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.
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.