­a­tive for the sys­tem of net-cen­tric­ity to pro­ceed be­yond the draw­ing board. It is a process of record­ing in­put signals in elec­tron­i­cally digi­tised for­mat from two cat­e­gories of sources. Such data lends it­self to math­e­mat­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tions and re­for­mat­ting, ac­cord­ing to the mil­i­tary com­man­der’s choice. It is there­fore fun­da­men­tal to the con­duct of war­fare by means of com­mand, con­trol, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­puter, in­tel­li­gence, in­te­gra­tion, sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance (C4I2SR) sys­tems.

To elab­o­rate fur­ther, one cat­e­gory of in­puts in­volves con­ver­sion of ba­sic at­tributes per­tain­ing to the ter­rain, weapon, equip­ment and other war-like as­sets—‘pri­mary’ or ‘ba­sic’ digi­ti­sa­tion, so to say. This ba­sic data is to be com­ple­mented by ‘sec­ondary’ digi­ti­sa­tion, that of the li­braries of tac­ti­cal, tech­ni­cal, man-

The Army’s past naivety had caused it to con­fine the scope of net-cen­tric­ity just to the field of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and some bit of data pro­cess­ing

age­ment and de­ci­sion sup­port in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to each arm and ser­vice, which would have been built up over time. Digi­tised data­bank is thus cre­ated by feed­ing ba­sic as well as arm or ser­vice spe­cific in­for­ma­tion into the sys­tem. Ob­vi­ously, the process of ba­sic as well as sec­ondary digi­ti­sa­tion is an ex­tremely la­bo­ri­ous un­der­tak­ing that re­quires sus­tained en­gage­ment over many years in field work, in or­der to ac­quire, up­date and au­then­ti­cate the items of in­for­ma­tion. Sadly, the In­dian Army’s per­for­mance on build up of the req­ui­site digi­tised data­bank has been rather dis­mal. Over the past two decades, nei­ther has it been able to for­mat the req­ui­site range and depth of pri­mary at­tributes of geospa­tial in­for­ma­tion (GIS), nor has it built up a com­pre­hen­sive range of sec­ondary arm or ser­vice spe­cific in­for­ma­tion bank per­tain­ing to own, al­lied and ad­ver­sar­ial forces.

The sec­ond cat­e­gory of in­puts per­tains to char­ac­ter­is­tics of the tac­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant ob­jects at a point of time. Th­ese have to be recorded in real time from dy­namic sig­na­tures emit­ted by en­emy’s or own ac­tiv­i­ties in the war zone. Record­ing is ex­e­cuted through suit­ably po­si­tioned col­lec­tors or sen­sors of var­i­ous work­ing prin­ci­ples to gain the ad­van­tages of wide cov­er­age, near-per­fect ac­cu­racy, high res­o­lu­tion and real-time trans­fer­abil­ity. Of course, raw sig­na­tures have to be con­verted to a stan­dard for­mat be­fore anal­y­sis. In this in­stance too, limited avail­abil­ity of re­li­able ar­ray of sen­sors has been a re­strain­ing fac­tor upon the advent of true net-cen­tric­ity in the In­dian Army.

Sens­ing Equip­ment

Of ne­ces­sity, net-cen­tric­ity is also con­tin­gent to de­sign, qual­ity and quan­tity of var­i­ous kinds of sen­sors that have to be de­ployed to fo­cus on the in­tended ob­jects of in­for­ma­tion. Lo­ca­tion, move­ment and span of scan of the sen­sors in re­la­tion to the ob­jects of cov­er­age are achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of re­mote elec­tro-me­chan­i­cal and man­ual ar­tic­u­la­tion. Sen­sors col­lect ‘pri­mary’ or ‘raw’ in­put signals from des­ig­nated ob­jects and feed th­ese into a net­work, of which it forms a part. Next, at the con­trol­ling ‘hubs’ of des­ig­nated net­works, raw in­put is sub­ject to au­then­ti­ca­tion, re­for­mat­ting to us­able form, anal­y­sis for pos­si­ble ef­fect, and fil­tra­tion to pre­vent re­dun­dancy or in­for­ma­tion over­load. Fi­nally, the in­for­ma­tion is dis­posed into the net-cen­tric do­main for all con­cerned to har­ness.

Re­gret­tably, in­abil­ity of the na­tion’s de­fence re­search, de­vel­op­ment and in­dus­trial com­plex to pro­duce in­dige­nous and there­fore al­go­rith­mi­cally se­cure and bat­tle­wor­thy sen­sors, has com­bined with our over­look of the bur­den of digi­ti­sa­tion to pre­vent the In­dian Army from pro­ceed­ing be­yond a su­per­fi­cial stage of net-cen­tric­ity.

The Sta­tus of Net-con­nec­tiv­ity

The sit­u­a­tion in favour of net-con­nec­tiv­ity— that is, the ‘me­dia’ of net-cen­tric­ity—is much to be sat­is­fied with, thanks to the Army’s early ex­cur­sion into the field of dig­i­tal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and to a limited ex­tent, data

pro­cess­ing. At the cur­rent stage, the me­dia of net-con­nec­tiv­ity hav­ing been suc­cess­fully tested un­der limited war­like con­di­tions, the Army’s net-cen­tric func­tions have proved to be quite ef­fec­tive in han­dling com­mand and con­trol (C2), tar­get ac­qui­si­tion, fire con­trol, voice com­mu­ni­ca­tions and rou­tine data trans­fer traf­fic. How­ever, to cater to sit­u­a­tions when con­cur­rent net­works — such as wide area sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance net­work, in­tel­li­gence net­work, tar­get ac­qui­si­tion, des­ig­na­tion and en­gage­ment loop, lo­gis­tic net, etc. have to be ac­ti­vated un­der full war­like con­di­tions, the cur­rent sta­tus of net-con­nec­tiv­ity would need to be sub­stan­tially up­graded if it is to in­spire the req­ui­site de­gree of con­fi­dence. Thank­fully, un­like the case of digi­ti­sa­tion and de­ploy­ment of sens­ing equip­ment, de­fence plan­ners have ac­corded suf­fi­cient thrust to this as­pect.

Hav­ing dis­cussed the sta­tus of net-cen­tric­ity in the In­dian Army, we may now turn to seek mea­sures that could take the prom­ise for­ward.

Four Steps to True Net-cen­tric­ity

The Army’s past naivety had caused it to con­fine the scope of net-cen­tric­ity just to the field of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and some bit of data pro­cess­ing. Thus apart from the Corps of Signals, in the rest of the Army, the fun­da­men­tals of net-cen­tric­ity—ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, con­cep­tual de­vel­op­ment, re­struc­tur­ing of the or­gan­i­sa­tional as well as equip­ment pro­file, and fi­nally, field tri­als and ex­er­cises, re­main some­what ten­ta­tively at­tended to. While sig­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work and its re­lated train­ing, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and up­grade are pro­ceed­ing well, re­search and de­vel­op­ment of bat­tle­wor­thy net-cen­tric­ity equip­ment of in­dige­nous al­go­rithm has not kept the right pace. More se­ri­ously, the very foun­da­tion of net-cen­tric­ity, that is, the build up of mil­i­tary GIS— both pri­mary and sec­ondary—re­mains but nascent. As for the nec­es­sary re­vi­sion of the poli­cies and pro­ce­dures of per­son­nel and equip­ment man­age­ment, and even the govern­ment’s rules and reg­u­la­tions, to foster mod­erni­sa­tion, the state is no bet­ter.

Cur­rently, due to in­ad­e­qua­cies of digi­tised data­bank, sens­ing hard­ware, con­trol ‘hubs’ or ef­fec­tive NCWCC and func­tional pro­to­cols, net-cen­tric­ity in the In­dian Army is ef­fec­tive only in patches. Re­sul­tantly, that ca­pa­bil­ity re­mains con­fined to the realm of spec­i­fied op­er­a­tional sit­u­a­tions in which spec­i­fied field for­ma­tions may op­er­ate for limited ob­jec­tives. It may there­fore be in or­der to see as to what might help the Army align it­self for dig­i­tal com­bat bet­ter.

Con­sid­er­ing the stu­pen­dous ef­fort and time that it takes to pre­pare bat­tle­wor­thy digi­tised data­bank, the im­me­di­ate step is to ac­cord top pri­or­ity to build up ba­sic as well as arm and ser­vice spe­cific in­for­ma­tion data- base in digi­tised for­mat. In this, ter­rain GIS— the fun­da­men­tal plank of net-cen­tric­ity— deserves to be ac­corded prime at­ten­tion. Build up of ter­rain, sub­ter­ranean and tro­po­spheric GIS be­ing a highly spe­cialised field, strength­en­ing the Army’s Mil­i­tary Sur­vey (Corps of Engi­neers) units and equip­ping th­ese with full range of where­withal for record­ing of ground, air and in­land hy­dro­graphic sur­vey should be thought of. Most ad­vanced armies have al­ready done so; some have even cre­ated dis­tinct corps of Mil­i­tary Sur­vey.

The sec­ond step would be to shake the in­dige­nous in­dus­try to de­velop a range of fu­tur­is­tic data sens­ing equip­ment, switches, routers, con­vert­ers and the re­lated para­pher­na­lia, each cus­tomised to own con­di­tions and pro­grammed to func­tion with home grown al­go­rithm. Mean­while, suf­fi­cient in­ven­tory of net-cen­tric­ity spe­cific equip­ment to equip two ‘test bed for­ma­tions’ should be ac­quired.

Third, each arm and ser­vice should be set with time­lines to digi­tise the en­tire range of in­for­ma­tion data that might per­tain to their op­er­a­tional role. In this man­ner, over a spec­i­fied time, it would be pos­si­ble to build up a com­pre­hen­sive data­bank that is geared to re­spond to most tac­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal queries.

Fourth, at least two mu­tu­ally com­pet­ing ‘test bed for­ma­tions’, with full com­ple­ment of head­quar­ters and sub­or­di­nate units, should be con­sti­tuted to ap­ply the the­o­ries of net-cen­tric­ity and for­malise ap­pro­pri­ate func­tional pro­to­cols and prac­tices. Th­ese could be struc­tured in the man­ner of stan­dard ‘bri­gades’, but staffed and equipped in con­form­ity to mod­ern re­quire­ments. Ded­i­cated con­nec­tiv­ity high­way and well­trained staff should be specif­i­cally as­signed to th­ese for­ma­tions, for them to en­gage in ex­per­i­ment­ing with net-cen­tric­ity to start with, then gen­er­ate in­ter­est in it, and fol­low up by ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and tri­als.

Net-cen­tric­ity as Harbinger of Mod­erni­sa­tion

We are aware that net-cen­tric­ity calls for sweep­ing re­vi­sions in the man­ner of en­gag­ing in war­fare. As a corol­lary, it re­quires re­struc­tur­ing of the fight­ing, sup­port­ing and lo­gis­tic ele­ments, which in turn ne­ces­si­tates ap­pli­ca­tion of across-the-board re­forms in the man­age­ment of the mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tion. Th­ese re­forms have to cover the as­pects of in­duc­tion, train­ing, scal­ing and ad­min­is­ter­ing mil­i­tary men and ma­te­rial, so as to en­able the en­tire warfight­ing ma­chine to re­main up­front with the ex­ten­sive range and scorch­ing pace of tac­ti­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments.

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