Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Sys­tem for In­dian Army

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - The writer is for­mer Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems, 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

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