Tactical Communication System—An update
The communications in the tactical battle area is provided by static and mobile communications. Static communications are being developed through a new optical fibre cable network being laid as an alternative to the 3G spectrum surrendered by the armed forces. This will be linked with Army Static Communications (ASCON) system through a Battle Management System (BMS). ASCON provides voice and data links between static headquarters and those in peacetime locations. It is expected to be of modular design so that it can be upgraded when required. BMS is meant for communications from the battalion headquarters forward to the companies and platoons.
Army Radio Engineering Network (AREN) was the backbone mobile communications of the Indian Army since 1987 when it was first fielded during exercise Brass Stack. Later on during a major exercise where Indian Army’s all strike corps were launched, it was felt that with the rapid advancements in communication and information technology, there was a need to field a successor to AREN. Offensive operations are spread over a large geographical area with rapidly changing contours of a mobile battle. Thus the communications supporting it has to be dedicated, reliable, secure, mobile and capable of quickly adapting to multiple threat contingencies. However mobile communications is still under consideration/development. Since the gestation period to launch a new defence system is unduly long in India thus the blueprint for a future communication for the mobile and offensive operations of Indian Army was laid as early as 2000 through a de novo approach of Tactical Communication System (TCS).
Army tactical networks need to be mobile, flexible, versatile and reliable. It is also required to communicate with legacy and other Internet protocol based systems. Frequency hopping is an essential element for preventing jamming and affecting electronic counter-measures. In a tactical system, mobility is essential for switches and end points to enable multi-hopping radio network. Their algorithms have to be adaptive and fast for optimising the network. During loss of communication equipment due to enemy action or jamming, Adaptive Channel Hopping (ACH) algorithm enable networks to reconnect themselves thus preventing loss of communications during critical phases of the battle. Thus extensive search is going on in the field of ACH algorithm. The complexity of TCS is due to the diversity of the sensors, type of nodes required to link from the soldier upwards to headquarters at various levels, and the sheer numbers required. For example, radio sets required at tactical level range from HF (3-30 MHz), VHF, (30-300 MHz) and UHF (300-3,000 MHz). Other key programmes like F-INSAS also depend on the early and successful implementation of TCS. It is experienced that participation of private sector and use of commercial off the shelf technology leverages new systems to be fielded in a time bound manner.
Approach for Implementation
The TCS project went through many twists and turns, overseen by three Defence Ministers. TCS2000 became TCS-2010 so that it appeared to be a recent projection. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had a genuine problem as private companies can participate in Make (High-Tech Systems) category but not in Make (Strategic, Complex and Security Sensitive Systems). Earlier the reason to categorise the project as Make (Strategic, Complex and Security Sensitive Systems) was due to the secrecy of the ‘frequency hopping algorithm’. TCS was also India’s first ‘make’ big-ticket contract (a shade less than $2 billion which will go up if the project is delayed any further). Finally MoD decided to follow a similar approach to the US by giving the development contract to two consortiums namely one led by PSU Bharat Electronics Limited and the other joint consortium of Larsen & Toubro (56.67 per cent), Tata Power (Strategic Electronics Division 33.33 per cent) and HCL (10 per cent). It also decided to fund 80 per cent of the development cost (estimated at ` 300 crore) with 20 per cent funded by the respective companies. Both the consortiums will field one system each for comparative trials. MoD will then select the better system and that consortium will be awarded the contract to build seven systems to be fielded by seven corps. BEL is supported by the Defence Research and Development Organisation for certain technologies like the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics is developing indigenous security solutions which are essential in such a system. Then there is the requirement of Micro-electromechanical Systems which are necessary to be addressed as they effect issues of weight and power requirement for components. It is reported that the DPSU and the private companies have submitted a detailed project report (DPR) which defines every system, subsystem, and capability of the TCS. This is an essential document to guide and evaluate the final product.
Concerns of the Private Companies
The consortium of private companies has conveyed their concerns to the MoD. One of the major one is regarding the intellectual property rights which the MoD wants to retain as it is funding 80 per cent of the development but the companies wants it to be vested which can imply that it is fully and unconditionally guaranteed as their legal right. The Army (Corps of Signals) also wants to sanitise the technologies built into the TCS due to the sensitivity of the system as it is a dedicated strategic project but the companies feel that the army will interfere with the development of the system at every stage.
Due to the long gestation period, the question crops up as to whether it will be ever fielded and the answer is a big ‘yes’. The other question is ‘when’, which even the MoD cannot answer. Compare this with the development of tactical radio sets in other countries. US Army has its Joint Tactical Radio System ( JTRS) which is a family of radios ranging from lowcost terminals with limited waveform support to multiband, multi-mode, multiple channel radios supporting advanced narrowband and wideband waveform capabilities. The radio sets can be integrated with computer networking features and conform to open physical and software architectures. The JTRC family of radios cover an operating spectrum from 2 to 2,000 MHz, and would be capable of transmitting voice, video and data. They are to resume full rate production by Thales and General Dynamics Mission Systems during 2017. Even Pakistan has acquired from Harris the export version of the Harris’ Falcon II AN/PRC-150 in 2005 for $76 million and in 2007 for $68 million. These sets fit into the network-centric communications for superior command and control, are battle-proven for secure, reliable mission-critical voice, data and video. Both these countries would have had the network in place to complete the system. India has to catch up fast and the earlier it does better it will be.
Mobile Integrated Network Terminal
LT GENERAL NARESH CHAND (RETD)