The Indian Army has been slow in catching up with the latest developments in network-centric warfare

General V K Singh, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) said on Army Day on January 15, 2012, that his task is to transform the 1.13 million strong army into an “agile, lethal and networked force.” During an earlier interview, while speaking about modernisation of the army, he had said, “The primary areas that are being addressed are aimed at greater battlefield transparency, increasing the lethality and precision of firepower capabilities, overcoming night blindness and achieving network centricity.” All of this is in the context of preparing to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict – from sub-conventional to conventional state-on-state warfare under a nuclear overhang – in positional, attritional, manoeuvre, asymmetric and virtual warfare.
The armed forces across the world readily accepted Admiral William Owens’ concept of following a “system of systems” approach (Lifting the Fog of War, 1995). This led to the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which is nothing but the application of information technology to warfare to increase the prospects of eliminating the “fog and friction of war” – a concept made famous by Carl von Clausewitz. Admiral Owens had written: "In a future conflict," says Owens, "an Army corps commander in his field headquarters will have instant access to a live, three-dimensional image of the entire battlefield displayed on a computer screen, an image generated by a network of sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, reconnaissance aircraft, and special operations soldiers on the ground. The commander will know the precise location and activity of enemy units--even those attempting to cloak their movements by operating at night, in poor weather, or hiding behind mountains or under trees." 
The RMA’s real significance in modern warfare emerged when, on November 5, 2002, a missile launched from a Predator drone killed several terrorists in a moving vehicle in Yemen. The operation was controlled from the US Central Command HQ in Florida, satellite and UAV imagery was used to track a moving vehicle in real time after ground operatives had tipped off the CIA about the presence of terrorists in it, and a precision strike air-to-surface missile was used to successfully destroy the target without causing collateral damage. The technologies proven in the RMA led to a ‘transformation’ in force structures, doctrines, training methodology and the management of human resources.  
Recent wars fought by American and other Western armed forces have shown time and again that information superiority leads to enhanced combat effectiveness. Network Centric Warfare (NCW) is a concept enabled by information superiority that synergises combat power by the real-time networking of sensors, decision-makers and shooters to achieve shared situational awareness, enhanced quality of decision making, faster tempo of operations, focused application of fire and increased survivability. All of this leads to enhanced mission effectiveness. NCW exploits information superiority and transforms it into combat power by effectively linking all decision makers and firepower entities in the battle space.  By making it possible to generate precise war fighting effects at high tempo simultaneously across the full battle space, it blurs the distinction between the operational and the tactical levels of war. NCW acts as an enabler that focuses on the speedy attainment of operational level aims, thus leading to the early achievement of strategic objectives.
The India NCW Story 
As usual, India has been slow to catch up with the latest developments in NCW technologies and concepts. It was brought out during the Centre for Land  Warfare Studies (CLAWS) seminar on NCW in April 2011 that the “Information Technology (IT) vision of the Indian Army includes transformation into a dynamic network centric force, achieving information superiority through effective management of information technology. The Indian Army has made some progress in acquiring Geo Information System (GIS) capability, which provides the spatial orientation and context to the Operational Information System (OIS) and the Management Information System (MIS) system. It forms the base over which the other functionalities and applications ride. The modern GIS system includes features of network analysis, 3D visualisation, fly-through & simulation. A few of them also possess image processing and change detection capabilities. Army Strategic Operational Information Dissemination System (ASTROIDS) is a secure information dissemination system which connects Army Headquarters with Command and Corps Headquarters for exchange of terrain, operations intelligence and logistics information.” 
Maj Gen D V Kalra, former ADG Information Systems at Army HQ, said during the CLAWS seminar: “The Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS) is the hub centre of tactical C3I which connects Corps headquarters down to infantry battalions. It has computer nodes linked through suitable communication media and provides processed information to commanders and staff on terrain, operational, intelligence and logistics functions for decision making. Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) has been developed to provide an automated data fusion of surveillance devices and operational information system to commanders at field force level so as to facilitate decision making in battle in near real-time. Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS) and Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS) are in an advanced stage of development. The Indian Army is making conscientious efforts to overcome various challenges thrown up by the fielding of new systems.” Except for the ACCCS artillery fire control system that is being fielded quite extensively, the others are at various stages of development.
Noble intentions do not necessarily translate into concrete achievements as immediate operational considerations invariably override long-term capability development while allocating budgetary priorities, the defence acquisition decision making process is laborious and the proverbial red tape is difficult to throw off. The key elements in a NCW environment are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in real-time; a fully integrated and seamless automated decision making system based on a responsive and flexible, multi-channel communications system with high band width for data transfer; and, firepower assets that provide adequate precision strike capability. 
Seamlessly integrated ISR systems for target acquisition and tracking and powerful weapons platforms with precision strike capability are necessary for military domination and deterrence and development in these has been sluggish. The armed forces still do not have the military satellites that hey need for continuous surveillance and UAVs are few in number. The stocks of precision strike weapons held in the air-to-ground and artillery arsenals are low in numbers and need to be increased by several orders of magnitude. However, supremacy in the battles of the 21st century will hinge on sophisticated command, control and communications systems that link the ‘shooters’ and ‘sensors’ together to achieve synergy through network centricity and effects-based operations. It is in this field that modernisation has been grossly inadequate, particularly in the Indian Army. 
According to Lt Gen Noble Thamburaj (Retd), former VCOAS, the modernisation focus in the 11th Defence Plan, which ends on March 31, 2012, is on “precision fire power, air defence, aviation, Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS), infrastructure development, network centricity and achieving battlefield transparency through improved surveillance, night vision and target acquisition… Considering the receding span of technological cycle (sic), the right balance has to be maintained between state-of-art, current and obsolescent technologies.” Despite this clear realisation about achieving the right balance, the army’s communications systems are still based mostly on obsolescent technologies. Software-based radios and cognitive radios are not even being seriously considered.
Though some modern frequency hopping radio sets with integral encryption devices have been introduced into service in recent years, networked communications, which form the “backbone” of an effective command and control system, need substantial upgradation. The Plan AREN system that is designed to “roll forward” and keep pace with offensive operations in the plains, has been in service for almost three decades and is based on outdated and bulky technologies. It is based on outmoded second generation radio relay hubs and has little capacity for data transmission. Requests for Information (RFI) were floated for a Tactical Communication System (TCS) for offensive operations and a Battlefield Management System (BMS) for communication at the tactical level in defensive operations a few years ago, but since then the acquisition process has meandered along and this has resulted in prolonged delays in introducing both these systems into service. 
The new optical fibre network being laid as an alternative to the 3G spectrum surrendered by the armed forces will go a long way in providing modern land-line communications. However, future communication systems will need to provide wide-band data capabilities to facilitate the real time transmission of images and battlefield video while on the move. The BMS will be integrated with the Army Static Communications (ASCON) system, which 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 of modular design and can be upgraded. 
The TCS is a system that is meant for offensive operations – a mobile system that can 'leapfrog' forward as the operation progresses into enemy territory. The offensive operations echelons of the ‘pivot’ or ‘holding’ Corps deployed on the international boundary and the three Strike Corps will be equipped with TCS. The TCS programme has been delayed by more than ten years – the project was originally to have been started in the year 2000 and was hence called TCS 2000; now it is 2012 and yet the programme has not seen the light of day. 
The Battlefield Management System (BMS) is meant for communications from the battalion headquarters forward to the companies and platoons. 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 involves big numbers and will be fielded both in the plains and the mountains. The number of infantry battalions alone is about 350. To this can be added 60 Rashtriya Rifles and 45 Assam Rifles battalions. When armoured, artillery, engineers and signal corps regiments, as also aviation squadrons and the logistics battalions are added, the numbers are really huge. 
Both TCS and BMS have been categorised as ‘make’ programmes by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister. This implies that the two systems must be designed and developed in India. The leading contenders are Bharat Electronics Limited, Tata Advanced Systems and WIPRO, among others. Indian companies need to invest in developing the required technology and the ability to design and implement robust tactical communications systems. About 70 per cent of the required technology will have to be acquired from abroad and overseas companies will play a significant role. MNCs with suitable technologies and the right experience to help as system integrators include General Dynamics, Thales and EADS, among others. Indian companies planning to bid for these contracts must carefully evaluate the technological capabilities of these MNCs and how their systems have fared during recent combat operations, the type of experience they have in integrating tactical communications systems and whether they are likely to bring a long term commitment to the Indian projects. 
The BMS communications system must also be compatible with the Future Infantry Soldier as a System programme. The F-INSAS project focuses on enhancing the lethality and survivability of soldiers. It seeks to transform soldiers into fully networked, mobile warriors with a high degree of situational awareness and the ability to operate in all weather conditions in all types of terrain. The programme envisages equipping infantrymen with light-weight integrated helmets with a ‘head up’ display that has a built in communication system and night vision goggles, hand-held computer display, Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and lethal fire power, including Laser-guided weapon systems at appropriate levels. The design and development responsibilities for both these programmes need to be clearly defined in order to avoid turf wars between the Infantry Directorate and the Information Systems Directorate in the Army. 
Tri-Service Integration Issues
Little progress has been made towards addressing inter-Service interoperability challenges in the communications field. A tri-Service Defence Communications Network (DCN) is now under development and the proposals which have been received are being evaluated. Cyber security and offensive cyber warfare are other areas that do not appear to have received the attention that they deserve. With China moving rapidly towards creating “one million laptop warriors”, neglecting this field will prove to be very costly in the long term.
According to Brig Arun Sahgal (Retd), “The Indian Army is following what can be termed as a “bottom up” approach for developing NCW capability, rather than an evolutionary model adopted by both the Americans and more recently the Chinese… In the absence of integrated and synergistic oversight that could only happen if there is a Chief of Defence Staff or Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, there is little tri-service integration with each service evolving its own path… Lack of top down evolutionary approach has serious ramifications.” Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd), former DG Information Systems, gives the example of the Defence Communications Network (DCN), “While this is being developed, virtually nothing is happening on how to achieve the Services hand-shake that would ride the DCN.” 
(As submitted for publication.)