Tactical Communication System for Indian Army
Indian Army’s Tactical Communication System (TCS), which should have been fielded in year 2000, seems to be finally getting ready to kick-start early next year; after 17 years. In 1996, the existing Plan Army Radio Engineering Network (AREN) system, earlier designed as the backbone of army’s communication that was designed to roll forward, came up for urgent review having become outdated. 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. The extraordinary delay of over a decade-and-a-half in TCS was on account of excessive ‘red tape’ befitting a case study, in that the TCS had been approved thrice by the Defence Ministers but every time the whole case was worked afresh after closing the previous case file – an extreme in red tape-ism and lackadaisical approach to vital issues.
Since 2002, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had 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 networks need to be multi-hop wire-
less networks in which switches and end points 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 unfavourable 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.
In year 2014 there was news about Tata Consultancy Services having assisted the Indian Army 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 is only a small part of upgrading networked communications, which form the backbone of an effec- tive command and control system though some modern frequency hopping radio sets with integral encryption have been introduced into service in recent years. Also, 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, this by no means compensates for the TCS being static communications.
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 Tactical Command, Control and Communications Systems (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 (COTS), time bound closure of procurement procedures keeping in mind criticality of the project and electronics manufacturing, and IT delivery self-sufficiency.
As per recent media reports quoting a senior MoD official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the government is all set to award a project under the ‘Make in India’ category for a TCS for the army
Decisive victory in future conflicts will be difficult to achieve without robust and survivable communications, both in the strategic and tactical domain
‘early next year’. Under the programme, two indigenous domestic development agency (DA) consortiums will be awarded contracts to build one TCS prototype each at a cost of $150 million in 18 months. The government will provide 80 per cent of the funding for the prototype developments. MoD has reportedly shortlisted the DPSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), and private sector firm Larsen & Toubro (L&T) is set to team with Tata Power SED and HCL Technologies to build a TCS prototype. Each TCS prototype will include a transmission system; a field wireless system based on 4G long-term evaluation technology; routing and switching systems; multiple mobile-platform engineering systems; a network management system; and a security subsystem. The Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) is reportedly developing a homemade security solution albeit CAIR does not have the capacity to develop security solutions itself and will probably outsourcing the same to laboratories of a DPSU, as has been the practice in the past.
The Indian Army plans to induct seven TCS systems for plains and desert areas at a cost of $4 billion over the next 10 years. Once the two prototypes are handed over to the Indian Army, they will undergo technical evaluation, be tested on the ground and then shortlisted for production. Once a plain- and desert-friendly TCS is inducted, the army will place an additional order of seven mountain-friendly TCS systems. According to an army official, the two selected DAs will need to tie up with overseas defence companies to build Indian Army-specific 100 Mbps (megabits per second) transmission systems, in addition to other critical systems, while the rest of the systems they can build on their own. Also the two DAs must be able to upgrade the fast-changing military communication technologies for the TCS.
Since the TCS will be a dedicated strategic project, the army wants to eventually sanitise the technologies built into the prototype and the final system. It is not clear to the DAs how the army will sanitise each of the technologies, either homegrown or imported, that will be incorporated in the TCS prototypes. But such sanitisation by the army will lead to direct interference in the developed TCS prototype. This may create problems especially where technologies are being imported. DAs will also have to get undertakings from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for unrestricted use of the imported technologies. Additionally, the MoD wants to retain the intellectual property rights of the systems, but the private sector DA is demanding that it should be vested. Then there is also the grudge by private sector DAs of government granting special favour to BEL in developing the prototype for TCS; MoD has waived off the import duty in the case of BEL, but the privatesector DA has been asked to pay import duty on the products that they import for the TCS prototype, which the latter consider highly unfair.
When exactly the TCS will get kick-started ‘early next year’ is anybody’s guess. Going by the lackadaisical manner in which critical voids like TCS are handled by MoD it is difficult to guess whether fielding of the TCS in the army will take another 15 or 20 or 25 year. There appears to be no urgency even knowing that 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 fact our abovementioned ‘recent’ media report about MoD choosing two DAs and likely to award the TCS as ‘Make in India’ project for developing TCS prototypes is exact duplication of what had been reported more than a year back. Even then it had been reported that: BEL and the consortium of L&T, Tata Power SED and HCL had reportedly been selected by the government for developing the prototype of the
TCS; the government will pay 80 per cent of the development cost while 20 per cent will be funded by the industry, and for TCS, both the selected parties will make the prototype system and the best bidder will then execute the whole project.
The TCS is to have a new generation meshed network exploiting the growth in microprocessor, radio, mobility and satellites; based on lightweight high mobility vehicles which will form highly mobile communication nodes connected as a grid; largely based on tested 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 Operational Information Systems.
What the bureaucracy in MoD doesn’t appear to realise is that the critical void of the TCS has a adverse effect not only in respect of testing and fielding of other operational information systems in the army but also in supporting the Tactical Command, Control, Communications and Information (Tac C3I) System coming up in the army, particularly in the Battlefield Management System (BMS), Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) and the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS), besides others, all of which require wide-band data capabilities to facilitate real-time transmission of images and battlefield video while on the move all the way down to the cuttingedge 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 operational information systems result in avoidable problems coming up at fielding and equipping stage that could have been corrected in the test bed stage itself. Concurrent are avoidable additional costs accruing through required immediately post-fielding these systems.
The TCS together with the Tac C3I are the very nerve centre of the TBA (Tactical Battlefield Area) 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. 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.
Across the world, there is increasing overlap of communications and information systems with militaries 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 net-centric warfare (NCW) capabilities will remain utopian. Additionally, true synergy between the three service can hardly be achieved without a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), an issue on which the government continues to dither despite establishment of CDS strongly recommended by the Kargil Review Committee and the follow-up Group of Ministers (GoP) headed by then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister L.K. Advani.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has just cleared deals worth over ` 82,000 crore for procurement of 83 Tejas jets and 464 T-90 tanks plus 15 light combat helicopters (LCH) and 15 mini unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which is all very good. But MoD must take a call on vital void of the TCS, delayed over a decade-and-a-half, that seriously affects ground operations. A holistic approach to the military’s equipping has woefully remained in vogue. 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 ` 10,000 crore. If the more than a year old news of the Das for developing the TCS prototype is correct, then logically there is no requirement to grant another 18 months for prototype development when official announcement of selection of Das is made “early next year” unless it is to provide extra time to BEL who in any case may go for ‘cut and paste’. It is no secret that the only operational system fielded in the army, the Artillery Command, Control and Communication System (ACCCS) is over 90 per cent of Elbit of Israel though marketed by BEL. 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 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.
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
LT GENERAL P.C. KATOCH (RETD)
Electronic Warfare Jammer