Filling the capability void
[ By Lt General (Retd) P.C. Katoch ]
The manner in which the US raid was conducted for killing of Osama bin Laden symbolises what present-day military operations today are all about. The world witnessed that the actual operation was controlled from an operations room thousands of kilometres away and President Barack Obama and his national security team watched the entire operation live via satellite; an example of battlefield integration as well as battlefield transparency flashed by news channels throughout the world.
Pictures of bin Laden were uploaded to analysts in the US for confirmation of identity and for furthering the operation once it was confirmed that bin Laden had indeed been killed though his body was identified by one of his wives. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was able to confirm this after feeding the photograph to a facial recognition programme and by matching DNA with Osama bin Laden’s sister who had died two years earlier. Meanwhile, photographs of destruction of electronic and sensitive parts of the MH60M Black Hawk helicopter replete with stealth technology that had stalled were also uploaded. Having received due confirmation, SEAL Team 6 continued to wind up this highly successful mission. It was also apparent that the US had catered for the eventuality of any reaction by the Pakistani military – both on ground and in air. This again required battlefield integration of very high degree.
Post this US raid, there were many a debate in India whether Indian Army has similar capabilities for such an operation. The fact is that not only is our battlefield surveillance still functioning on ad hoc basis, we lack an integration tool supporting every level of military users ranging from individual soldier to Battalion Group and Combat Group Commander in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA), which can provide in near real-time an appropriate, common and comprehensive tactical picture by integration of inputs from all elements of the battle group.
What is essentially required at these levels are battlefield transparency through situational awareness and a common operating picture (COP) to pick up the enemy much before he picks you up, see the target and direct fire in quick time using the best weaponry available, as also monitor the after effects. Situational awareness existing in the Indian Army is presently on ad hoc basis whereas the requirement is of an integrated network system. Future military operations will be combined and joint comprising all arms and inter-service elements. These operations will require units and subunits of other arms to operate subordinated or in cooperation with each other. Also, successful execution of fast moving operations will require an accelerated decision-action cycle and an ability to conduct operations simultaneously within an all arms group. The key to success will lie in effective command and control across the force. Therefore, commanders at all levels, more so at the cutting-edge level, require pertinent information in order to enhance their decision-making and command capability. Harnessing information technology here will act as a force multiplier to enhance operational effectiveness of commanders and troops at all levels by enabling exchange, filtering and processing of ever increasing amounts of digital information currently available but not integrated.
Most foreign armies, including those that were deployed in operations abroad, have situational awareness packages with the essential integration tool of various types — a battlefield management system (BMS). We require a BMS customised to the Indian Army requirements. The understanding of BMS in militaries of foreign armies covers the entire military structure from apex to foot soldier.
In the Indian Army, while plans for operationalising network-centricity were initiated, the cutting edge (battalion, regiment and below) was left out — now being rectified by procuring a BMS, which will be an important facet of capability building in the Army. Currently, the expression of interest (EoI) is to be issued to the industry. Thereafter, it should be possible to shortlist two developing agencies by March 2014. Subsequently, design phase could commence by July 2014, limited prototype tested in laboratory by December 2015 and finally, prototypes developed and fielded for user evaluation by December 2016 (instead of earlier schedule of 2012). The cascading effect has already delayed completion of Phase 2 (Equipping) from initial plan of 2017 to 2021 and Phase 3 (Change Management and Upgradation of System) from 2022 to 2026 as per current status. This schedule is possible only if there are no hurdles. The BMS is a finance intensive project and exact financial implication can only be holistically worked out at the end of Phase 1. The approximate cost of Phase 1 of the system was earlier estimated to be around ` 350 crore, which may now go up exponentially. The overall project of fielding the BMS in complete Army may jump from initial estimates of some ` 23,000 crore to perhaps ` 75,000-85,000 crore or even more.