Military & Aerospace

Digitizing Defence & Security - beyond Digital India
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Jun , 2015

There is no denying that the Digital India initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy has no parallel in India’s history. It can also be safely assumed that under his Chairmanship, Digital India should meet the overall transformation objectives despite the estimated costs of some Rs 113,000 crores, including Rs 13,000 crores for new schemes and activities, given the foreign interests for investing in India including developing 100 smart cities.

…Digital India is an umbrella covering many departments and Miniseries, the focus being on making technology central to enable change.

The transformative focus IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (Indian Transformation) is unique in itself, with the program centred on the key areas of: Digital Infrastructure as a Utility to Every Citizen; Governance & Services on Demand, and; Digital Empowerment of Citizens.

The nine pillars of Digital India comprise: one, broadband highways; two, universal access to phones; three, public internet access program; four, e-governance – reforming government through technology; five, eKranti – electronic delivery of services; six, information for all; seven, electronics manufacturing to target net zero imports; eight, IT for jobs, and; nine, early harvest programs. That there would be many intricacies in implementing such pan-India project are obvious, as its impact by 2019 is envisages: broadband in 2.5 lakh villages;  universal phone connectivity; net zero imports by 2020; 4,00,000 public internet access points; wi-fi in 2.5 lakh schools, all Universities; Public wi-fi hotspots for citizens; 1.7 Cr trained for IT, telecom and electronics jobs; indirect job creation for at least 8.5 Cr; e-governance and e-services: across government; India to be leader in IT use in services – health, education, banking; digitally empowered citizens – public cloud, internet access, so on and so forth.

From the above it should be apparent that Digital India is an umbrella covering many departments and Miniseries, the focus being on making technology central to enable change. It is being coordinated by GoI’s Department of Electronics & Information Technology (Deity) and implemented by the entire government. As reported in the media, Ministries are likely to be posted with a Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO), which could begin with 10 major Ministries.

…present focus being largely on ‘Make in India’ and importing weapons and weapon systems that provide short-term euphoria but fail to meet the requirements holistically.

So, logically the priority would include the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence and Home, besides others. The question the government should be addressing is that will mere postings of CIO and more importantly CTOs meet the needs of defending India, present focus being largely on ‘Make in India’ and importing weapons and weapon systems that provide short-term euphoria but fail to meet the requirements holistically. Even the CIO and CTO appointments may well be overshadowed by political considerations and CTO selectees restricted to DRDO background – all with associated fallout.

Here, we are not discussing the reorganization of higher defence structures and the MoD, as there appears no indication that the government has any inclination to upset the applecart; unending frustration against the dire need to imbue some semblance of strategic sense into the system. The power of the unaccountable bureaucracy, the focus from one state election to the next state and the fund requirement for elections at any level are too great distractions, and how the latter is contributed to matters.

So let us talk about only technology that is required to synergize the military, and as importantly the ‘security sector’, bringing them on a digitized platform – same as Digital India is to do for the country. The growing threat of terrorism and insurgency that India is facing, which includes refocusing of Al Qaeda to South Asia, entry of ISIS in Af-Pak and Maldives, lessons of the Burdwan blasts, Sri Lankan radicals undertaking surveillance in South India, creation of the United Liberation Front of West, South, East-Asia (WSEA) by Chinese intelligence and the China-Pakistan nexus going proactive at the sub-conventional level, requires sharing information on real time / near real-time basis.  The fact that we definitely need a separate road map to digitally integrate the military and the security sector over and above Digital India, providing them the wherewithal for responding to 21st century threats, would become apparent from succeeding paragraphs.

Common standard protocols for the Army, Navy and Air Force have not been developed yet. The military does not have the ability to do so in-house but outsourcing is yet to be done.

During his address to the Combined Commanders Conference on 17 October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “We should remember that what matters is the capability of the force. When we speak of Digital India, we would also like to see a ‘Digital Armed Force”. So what about the Digital Armed Force (DAF)? Which political authority gives direction for this and follows it up at the at the apex and what is the progress, because for the bureaucracy it matters naught beyond the PM’s statement and the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) has little power without a CDS? What is the status of the digitization of the MoD, Services HQ, intra-service and inter-service linkages, digitization process to integrate procedures between the MoD and services through HQ Integrated Defence Staff, processing of procurement, digital link with the IFA’s and the like.

A close scrutiny would tell you that the snails are moving at the same rate. The Defence Communications Network (DCN) should be coming out in next 2-3 years with much fanfare but the process to develop the common software is yet to commence. Common standard protocols for the Army, Navy and Air Force have not been developed yet. The military does not have the ability to do so in-house but outsourcing is yet to be done. In any Army operations rooms, whether at Service HQ or Command levels, the IAF picture cannot be beamed directly. Same is the case vice versa and for the Navy too. Even at the Interim National Command Post (INCP) separate screens continue to be used for the three services.

Information systems have come about in disparate manner in the three services but that too mostly bottom up. In recent years there has been some effort to usher integration and inter-service operability but the progress is excruciatingly slow. The process of ‘pulling together’ existing and systems under development requires more thought. At the current rate, the Army’s operational information systems are likely to be fully fielded only around 2022-2024 and certainly need better focus. More important is their integration with the sister services and with the HQ IDS, MoD and the security sector, latter on ‘need to know’ basis. Within the military, common security solution (s) are yet to be developed and much thought is required for issues like big data handling, its storage, use of the cloud and the like.

Presently, Military Survey is 30 years behind in meeting even existing routine mapping requirements of the Military…

Army’s Tactical Communication System (TCS) is couple of years away, which should have been fielded a decade back considering the initial project was cleared by three Defence Ministers, but that is another story. Even e-learning has not really taken off because of lack of digitized secure line pan-military. Army Strategic Operational Information Dissemination System (ASTROIDS), a GIS based application was sanctioned in 1995 (Rs 10.75 crores allotted for Phase 1), but DRDO’s Institute of System Studies and Analysis (ISSA) could not deliver the requisite software. A second sanction in 2003 for upgraded software for a network to be extended to all Commands and Corps by December 2012 also was a fiasco and had to be the Army. A Request for Information (RFI) for a fresh project was being contemplated. Hopefully the political hierarchy will understand that the solution lies with the private industry and private industry alone. Army’s Tactical Communication System (TCS) too is some years away.

Government needs to give much more attention to meet the Military’s mapping requirements, updating of maps, GIS and integration and application of geospatial technologies and geoinformation with other technologies. Presently, Military Survey is 30 years behind in meeting even existing routine mapping requirements of the Military, whereas Large Scale Mapping requirements of say 1:5,000 and below is practically not being met at all despite these being essential for operational information systems being introduced. The development of a specific methodology for preparation of such large-scale map with the use of advanced technologies such as Remote Sensing, Global Positioning System and GIS in an integrated way is the need of the hour.

It is atrocious in this age to have a system of distributing CD-roms of maps instead of GIS flowing on digitized networks.  As we move closer towards operating in a fully automated digitized battlefield, there is a need to review the way digital maps and imagery need to be organized and processed for seamless functionality at both strategic and operational levels. Geospatial data and its exploitation, central to battlefield management, requires developing common geographic reference framework in conjunction with agencies responsible for production of geospatial data. Presently, our three Services are using maps based on different datums and projections. Unless these aspects are addressed collectively, results from application developed for C4I2 Systems will remain unpredictable especially during joint operations. In a GIS environment, the user should be able to carry out a number of 2D and 3D analysis functions purely using the base data.

This connectivity has to be extended to all necessary arms of the government over a national security information grid for optimal exploitation of various multilayered data sets.

Within the Military, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) is the central repository for all intelligence inputs pertaining to the three Services including Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT). However, we are yet to integrate the aspects of topography with the DIA. Within the existing setup, adequate resources in terms of remote sensing, ELINT payloads and cartography are not available to produce high quality fused data. Similarly, much more is required at the national level in terms of integration of various government agencies.  This connectivity has to be extended to all necessary arms of the government over a national security information grid for optimal exploitation of various multilayered data sets.

Ideally, a comprehensive geospatial intelligence data set should be able to generate large scale maps, surface models to include natural and manmade structures, walkthroughs of critical infrastructure/ buildings, computer models to meet functions required for national security, nation building and for predicting and managing natural disasters. Presently, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) established years back is yet to integrate with all the required entities on-line and there is no news about establishing the Defence Spatial Data Infrastructure (DSDI).

The government must also review the National Map Policy 2005 and the Remote Sensing Data Policy. The Map Policy 2005 defines two series of incompatible maps; Defence Series Maps (DSM) based on WGS 84 / LCC and Open Series Maps (OSM) based on WGS 84 / UTM. There is no mention anywhere of the elevation system to be used – whether it should be WGS 84 or another, plus the policy does not cover the nautical and aeronautical charts. The policy is restricted to small scale maps and is silent on responsibility for attribute collection.

The overall implications are that we have two incompatible projections and associated different grids are an operational nightmare. The National Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011 vests the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) authority to acquire and disseminate remote sensing data. All data of resolutions up to one metre is distributed on a non-discriminatory basis but data better than one metre resolution is to be screened and cleared by appropriate agency prior to distribution. The policy also talks of specific sales / non-disclosure agreements for data better than one metre resolution; the implications being undue restrictions on genuine users considering that that point five resolution data is available in the public domain through Google Earth etc. The bottom-line is that much better spatial data is available in public domain and by extension to our adversaries.

The Indian Military needs to develop network centric warfare capabilities, optimizing technologies, for winning battles and wars in the battlefield milieu of the future.

The NATGRID has been under establishment for some years. This needs to be speeded up. The National Disaster Management Authority (DMA) by itself is recognition of the importance of geospatial science in nation building. Since NDMA needs to deal with varied amount of data pertaining to disparate sources of information to perform its tasks, NATGRID is a basic prerequisite for the collection and assimilation of data coming from different parts of the country. Similarly, NATGRID is essential for ensuring defence and security of the country, while optimizing on ‘all source’ intelligence.

Similarly, the NTCT too needs to be taken out of the freezer and established expeditiously, concurrent to state level SCTCs in every state connected through the NATGRID. This is essential for synergizing the Security Sector considering the rising threats – both internal and external. Arguably, some states in the past had objected to the NCTC on grounds that the NCTC was being empowered to search and arrest people without keeping the state government, police or anti-terror squad in the loop. But then, the counter was that the senior most police officers in all states – the DG Police and the Chiefs of anti-terror squads (ATS) of all states will be members of the Standing Council of the NCTC, and they will be informed before the NCTC conducts an operation in their state. Whatever the nuances, it is time national security is given precedence over politics and we go for the NCTC without wasting more time.

The government may also do well to take note that for valid reasons, the development of cyber warfare capabilities in the US and China are being spearheaded by the respective militaries of these countries, whereas, in India the military has been kept aside ostensibly on the misguided interpretation of ‘civilian control’. The Prime Minister would do well to take a call on the issue.

Technology, especially the electro-magnetic environment, is important indeed, but it is an enabler for the armed forces to conduct military operations efficiently in a vastly changed battlefield environment. The Indian Military needs to develop network centric warfare capabilities, optimizing technologies, for winning battles and wars in the battlefield milieu of the future. Digital India is fine but beyond Digital India we do need a focused road map for Digital Defence and Security.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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3 thoughts on “Digitizing Defence & Security – beyond Digital India

  1. The next war that India will have to fight will be won or lost in the digital space. Most of our potential enemies are working very hard to prepare themselves in this space and are possibly years ahead already.

    Forgetting the obvious conflict scenarios, what we need to understand is that a digital edge is a huge force multiplier in a conventional war. If we cannot match the enemy in terms of planes, tanks and infantry, we need to have the ability to cause disarray in their ranks without physically engaging with them.

    I would think that if there is one area we need to invest in the right skills and infrastructure, it is in the cyber capabilities of our forces. Our position as a technology powerhouse seems to be an oxymoron as far as our Armed Forces’ Digital readiness is concerned.

  2. This seems to be a day-dream!, for as long as anything is on offer for money in Dead-India, there’s going to be somebody who would jeopardise any effort made. Besides, Modi may be a good businessman and is of course a religious fanatic. He may talk too much, but on the ground he is just like any other. As long as the corrupt Ghandi-Neruh system of governance in the name of democracy exists, there will be ways in which interested actors could do damage!

  3. Excellent article portraying the real state of digitization in the Defence Services. As I see it, till date an integrated view of the issue has not been taken. As of today we are far far behind in initiating measures to integrating the defence services and the intelligence agencies to bring about jointness in military operations. Even the first step, the creation of CDS is not being thought about. Under these circumstances, an Integrated Joint Operations in an informationised milieu seems a distant dream. If we as a nation fail to act now, we will regret having failed to take note of the need and the procrastination into which we are immersed. It is now for the nation to decide if they wish to act or not.

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