Digital transformation has moved from the realm of the future to a reality that most companies are trying to leverage to disrupt traditional means of doing business. One of the key areas of digital transformation is the creation of real-time dashboards that direct business decision making. A similar organisational system is used for command and control in military formation.
In military parlance, the use of computers and communication network technologies to create shared awareness of a battlespace and effect command and control is called Network Centric Operations (NCO). NCO is a potent force multiplier and with the right long-term vision and strategy, it is a game changer in a battlefield scenario. Technologically, NCO consists of a backbone network infrastructure that underpins advanced capabilities like secure communication, battlefield command & control and application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance security capability. The platforms in the Armed Forces have a communication network that when integrated into NCO enhances their operational capability. Further, interoperable NCO infrastructure fosters jointness in operations of the three services and coordination with stakeholders involved in internal security, border management, disaster management are other key areas.
In the Indian context, Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) encapsulates the requirements of the Armed Forces for a dedicated network. Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) networks, Software Defined Radios (SDRs), Satellite Communication (SATCOM) terminals, High Frequency (HF) sets are a few of the equipment proposed for development in the TPCR. Some of the key facets for the adoption of effective and efficient NCO systems that need to be addressed are mentioned below.
Architecture: Jointness in operations and interoperability of networked platforms are the basis of any efficient NCO system which seamlessly connects all networks/platforms. The NCO system developed should be envisioned as having an open architecture that can be integrated with internal security and civilian networks. Innovative frameworks like open architectures and multi-use of NCO infrastructure between military, para-military and civil authorities aid NCO adoption.
Disruptive technology: Technology plays an intrinsic part in the formation of a long-term vision where 5G is a disruptive technology that is on the cusp of becoming mainstream. The superiority of 5G over 4G is exponential and it allows the linking of sensors in an organisation to each other enabling near real-time decision support and a common operating picture. 5G technologies can be used in conjunction with the existing network backbone to extend the reach of NCO.
Table on Potential applications of 5G in defence
Managing infrastructure lifecycle: An open architecture ensures cost-effectiveness of network deployment and long-term availability of product and service support. Network components can be used as security elements to prevent data leakage from the network and a secure network can be established by using a layered approach for restricting access. An approach of having an open architecture would reduce the lifecycle costs for these networks through the use of common equipment and sub-systems.
Implementation: A fast and effective implementation is key to maintaining technological superiority and managing lifecycle costs.
The following recommendations are proposed to oversee the implementation of NCO infrastructure in line with the vision and innovation components of the broader NCO roadmap for the Indian Armed Forces.
Establishment of a dedicated department of NCO: A dedicated central department with overall responsibility and authority to determine all aspects of NCO would facilitate the creation of technical specifications, project planning and execution, and budget allocation for all NCO projects.
Training: The operation and maintenance of the sophisticated NCO equipment are likely to require a dedicated and highly trained workforce. Such a workforce may not be readily available within the Armed Forces, hence it is necessary to establish training centres to ensure the concurrent introduction of NCO equipment and skilled manpower that utilise the NCO equipment to its fullest capacity.
Interaction with private industry: From the recent development of NCO related infrastructure, it is evident that private industry is technologically and economically capable of undertaking large-scale NCO projects. Also, private industry has outpaced defence establishments in the R&D and adoption of NCO infrastructure. It is, therefore, recommended that private industry be given a larger role in policy and strategy formulation for NCO.
Obsolescence management: Network infrastructure has long investment and gestation timelines and hence obsolescence management is critical.
Doctrine: NCO implementation must be guided by a clear doctrine.
In addition to its core capabilities, robust NCO has the potential to act as a key enabler for other maturing technologies viz. Augmented Reality (AR)/ Virtual Reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. These technologies have potential applications that span across the areas of training and simulation, automation, vehicle to everything (V2X communication), edge applications, etc. These enabling technologies can support various applications like smart border control and automated patrolling. Also, use of swarm tactics where human operated and semi-autonomous vehicles work in conjunction for greater effectiveness. The deployment of NCO technologies can enable the Armed Forces to build hitherto unattainable capabilities in understanding, analysing, and responding to different types of situations in real-time.
Cdr Gautam Nanda was one of the speakers on a panel on “Foreign Investments & Technology: Key to ‘Atmanirbhar’ Defence sector” during the
Aerospace and Defence Summit 2022
held on March 24.