Digital and network-centric defence ecosystems to bolster combat readiness, says KS Rao, CEO, Network Services and Software, STL

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July 21, 2020 5:45 PM

India based Sterlite Tech in 2018, was awarded Rs 3500-crore Advance Purchase Order to design, build and manage the Indian Navy’s communications network.

KS Rao, CEO, Network Services and Software, STLKS Rao, CEO, Network Services and Software, STL

Warfare is changing and so is the threatscape, especially for India and there are collusive threats from neighbouring nations, border intrusions across 15K Kms of terrestrial borders and the new phenomenon of multi-front warfare spanning borders, electronic and cyber domains.

India already has expansive and secure defence networks across tri-forces, many of these like the AREN and AFNET, however these are decades old and need to be upgraded in view of the changing scenario. There is an urgent need to unify, fortify, and modernise country’s defence networks. To achieve the winning edge, this can be done with strategic capabilities like Joint-ness and Interoperability of Networks, Technology-led security solutions, and Cyber security architecture.

The landscape of the defence sector is changing world over and the defence forces are either already digitally fluent or adopting digital technologies like IoT, AI, Big Data, and AR/VR. This is in an effort to bring out more efficiency to military missions, automate operations, improve precision attacks and reduce casualties and collateral damage.

India based Sterlite Tech in 2018, was awarded Rs 3500-crore Advance Purchase Order to design, build and manage the Indian Navy’s communications network. This would give the Indian Navy digital defence supremacy at par with the best naval forces globally. And it was for the first time that an integrated naval communications network on such a scale was being built in India. The company has also created an intrusion-proof communication network for the Indian Army in Jammu & Kashmir.

Speaking to Financial Express Online, KS Rao CEO- Network Services and Software, Sterlite Technologies Ltd (STL), says “In line with the Prime Minister’s ‘AtmaNirbhar’ vision, the defence sector must continue the indigenisation of not only weaponry and other components but also of design and build of key ICT infrastructure and reduce dependency on other nations.”

“Our defence forces have to build strategic deterrence and advanced combat capabilities which leverage the power of digital technologies,” he adds.

Following are excerpts from an exclusive interaction with Huma Siddiqui:

Why defence forces going digital is important in the current scenario?
Critical outcomes like Sovereignty and Winnability of the country are hinging on a defence digitisation. This calls for a focus on digital defence capabilities and a technology-enabled military strategy. Network based integration across Tri-forces and Paramilitary forces are the foundation on which a digitally supreme defence will be built.

Digital Defence will further the key objectives of Defence forces like:

Winnability and mission effectiveness; Fortified borders and bases; Next-gen combat capabilities; Ease of management and efficiency.

A digital defence ecosystem and Jointness in tri-forces networks is the first crucial step towards enhanced Winnability.

As the world is moving towards digitalization, how can it be helpful to the armed forces?
Armed forces, across the world are digitalising and building network-centric defence ecosystems to bolster combat readiness, modernise battlefield operations, and build strategic deterrence. The importance of unified and advanced digital networks is clearly visible in the journey of some of the best defence forces in the world. Countries like the US, UK have multi-billion dollar plans for initiatives like autonomous technologies, war clouds and defence ICT modernisation. These initiatives were preceded by a single minded focus on building very robust defence networks.Indian Defence Forces can gain a massive strategic advantage through digitisation initiatives. For example, border and premise intrusions, which have been attempted in the past years and have claimed many human lives, can be ably averted by sensor and surveillance systems. Military intelligence can also be augmented with the combined power of surveillance, big data and analytics.

What about India?
India has to start this journey of defence network modernisation and Jointness now, to build a digitally supreme force in the future.

This will form the backbone of our Defence by enabling:

Integrated Communication & Control; Situational awareness & Common Operational Picture; Communication for Kinetic Operations; Evolved Cyber and Space prowess; Collaboration between tri-forces.

How to build such an infrastructure that will help the defence sector?
The need for defence digitisation is a pressing one. To build this formidable digital infrastructure, we need to have an ecosystem mind-set and re-imagine the defence infrastructure in different stacks.

Defence networks need to be unified and modernised to enable advanced use cases for digital defence use cases. There needs to be seamless flow of information, data based decision making and tight security protocols at the network level

Allied technologies like sensor ecosystem, surveillance, unmanned vehicles and digital twins should be incubated in a staggered manner to use the Joint and Modernised network at a strategic weapon

Defence specific use cases for core areas like border security, critical premise security, Internet of Battle Things (IoBT) should be conceptualised and operationalised as per a defined roadmap

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