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.

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