Tactical Communications System Programme of Indian Army
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 But this system has been in service for almost three decades and is based on outdated and bulky technologies like second-generation radio relay hubs.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