Radio communication

For the Indian Army the benchmark for communications appears to have fixated to scenario of the terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 with the basic tools for operations-the Tactical Communications System and the Battlefield Communications System-absent from the network. It is some small consolation that each of the three Services -Army, Navy and Air Force-have their own networks that have reasonable levels of safety incorporated but talk of jointmanship is more fiction than reality.

Jointmanship within the Indian military milieu is an essential component for each element of the defence forces operating together in a hostile environment. It has been drummed into the national psyche that all future operations must coalesce to be able to attain military objectives and national goals. But getting there appears to be a major hurdle.

The government needs to understand the co-relation between the demand for a Chief of Defence Staff and coherence in inter-operability of the armed forces in a wartime situation. The UPA government had gone halfway to conceding the demand by agreeing to the appointment of an acting Chief of Defence Staff but the recent demand apropos the forthcoming Pay Commission for parity in wages with the civil bureaucracy shows that there are other ramifications that need to be addressed.

Early requirements

With the arrival of a satellite for the exclusive use of the Indian Navy it became apparent that there are technical requirements that must be met in any arrangement for jointmanship within a military establishment. That this has not happened over the past decade is cause for grave concern and the new government in its rush to initiate new schemes that will put money in people’s banks should ascertain what needs to be done to bring the Tactical Communications System and the Battlefield Communications System to fruition at an early date.

It is no secret that any communications network has a large segment that is essentially civilian in nature. It is the algorithms and the designated doctrines that operate the system that are designed to prevent unauthorized access to the network irrespective of which source, civil or military the information emanates. It is also a well-known fact that most of the components for computers constructed in India come from China and it requires a great deal of skill to be able to discern if a component has not been boobytrapped with virus that will become activated on command.

It becomes obvious that if it is hardware and software that is required to create the Tactical Communications System and the Battlefield Communications System it is not an additional post in the hierarchy that will deliver the goods but a system of acquisitions of the required materials in the first instance and then bring the manpower and technical expertise to put them all together to form a secure system.

For a nation that prides itself on superior computing skills, the inability to do this over such a long period of time speaks volumes.

That the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy have functional systems of their own and the Army has a standalone system too is reassuring that the chances of penetration by cyber attack can be ascertained and limited.

The problem has been in the inability of those entrusted with the management of the Defence Procurement Policy to determine under which category of the “Make” commandments the requirement can be tackled.

It is learned that things have moved recently to the extent that the contract for the Defence Communications Network has been given to HCL Infosys. It is to be completed in two years i.e. by 2015. It is learned that the HCL Infosys Ltd has created a consortium inclusive of Tata Power SED and Larson and Toubro to coordinate with the Bharat Electronics Ltd. The funding is to be on 80: 20 basis with the government of India footing the larger segment and the private sector companies sharing the smaller portion.

Tactical communication

The arrangement between them is that specifically for the TCS segment the companies will make individual prototypes and the best bidder in terms of cost and technology will be required to handle the whole project. The general indication is that the TCS has been conceptualized to include a new generation meshed network using state-of-the-art developments in microprocessor, radio and satellites in light weight configuration and  high mobility vehicles which will form the  mobile communication nodes connected in grid formation using proven completely off the shelf technologies to avoid reinventing the wheel.  

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 are other prerequisites.

Other qualitative staff requirements of the three Services are that the system should be network of  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 like the extant satellite communications and the troposcatter system that has proven its worth during the Kargil conflict. The most basic requirement, however, is that there should be effective interoperability within the Army and other Services during joint operations.

This may not happen if the three Services and Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) develop the software individually, there will be attendant problems of interoperability. If the vital interconnect is missing the DCN actually will be hollow hardware without the connected software.

Much of all this has a deep connect with the Future Indian Soldier As A System (F-INSAS) who is supposed to be well connected at every echelon and fully “situation aware”. The gadgetry on his helmet, his radio and GPS etc will be designed for interoperability within the army milieu.

The current threat perception is that the Chinese will first decide to destroy the Indian satellite on which F-INSAS is based and thus render the Indian soldier hors de combat at the very early stage of conflict. Thus too much dependence on that one source for communication networking could be counterproductive. It has been suggested that there should be greater terrestrial connectivity that caters to the known (during Kargil operations) phenomenon of attenuation of signal strength at different points on a mountain slope and it should provide a secondary layer of connectivity for the command and control echelon.

Currently the Army is involved in trying to make best use of what remains within the defence sphere after the electromagnetic spectrum was truncated to allow greater civilian usage under the 3G program. The Indian Army is working on what it calls the Network for Spectrum (NFS).  It has been planned as an exclusively optical fibre based ‘Nationwide Communication Network’ for Defence Services.

This will be a countrywide secure, multi service and multi protocol converged next generation network based on exclusive and dedicated tri-Services optical transport backbone.