If a perusal is done of the military doctrines of the major advanced powers, one aspect that has a common theme across the board is information dominance. Network centricity is the backbone providing holistic battlefield transparency and decisive information advantage over the adversary. Future battles will take place in the three main domains of information, physical and cognitive. The next generation networks that are at the heart of a robust net centric system include telecommunication, bandwidth, spectrum and Service Level Agreements which are able to withstand the rugged requirements of the Armed Forces. The combination of hardware, software, human resource and doctrine would give the defence forces the much needed punch in the conflicts of the future.
As future conflicts will be fought in a technology intensive environment, high training standards in equipment use would be essential.
Indian Army efforts to develop indigenous basic net centric capability begins with the soldier on the ground and goes on to advanced terrestrial and space based net centric capability. A classic example of a completely indigenous simple hand held component is the “SATHI” (Situation Awareness and Tactical Handheld Information); project BETA (annual report 2004-05 Ministry of Defence). SATHI is a strong feature based portable combat information system providing a Common Operating Picture (COP) to the infantry soldier and his team on the ground. In addition, the equipment also has the ability to connect to an external long range radio to provide the battlefield picture to senior commanders. There is an integrated Geographical Positioning System (GPS) and radio, a customised Geographical Information System (GIS), dynamic wireless LAN and user friendly battlefield application. A very important component is the Software Defined Radio (SDR) which will form the core of a true ad hoc network, tactical in nature and robust on the front lines. The device communicates with hopping functionality to relay the information to HQs, which is a crucial operational requirement in a counter-insurgency or conventional environment where infrastructure is virtually non-existent.
The GIS application can be used in friend-foe identification, target marking and coordination of team activities, particularly at company level and below. The SMS and texting feature is innovative and can help in team communication, taking orders and importantly calling for help as was evident from US troops’ reports from Iraq and Afghanistan where they had used off the shelf applications like Skype and Instant Messengers to call in aerial strikes. Another functionality of which limited information is available is the self destruct in enemy hand capability; the encrypted software has a mechanism to go blank, which would be useful to secure the equipment and the contained information. The touted weight of the equipment is nearly 875 grams which is acceptable but has scope for improvement and comes with a solar charger and batteries capable of sustaining 24 hour operations. The operating system is Linux, open source software, which not only brings the cost down substantially as compared to proprietary software, but is also more secure as access to source code is not an issue. The Army had conducted user trials in Jammu and Kashmir in 2005 initially deploying around 90 of them and then in 2007 after modifications. SATHI can be used in collaboration with hand held thermal imagers (HHTI), night vision devices (NVDs), unattended ground sensors (UGS) and radios, which could be very effective in counter insurgency and border management operations to provide real time common information and strengthen the surveillance grid.
…as the Army modernises, UAVs, rotary wing assets and satellite communication will increasingly become essential elements of the coordinated close battle.
As future conflicts will be fought in a technology intensive environment, high training standards in equipment use would be essential. However, to cater to jamming and other electronic counter measures, existing training methods of manual communication, identification and coordination must not be dispensed with. Also, as the Army modernises, UAVs, rotary wing assets and satellite communication will increasingly become essential elements of the coordinated close battle. Full integration of SATHI with these systems would be crucial to embed the soldier on ground in a true NCW environment. Rapid advancements are also taking place in the fields of nanotechnology, advanced materials and power sources which can provide basis to reduce the weight of the equipment conceived a decade ago. The training of soldiers, especially JCOs and below has to be pursued at all stages, beginning with training schools at induction to periodic reviews during service tenure to keep them up to date with technological changes and provide acceptable language proficiency skills.
The update on the SATHI programme is that a total of 150 SATHI devices have been delivered to the Indian Army so far, including 120 development prototypes and 30 production prototypes. A set of final specifications was arrived at after the first 120 development prototypes were deployed in the field and user feedback was obtained. Accordingly a production order for 390 devices was placed with Encore Software Limited, with the condition that Encore should first deliver 30 production prototypes which will undergo an acceptance test and on successful completion of the acceptance test, the balance 360 devices be delivered. According to Encore, “It was during this phase that the performance specs, especially relating to the range of the wireless modem in mountainous terrain and dense vegetation, kept being raised. While Encore did improve the performance to a radius of 1.5 km (from the original spec of 1 km), the opinion was divided on the acceptability of range. Increasing the range without increasing the transmit power (which would entail a larger battery and consequent larger bulk and weight of the device), or without using a larger antenna (which decreases stealth), seemed extremely difficult at that stage, and there has been no further feedback from the Army since then. Encore has proposed certain improvements to the hardware in order to make SATHI lighter for the soldier to carry, and to update the technology in view of the time that has passed. However, Encore is unable to do so in the absence of any further interaction and encouragement from the Army”.
The prototype was completed in coordination between the Indian Army and Encore Software Limited, a Bangalore based IT company, in a respectable two year time frame. According to newspaper reports it was the first time, Indian Army had outsourced a R&D project to a private company with an initial grant of Rs 5 crore. Even former President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, had remarked while talking to forces at SATHI’s pilot testing, “When I saw a solider holding the BAAZ (army’s previous codename for SATHI), I am reminded of the smart solider of the 21st century.’’ Another big advantage of the tactical device is its potential to embed itself into other modernisation programmes such as BMS, FCS, Shakti and F-INSAS.The equipment upon maturing through battle tested conditions could also be exported to friendly countries with variations in algorithm and components with prior permission from Ministry of Defence. SATHI is yet to be fielded, but it exemplifies a case where existing commercial technology “Simputer” was used as the base technology to build a military application. It is a respectable, cheap and versatile tactical C3I system with innovation of use limited by the user’s imagination. The fully indigenous SATHI project could be a template case of successful defence and domestic private industry collaboration. It is a small step in India’s effort for technology sovereignty in the defence domain but could lead to more such ventures.