Tactical Communication Systems
Why a Tactical Communication System (TCS) for the Indian Army approved in principle by two successive Defence Ministers years back was delayed by a decade plus and made forward movement only recently will remain a mystery. After every approval by a Defence Minister, the case was simply shut and a fresh file opened. Heads would have rolled in another country but in the cacophony that is India, everything is doable.
The project was originally scheduled to commence in year 2000 (christened TCS 2000) but never saw the light of the day. Later, this was given the name TCS 2010 but has really started moving forward only from year 2009. The Indian Army actually required a TCS more than two decades back with its requirement increasing exponentially to accommodate existing and future war-fighting concepts that encompass mobility, fast paced manoeuvres and rapid dispersion aside from Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), battlefield transparency, exchange of information, speedy target acquisition and the requirement to make quick decisions.
A flexible threat reaction demands very mobile units which may be spread over a large geographical area. If the forces are to operate under a centralised management and at the same time retain their mobility, heavy demands are put on the communication system. These demands will be in the form of security, survivability, and protection against electronic warfare. A TCS is used within/in direct support of tactical forces.
Since future military tactical communication networks must be highly mobile, survivable and reconfigurable, TCS for the Indian Army must be designed to meet changing tactical situations and varying environmental conditions, provide secure communications (voice, data and video) effectively linking mobile users of all tactical units in field.
TCS is a system that is meant for offensive operations, configured as a mobile system that can leapfrog in sync with rapidly advancing strike operations – covering offensive elements of both the ‘strike’ and ‘pivot’ corps. Important requirements for the radio system are: ESM and ECM resistance; integrated voice and data to the user; performance matching projected user demand (like error detection/ correction, quality, delays); effective use of transmission medium; interoperability; flexibility in deployment; survivability; provision of user mobility (carry options, easy access etc).
The overall network concept in the tactical battle area (TBA) is primarily divided into two main levels – static communications and mobile. The static communication part is being catered for by the Indian Army going full steam with a new optical fibre cable (OFC) network, especially since the military was made to surrender 3G spectrum in big way. Absence of TCS and patchy availability of OFC in TBA has also been adversely affecting trials and fielding of operational information systems even though we have had a full-fledged corps for undertaking field trials. The TCS when fielded with requisite mobile terminals network, will fulfill a long-standing critical operational void of the Indian Army.
With TCS for the Indian Army first announced in 2009, expression of interest (EOI) was sent out to number of domestic IT businesses seeking a consortium to develop an indigenous communications system. Present estimated cost of the TCS of about ` 10,000 crore (approximately $1.8 billion) may go up considerably going by past experience. The system is to be a robust, snoop-proof, mobile, cellular network for the Indian Army’s voice and data communications during battle, allowing integrated communication, from battlefield to command headquarters and include everything from cellular telephones to equipment sensors.
The jinx of namesake private sector participation in defence sector and that too majority ‘through’ The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and PSUs appears to have been broken in the case of the TCS that was classified as a ‘make’ project. In the case of the TCS too there were strong pressures to award the contract outright to the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) but better sense eventually prevailed and Indian Army’s sustained recommendations to treat the DRDO, PSUs and private sector as level playing field were honoured.
Some media reports that there was intense debate among Indian Army officials about going public with the development of the system because of security concerns and it is the Indian Army who wanted BEL to head the project without going to tender were misleading and mischievous. Indian Army’s stand all along has been for opening up indigenous private industry to the defence sector in order to get the best state-of-the-art products but erstwhile government decisions have had other considerations. The Indian Army, in fact, has been wanting the switch from ‘best price’ to ‘best technology’ for a long time but has evoked no government response. By seeking domestic design and manufacture of the system, the government is seeking to better integrate and improve the competitiveness of the private indigenous IT sector into defence production.
Few details of the EOI were released because of security concerns but it stated that “the contribution of the Indian industry in acquiring and developing technologies in critical areas shall be a key criterion in assessment of various proposals.”
The documents were sent to five private companies and three PSUs. These five private companies are Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division, HCL Infosystems, Wipro Technologies, Rolta India and L&T. Tech Mahindra, another major player in indigenous IT sector, failed to qualify as an Indian company because of foreign holdings higher than 26 per cent. Expectations are that indigenous components of the TCS will be at least to the tune of 80 per cent. Sensing the threat from PSUs, three private companies who were given separate invitations to bid – Larsen & Toubro; Tata Power (Strategic Electronics Division); and HCL joined forces (distribution of stakes in the consortium being L&T, 56.67 per cent; Tata Power (SED), 33.33 per cent; and HCL 10 per cent) to bid together. The TCS contract is India’s first “make” contract with considerable financial outlay.
That means, in accordance with the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP), the government would select and fund two vendors, who will each build a prototype of the high-tech TCS system. The government will then select the winner, who will be awarded the contract to build seven TCS for seven corps of the Indian Army. The two developers selected by MoD are BEL and the consortium comprising L&T, Tata Power (SED) and HCL. The TCS will be a fully mobile communications grid, which can be moved anywhere during war providing an army corps a backbone network on which to communicate and transfer large volumes of data.
The exchanges and switches will be installed in high-mobility vehicles, large data like video streaming will be possible and security and ECM measures will be incorporated. The developers have reportedly submitted a detailed project report (DPR) defining every system, sub-system, and capability of the TCS. Development cost of the prototype is likely to around ` 300 crore of which the government would fund 80 per cent. This is a big opportunity for the indigenous private industry to prove their mettle and come up with state-of-theart prototype. If they fail, it would have ramifications for them on other projects like the BMS (battlefield management system) that may have an eventual financial outlay that is 8-10 times the TCS by the time it is fully fielded. SP
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