To ensure operational readiness of all satellite-based systems, last month Indian Army activated the entire range of its satellite communication assets during an exercise codenamed “Skylight’’.
Sources in the defence establishment said on Friday, the exercise was conducted from July 25-29, and 100 percent of all satellite communication assets including man-portable terminals, static system, and vehicle-mounted systems were all tested. Adding, 200 static ground-based terminals and around 80 transportable vehicle mounted terminals and man-portable were all activated with other agencies including Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). From the eastern and southern part of the country, Andaman and Nicobar Island, and Jammu & Kashmir, the Army activated 100 percent of all its satellite communication assets.
Ex-Skylight comes at a time when the Indian Army is still in the process of analysing different aspects of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the importance of the communications technology related lessons. And towards its Atmanibhar Bharat journey the army is now engaging both with academia as well as the Indian industry including MSMEs and IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre).
And for the future requirement of the troops on the ground the Indian Army has asked the industry and the academia to help in small form factor handheld secure satellite phones, satellite high speed data backbone. And this will involve the utilisation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.
According to sources, “During the exercise various technical and operational scenarios were simulated. Besides the satellite communication assets, agencies including Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), those responsible for space and ground segments participated.”
In view of the rapid changes in the way wars are being fought and how technology is impacting communications in the battlefield, it is important for the militaries to build and refine technical competence in the field,” said another source from the defence establishment.
Presently, the Indian Army does not have a dedicated satellite; approval has already been given for a satellite which is expected to be launched early 2025. Presently, the Indian Army is using several ISRO satellites and hundreds of communication terminals of different types connected to them. These include vehicle-mounted and man-portable and static terminals and also small form factor man-pack terminals.
What was the objective of Ex Skylight?
It was carried out to ensure operational readiness of hi-tech satellite systems and those who are operating them.
One of the sources also said that the Indian Army has to leverage space capabilities in order to support different military operations. Because of its different topography which poses different challenges, the northern borders of China are a major concern for the army.
In line with the growing National space capability, “For provision of Beyond Line of Sight tactical communication for remote areas devoid of terrestrial connectivity, several satellite communication networks of the Indian Army have been operationalized,” explained a source.
Dedicated Satellite for the Army
This is expected to be ready for the army by December 2025 and, “The multiband satellite will be indigenous and will have advanced security features. This will support tactical communication requirements, air defence weapons, remotely piloted aircraft, fire support and also other mission-critical platforms.
As has been reported earlier, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in March had put its approval on the Army’s proposal for a GSAT-7B satellite, which would help it in operational capabilities. The GSAT-7 series of advanced satellites built by ISRO has been designed to provide communication capabilities to the armed forces to cover vast expanses including oceans.
The Indian Army has also carried out detailed study of cyber and electromagnetic warfare in the Russia-Ukraine war. And, based on its analysis, has established the efficacy of a reliable satellite communication system like Starlink, which can provide high speed internet services to remote areas in the country.
Key Lesson from Russia-Ukraine War
According to one of the sources, “In this ongoing war, the importance of a tactical communication system has emerged. And how to use this tactical communication system with a suitable backhaul is one of the critical lessons learnt.”
Sources in the defence quoted above said the army is now focusing on leveraging quantum computing. The Indian Army has turned to industry and academia to develop applications for communications and cryptography which will help in improving information secrecy.
What is the Indian Army looking for in Quantum Computing?
It is looking at this field of technology as a futuristic enabler. It will help in integrating a large density of C4I2SR components in the evolving battlefield, like communications platforms and information systems and sensors.
Why is this important?
Sensitive systems can be compromised, explained one of the sources. Why? “Because, with quantum computers the traditional cryptographic systems can be completely or partially cracked.”
All the advancements being made by India’s adversaries in the field are being tracked as it would help in inducting capabilities to handle the threats of breach of security in the systems.
In view of the growing use of technology in various operations, the Indian Army has started focusing more on the training of its personnel in various aspects of satellite communication to ensure they have full technical competence in this field.
It has recently floated a Request for Information for its own Student Satellite. This will be for the training purposes of its engineering students in the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering on satellite technology.