Armed Forces’ Tactical Info-communication Network: Key to India’s Warfighting Capability

Updated: October 21, 2021 11:04 AM

The tactical communication networks possess highly formatted message structures for information exchange to achieve interoperability using optimum bandwidth.

It has also asked how should surrender of spectrum by operators be given shape.It has also asked how should surrender of spectrum by operators be given shape.

By Milind Kulshreshtha

In a modern battlefield the availability of accurate critical real-time tactical information decides the outcome of the military operations. This information is carried over a tactical info-communication network for a particular area of operation to provide a synergized command and control over the deployed war-fighting units. These digital communication networks form the essence of an Action Information Organisation to ensure the latest common situational awareness picture for each of the participating units. The info-communication networks too are integrated with the higher echelons at local and central headquarter levels as per pre-defined permission protocols.Each node in the warfighting capacity has an access to the real-time information for improved decision making and to eliminate the risk of friendly fire in a high intensity multi-dimensional conflict zone.

The tactical communication networks possess highly formatted message structures for information exchange to achieve interoperability using optimum bandwidth.The primary capabilities required relate to concurrent operations of multiple tactical networks and obtain tactical information from all units to correlate with the local picture and update friendly units’ weapons computations.The management of such a network against challenges like message conflicts and gridlock etc. are overcome continuously for achieving a flexible architecture. The interfacing of legacy systems with the latest generation tactical data links has never been an easy task.

India’s Tactical Info-Communication Network

In India, the three services have been independently pursuing the design and development of tactical info-communication networks, each network tailored to meet the challenges of their individual battlefield characteristics. Various governmental organizations like DoT, DRDO, Defence PSUs and some selected private players have been integral to these efforts by the three services. The decision to proceed indigenously in this effort is a difficult path but the most secure from a long-term perspective.

Indian Navy has its own ambitious programme to evolve a ship borne indigenous info-communication Tactical Data Link to maximize the data throughput with minimum latency. This datalink system has an aircraft version for Naval aviation units for a close operation with the warships and submarines at sea. Meanwhile, IAF has independently been upgrading its operational Datalink system to keep itself enabled as a network-empowered force, especially when operating fighter jets from Russia, France etc.

The Indian Army is rapidly progressing towards creating ASCON (Army Static Switched Communication Network) as an integrated communication network along with other systems like Tactical Communication System (TCS), tropo-scatter communication etc. to achieve a multi-layered Tactical Info-communication Network. Indian Army’s Combat Net Radio (CNR) has always been the backbone of communication for the land battlefield operations. The technical work towards enhancement of CNR for data transmission features has been an ongoing activity to achieve C4I capabilities.

Software Defined Radios (SDRs) as a Technological Breakthrough

The traditional hardware-based radios have cross-functionality limitations and can only be modified through physical changes. The SDRs are a special kind of advanced Radio system where the physical layer functions are implemented using the software code. SDRs have the flexibility to operate over a large portion of the spectrum and support multiple protocols and are multimode, multi-band and multi-functional Radios. The SDRs are software configurable by simply downloading the latest version over the existing hardware and, thus, are adaptable throughout the lifespan of the hardware. SDRs enhance the data transmission capability, voice improvement and data transmission quality even in a spectrally noisy environment. They operate in clear and secure mode using multiple waveforms thereby providing a greater system security and survivability.

BEL,DRDO, CDAC, WESEE (Naval R&D Lab) and other service arms have been working towards the development of a family of modular and interoperable Software Defined Radios (SDRs) versions (like Naval Combat (SDR-NC), Tactical (SDR-TAC), Airborne (SDR-AR), Manpack (SDR-MP) and SDR-HH (Hand Held)). Here, the SDR-Tac is a four Channel nineteen inch ship rack mountable unit to support simultaneous operations of all four V/UHF and L band to achieve ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore and ship-to-air voice and data communication.In order to support ad hoc networking operations, the MANET (Mobile ad-hoc Network) waveform is used in UHF and L-band, and SDR is capable of multiple types of waveforms for narrowband and wideband applications.Indian Army has been in the process of replacing the legacy radios with the indigenously developed V/UHF Manpack SDRs under Make-II category since Feb’ 2021. The CNR for Armoured Fighting Vehicles (CNR-AFV) too shall be SDR based in the future.

Interoperability Challenges

The complexity in the tactical networks is caused by multiple reasons, like the dynamic integration with multiple systems for critical data exchange. The designed analytics within such systems assists in deriving intelligence from the data links for interoperability and secure data exchange between land combatants, warships, submarines and fighter jets. With the evolution of the Theatre Commands, a larger commonality and synergy amongst the tri-services’ Tactical Info-Communication Network is more required now than ever before. Accordingly, steps towards achieving jointness amongst the Armed Forces are being looked at by developing a Joint Services Interoperable SDR Waveforms.

For operating in a multi-national Task Force environment and for an inclusive closer participation in combat activities, a bridge between Indian Tactical info-communication Network and that of the NATO forces is much desired. NATO and US Tactical Data Links are Link-11, Link-16, IJMS (Interim Joint Tactical Information Distribution System Message Specification), JREAP (Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol), ATDL-1 (Advanced Tactical Data Link). The presently operational Link-22combines these efforts to achieve NATO standard for tactical information exchange amongst the military units. Even the US has been facing a challenging time to operationalize and upgrade its Tactical Data Link network. The development of Link-22 commenced in 1992 to replace the legacy Link-11 system (like low data rate, susceptibility to electronic interference and lack of robustness) and enhance the allied forces interoperability. The Standardized NATO Agreement (STANAG) 5522 specifications are the guidelines for Link-22.

Way Ahead

The challenges ahead are not only limited to the backward compatibility with the legacy systems, but also the ever evolving ‘real-time’ constraints and voluminous data-sets of the future battlefields. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence in Combat Management System Onboard Fighter jets’ cockpit, warship or a combat vehicle, the scale and latency constraints on data availability has already multiplied manifold. Furthermore, the ongoing and future technological advancements like 5G, General Atomics’ Mercury-ion atomic clock in space (for GPS and Deep Space communication improvement), free-space Quantum communication etc. shall continue to be the drivers for the progression. Thus, theTactical Info-communication Networks of the Indian Armed Forces shall not only remain an interoperability challenge but also an evolutionary military science in the 21st century. An integrated tri-services led Tactical Info-communication Network Project Management team with support from DPSUs, DRDO and other private agencies under the ambit of Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative may be a suitable way forward to keep the Armed Forces future ready.

(The author is a Strategic Analyst with a keen interest in technology related to C4I solutions and Multiplatform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF).Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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