Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Sys­tem Pro­gramme of In­dian Army

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd) ]

The fact that mod­erni­sa­tion of our armed forces has been grossly ne­glected over the past decade has be­come pub­lic knowl­edge and has been a hot topic of de­bate. But what is not much known that the worst dam­age has been done in stonewalling mod­erni­sa­tion of the cut­ting-edge of the army where the con­flict will mostly oc­cur es­pe­cially with wan­ing of con­ven­tional con­flicts. This does not only in­clude state-of-the-art weapons – fire­power, night fight­ing, mo­bil­ity and sur­viv­abil­ity but also net­work-cen­tric war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties, so es­sen­tial in mod­ern­day con­flict. In this con­text the army’s Bat­tle­field Surveil­lance Sys­tem (BSS), Bat­tle­field Man­age­ment Sys­tem (BMS), Com­mand In­for­ma­tion and Decision Support Sys­tem (CIDSS) in par­tic­u­lar, part of the Tac­ti­cal Com­mand, Con­trol, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion (C3I) Sys­tem and the Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Sys­tem (TCS) have been pro­gress­ing at snail’s pace.

The ex­ist­ing plan Army Ra­dio En­gi­neer­ing Net­work (AREN) sys­tem was re­viewed in 1996 and planned to roll for­ward and keep pace with of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions in the plains. But this sys­tem has been in ser­vice for almost three decades and is based on out­dated and bulky tech­nolo­gies like sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion ra­dio re­lay hubs. In re­cent years, some mod­ern fre­quency-hop­ping ra­dio sets with in­te­gral en­cryp­tion de­vices have been in­tro­duced into ser­vice but net­worked com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which form the back­bone of an ef­fec­tive com­mand and con­trol sys­tem, need sub­stan­tial upgra­da­tion. More re­cently, the Tata Con­sul­tancy Ser­vices (TCS) has been as­sist­ing the army to re­place its legacy mes­sag­ing sys­tem with an au­to­mated mes­sag­ing sys­tem; a mes­sag­ing sys­tem that re­lays se­cured in­for­ma­tion from one user to another, us­ing the con­cept of mo­bile nodes which can be de­ployed in far-flung lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing in dis­as­ter re­lief sit­u­a­tions with highly se­cure sys­tem hav­ing mul­ti­ple lev­els of se­cu­rity in­cor­po­rat­ing FORTIORA Suite of se­cu­rity prod­ucts. But this again is a small part of up­grad­ing net­worked com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

So, the TCS was born out of re­al­i­sa­tion that AREN had to be re­placed and an up­grade would not be suf­fi­cient, as was en­vis­aged ear­lier es­pe­cially since legacy ra­dio sys­tems were not de­signed to con­nect to broad-reach­ing IP-based net­works. In­ter­est­ingly in 2005, when Pak­istan pur­chased RF-5800H-MP Har­ris ra­dios at a cost of $76 mil­lion, they al­ready had state-of-the-art TCS equip­ment. In case of our army, iron­i­cally, the TCS had been ap­proved thrice by De­fence Min­is­ters in the past and should have been fielded in the Army in year 2000 but ev­ery time the whole case was worked afresh after clos­ing the pre­vi­ous case file – an ex­treme in red tapeism and lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to vi­tal is­sues. This also ad­versely af­fected tri­als of in­for­ma­tion sys­tems be­ing in­tro­duced into the army de­spite hav­ing a com­plete Corps nom­i­nated as the test bed for­ma­tion. As the al­ter­na­tive to the sur­ren­dered 3G spec­trum by the mil­i­tary, the new op­ti­cal fi­bre cable (OFC) net­work be­ing laid will pro­vide mod­ern land­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions in peace sta­tions and to limited ex­tent in the tac­ti­cal bat­tle area (TBA). How­ever, the crit­i­cal void is in sup­port­ing the Tac C3I Sys­tem re­mained, all of which re­quire wide-band data ca­pa­bil­i­ties to fa­cil­i­tate re­al­time trans­mis­sion of images and bat­tle­field video while on the move all the way down to the cut­ting-edge in­clud­ing in­fantry bat­tal­ions, ar­moured and ar­tillery reg­i­ments. The In­dian Army has a com­plete Corps nom­i­nated as test bed but none of the Op­er­a­tional In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems (OIS) un­der de­vel­op­ment and al­ready fielded could be tested as re­quired at full Corps level. This was be­cause of lack of the TCS. Trun­cated test bed for in­for­ma­tion sys­tems im­plies avoid­able prob­lems com­ing up at field­ing and equip­ping stage that could have been cor­rected in the test bed stage it­self. Con­cur­rent to this are avoid­able ad­di­tional costs ac­cru­ing through re­quired im­me­di­ately post field­ing th­ese sys­tems.

Re­quests for in­for­ma­tion (RFI) were floated for a TCS for of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions and a BMS for com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the tac­ti­cal level in de­fen­sive op­er­a­tions a few years ago, but since then the ac­qui­si­tion process has me­an­dered con­tin­u­ously and this has re­sulted in pro­longed de­lays in in­tro­duc­ing both th­ese sys­tems into ser­vice. The BMS is to be in­te­grated with the Army Static Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (AS­CON) sys­tem. AS­CON is the back­bone com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work of the army. AS­CON pro­vides voice and data links be­tween static head­quar­ters and those in peace-time lo­ca­tions. It is ex­pected to be of mod­u­lar de­sign so that it can be up­graded as bet­ter tech­nol­ogy be­comes avail­able. The BMS is meant for com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the bat­tal­ion/reg­i­ment head­quar­ters for­ward to the sub-units and sol­diers. It will en­able the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer to en­hance his sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and com­mand his bat­tal­ion through a se­cure com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work with built-in re­dun­dancy.

BMS will in­te­grate all surveil­lance re­sources avail­able at the bat­tal­ion or reg­i­ment level, in­clud­ing from lo­cally-launched UAVs and ground sen­sors. It will also pro­vide the ac­cu­rate lo­ca­tion of all the troops and key weapons plat­forms as well as the lo­ca­tion of en­emy troops and ter­rain anal­y­sis. BMS will au­to­mat­i­cally re­ceive and trans­mit data, voice and images from mul­ti­ple sources above the bat­tal­ion/reg­i­ment level, simultaneously pro­vid­ing ju­nior com­man­ders on the bat­tle­field all rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion that has been re­ceived from the BSS. The sys­tem will be based on net ra­diocum-hand-held com­put­ers.

The TCS, which is meant for of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions, is to have a new gen­er­a­tion meshed net­work ex­ploit­ing the growth in mi­cro­pro­ces­sor, ra­dio, mo­bil­ity and satel­lites; based on light-weight high mo­bil­ity ve­hi­cles which will form highly mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion nodes con­nected as a grid; largely based on tested com­mer­cial off the shelf (COTS) tech­nolo­gies; high band­width with voice, video and data; high ca­pac­ity point-to-point ra­dio back­bone with mul­ti­ple re­dun­dan­cies; high ca­pac­ity point to mul­ti­point wire­less ac­cess at the user end; ro­bust and sur­viv­able trunk and ac­cess ra­dios; re­dun­dancy and scal­a­bil­ity based on satel­lites; in­built pro­tec­tion against cy­ber and elec­tronic at­tacks us­ing fire­walls and fre­quency hop­ping spread spec­trum tech­niques; en­cryp­tion and multi-level net­work se­cu­rity; real-time man­age­ment of spec­trum; in­te­gra­tion with legacy sys­tems, strate­gic net­works, na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems; ef­fec­tive in­ter­op­er­abil­ity within the Army and other ser­vices dur­ing joint op­er­a­tions; light­weight user ter­mi­nals; and fi­nally ef­fec­tive in­te­gra­tion of all OIS.

Since 2002, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) has been vac­il­lat­ing on cat­e­gori­sa­tion of the TCS project un­der ‘Make (High-Tech Sys­tems)’ and ‘Make (Strate­gic, Com­plex and Se­cu­rity Sen­si­tive Sys­tems)’, since pri­vate sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion is al­lowed in the for­mer cat­e­gory and not lat­ter, and clas­si­fy­ing it as for­mer cat­e­gory was at­trib­uted to the se­crecy of the ‘fre­quency hop­ping al­go­rithm’ con­tained in a tiny mi­crochip. The fre­quency hop­ping al­go­rithm pro­vides anti-jam­ming and elec­tronic coun­ter­mea­sures (ECM) func­tion­al­ity. Tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions

De­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of the TCS will pro­vide a ro­bust, snoop proof, mo­bile cel­lu­lar net­work for the In­dian Army’s voice and data com­mu­ni­ca­tions dur­ing a bat­tle

net­works need to be multi-hop wire­less net­works in which switches and end­points are mo­bile nodes. In a tac­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment, sys­tem per­for­mance de­graded when switch­ing nodes or com­mu­ni­ca­tion links fail to op­er­ate, nar­row band elec­tronic jam­ming is wide­spread and band­width is at pre­mium. Fast and adap­tive al­go­rithms for per­for­mance anal­y­sis are de­sir­able for op­ti­mis­ing the net­work. Fur­ther, tac­ti­cal net­works com­monly use pre-emp­tive al­go­rithms to achieve low block­ing prob­a­bil­i­ties for high-pri­or­ity con­nec­tions when the loss of equip­ment or elec­tronic war­fare in the bat­tle­field is con­sid­er­able. Un­der in­favourable con­di­tions, Adap­tive Chan­nel Hop­ping (ACH) al­go­rithm lets sen­sors switch to a new op­er­at­ing chan­nel/ ACH re­duces the chan­nel scan­ning and se­lec­tion la­tency by or­der­ing avail­able chan­nels us­ing link qual­ity in­di­ca­tor mea­sure­ments and math­e­mat­i­cal weights. Plenty of re­search on the hop­ping al­go­rithms is be­ing done in­ter­na­tion­ally in the pub­lic do­main and de­tails such as con­fig­ur­ing the pro­gramme are coun­try spe­cific.

How­ever, the Bharat Elec­tron­ics Ltd (BEL) and a con­sor­tium of L&T, Tata Power SED and HCL In­fosys Ltd have been even­tu­ally se­lected by the gov­ern­ment. This is the first project un­der the ‘Buy In­dian, Make In­dian’ clause in­tro­duced in the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP). The gov­ern­ment will pay 80 per cent of the de­vel­op­ment cost while 20 per cent will be funded by the in­dus­try. For TCS, both the se­lected par­ties will make the pro­to­type sys­tem and the best bid­der will then ex­e­cute the whole project. The TCS is vi­tal for op­er­a­tional preparedness and force mul­ti­pli­ca­tion en­deav­our. De­ci­sive vic­tory in fu­ture con­flicts will be dif­fi­cult to achieve with­out ro­bust and sur­viv­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions, both in the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal do­main. We should learn from the TCS in for­eign mil­i­taries as to how they have tack­led the chal­lenges of spec­trum, band­width, laws of physics, etc. Bri­tish Win-T pro­gramme, de­vel­oped by BAE Sys­tems, Canada’s Tac- tical Com­mand and Con­trol, and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Sys­tem (TCCCS) de­vel­oped by CDC Sys­tems of UK, Amer­ica’s JTRS and Con­tact pro­gramme of France, all have lessons for us in­clud­ing how th­ese coun­tries have op­ti­mised par­tic­i­pa­tion and con­tri­bu­tion of pri­vate sec­tor, use of com­mer­cial off the shelf, time bound clo­sure of pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures keep­ing in mind crit­i­cal­ity of the project and elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing, and IT de­liv­ery self-suf­fi­ciency.

The TCS is In­dia’s sec­ond project un­der the make pro­ce­dure, after the Fu­ture In­fantry Com­bat Ve­hi­cle (FICV) de­vel­op­ment project but ac­cord­ing to MoD sources, FICV is a stand-alone ar­moured ve­hi­cle in con­trast to which the TCS is the net­work-cen­tric back­bone that con­nects cru­cial sys­tems in the elec­tronic bat­tle­field; con­nect­ing sen­sors, shoot­ers, decision sys­tems and the com­mand and con­trol set up. There­fore, the TCS to­gether with the Tac C3I are the very nerve-cen­tre of the TBA as fu­ture bat­tles will take place con­cur­rently in the three do­mains of in­for­ma­tion, phys­i­cal and the cog­ni­tive. The strate­gic value of in­for­ma­tion can hardly be op­ti­mised with­out ef­fi­cient bat­tle­field man­age­ment, in which TCS plays a vi­tal role. The bat­tle­field of to­mor­row re­quires tra­verse com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Not only is in­ter­op­er­abil­ity im­per­a­tive in­tra-ser­vice and in­ter-ser­vice in the mil­i­tary, it is re­quired across the en­tire se­cu­rity sec­tor since un­con­ven­tional war­fare and asym­met­ric threats are bor­der­less in con­trast to clas­si­cal con­ven­tional bat­tle­fields. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems need to meet multi-mis­sion re­quire­ments, func­tion­ing through cy­ber and elec­tronic war­fare en­vi­ron­ment while en­gaged in bat­tle. De­vel­op­ment of soft­ware de­fined ra­dios and cog­ni­tive ra­dios are op­er­a­tional break­throughs.

There is in­creas­ing over­lap of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­for­ma­tion sys­tems in mil­i­taries across the world, op­ti­mis­ing In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy (ICT). Com­mand, Con­trol, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Com­put­ers, In­for­ma­tion and In­tel­li­gence, Surveil­lance and Re­con­nais­sance (C4I2SR) Sys­tem pro­vides great op­er­a­tional ad­van­tage for the de­fence es­tab­lish­ment; force mul­ti­plier for com­man­ders at all lev­els. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­for­ma­tion and their confluence are vi­tal for our mil­i­tary given present and fu­ture con­flict sce­nar­ios. In the joint­man­ship par­a­digm our mil­i­tary has only taken some nascent steps. Ac­tu­ally, we are decades away from in­te­gra­tion in its true form and spirit. We need to take mea­sures from the ex­ist­ing state of ‘co­op­er­a­tive func­tion­ing’ and ‘patchy joint­ness’ to ‘de-con­flicted op­er­a­tions’, ad­vanc­ing to ‘joint’ and fi­nally ‘in­te­grated op­er­a­tions’. Un­less vi­tal steps as in­di­cated above are taken, shed­ding the bag­gage of legacy think­ing, joint­man­ship will be elu­sive and our goal of achiev­ing NCW ca­pa­bil­i­ties will re­main utopian. MoD and the mil­i­tary need to take holis­tic stock and act. We must speed­ily es­tab­lish a re­li­able and ro­bust ICT net­work which al­lows in­ter­op­er­abil­ity of the three ser­vices within them­selves, and with the req­ui­site gov­ern­ment agen­cies span­ning the strate­gic, op­er­a­tional and tac­ti­cal do­mains. De­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of the TCS, which will pro­vide a ro­bust, snoop proof, mo­bile cel­lu­lar net­work for the In­dian Army’s voice and data com­mu­ni­ca­tions dur­ing bat­tle will likely cost up­wards of ` 15,000 crore.

The new gov­ern­ment has demon­strated the will to ad­dress the mod­erni­sa­tion of armed forces on pri­or­ity. The var­i­ous projects sanc­tioned in­clude ded­i­cated army com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mo­bile sys­tems for three Corps de­ployed along the line of ac­tual con­trol (LAC) fac­ing China at a cost of ` 900 crore. This is over and above the TCS. The Army’s mod­erni­sa­tion plan has been se­ri­ously af­fected by the void of the TCS. This must be de­vel­oped and fielded at the ear­li­est keep­ing in mind its com­pat­i­bil­ity with the BMS, crit­i­cal­ity, time­lines, ca­pa­bil­ity to de­liver and com­plex­ity of sen­sors and re­quire­ment of mul­ti­ple nodes in de­liv­er­ing the trin­ity of voice, data and video speed­ily and se­curely. The Prime Min­is­ter’s push for in­di­geni­sa­tion and ab­sorb­ing for­eign tech­nol­ogy should help speed up the TCS as well.

Mo­bile In­te­grated Net­work Ter­mi­nal

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