Network Centric Warfare (NCW) aims near instantaneous distribution of large amount of data enabling different units and even individuals to share a common operational picture. Networking provides a new type of advantage which results in significantly improved capabilities for sharing and accessing information. The characteristics of NCW are speed, precision, knowledge and innovation. The relationship between information and combat is known but the challenge is in maximizing it.
All military operations are conducted in three domains: one, physical domain where attack, defence and manoeuvre occur on ground, sea, air, space and elements like lethality and survivability are easy to measure; two, domain of the mind – where battles are won based on intangibles like leadership, morale, unit cohesion, level of training and experience, public opinion and so on whose attribute have remained relatively constant, and; three, domain of information which increases combat power in a broad range of operations.
Net-centricity in our military continues to be in standalone mode amongst the three Services. Intra-Service net-centricity is more within the Navy and Air Force simply because the type of weapon systems that they operate just cannot function without networking. So, net-centricity is perforce streamlined in these two Services.
In the Army, the Directorate General of Information Systems (DGIS) was tasked to evolve Operational Information Systems (OIS), Geographical Information System (GIS) and Management Information System (MIS). Additional Directorate of Military Survey was moved into DGIS on directions of Defence Minister for integrating the GIS, OIS and MIS.
In 2004, Army’s Tactical Command, Control, Communications and Information (Tac C³I) system was taken up by the DGIS as part of Army’s quest for capacity building in NCW capabilities to fight modern day wars. Components of Tac C³I included the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS), Battlefield Management System (BMS), Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCS) and Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS) all integrated through the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS).
Tac C³I was also to integrate Army’s Electronic Warfare System (EWS) of the Signals and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) System of Military Intelligence through the CIDSS.
Merger of Military Survey, having strength of 112 officers, 319 JCOs, 1,033 other ranks and 89 civilians, with DGIS brought out a host of shortcomings, like: archaic techniques for map production; Google Map downloaded as base data; more focus on the own side of the border rather than trans-border; entire focus followed British legacy on physical survey within own borders but not done in the past decades in J&K and North-East despite army presence; demands for satellite imagery sent to Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) through Military Intelligence but never followed up; Defence Series Maps (DSM) prepared without incorporating satellite imagery; reports of army patrols in difficult areas ignored for updating maps; the Field Survey Group and GASL platoon of Military Survey placed at Agra, with Air Force providing aerial sorties, basically met requirements of SoI and yet SoI was charging money for maps it gave to the Military Survey but in turn was not being charged for air sorties; little effort for digitization of maps integrating satellite imagery and photography, exploiting advanced technologies and introduction of a GIS; no GIS policy and common symbology for the three services had been evolved; there were sustained voids of survey trained officers in Military Survey spanning over a decade.
In 2009, Army ordered a study for Reorganization of Military Survey headed by ADG, Mechanized Forces at Army HQ with representatives of Military Secretary, Military Intelligence, Engineers Branch, Military Survey, PMO BSS, DIPAC, Naval Intelligence and Air Intelligence. Among a host of findings the study found despite its mammoth organization the Military Survey was unable to meet requirements of the military. The study made operationally vital reorganizational recommendations and the study report having been approved, it was sent to concerned directorates for implementation.
However, vested interests managed to put this into the freezer because implementation of the report meant: induction of All Arms Cadre officers in Military Survey; Military Survey officers in field formations replaced by All Arms Cadre officers; amalgamation of GIS Cells and IIITs at formation HQ level would curtail the Military Survey’s empire. In 2011, Military Survey was quietly moved out from DGIS in instructions from the Vice Chief of Army Staff.
The BMS paper floated in early 2000s envisaged its fielding into the Army during 2013-2017. But MoD’s red-tape and DRDO intervention to grab every project laid the ground for delays. Only by end 2011 the DAC approved BMS as a ‘Make India’ project, followed by Integrated Project Management Study and Expression of Interest (EoI) prepared with industry empanelment pending with MoD. It was envisaged to shortlist two Developing Agencies (DA) by about March 2014.
Subsequently, design phase was expected to commence by July 2014, limited prototype tested in laboratory by end December 2015 and finally, prototypes developed and fielded for user evaluation by December 2016 (instead of earlier schedule of 2012). However, the EoI was finally issued in February 2015, to 14 domestic companies, in which only two consortiums, Tata Power SED-L&T, and BEL-Rolta India, qualified the bids. In February 2016, MoD assigned these two consortia to develop BMS prototypes that could eventually generate about Rs 40,000-50,000 crore worth of procurement for 600 sets of BMS for the Army.
However, successive poor annual defence allocations brought the axe down on a number of ongoing projects of the Army in 2017-2018. The BMS unfortunately too had to be foreclosed although it was being pursued past 13 years. Closure of BMS has also deprived networking of Army’s ongoing F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier As a System) program, adversely affecting the Tac C³I project and even networking capacity of Special Forces when operating deep behind enemy lines.
Similarly, the CIDSS has been shut down because of financial crunch after it had been successfully tried in the Test-bed Corps in field, sacrificing its role of connecting all the OISs. Of all the components of the Tac C³I system, only the ACCCS has been fielded to-date. The ADC&RS too is only partially successful. The exercise to reduce Army’s manpower by about 100,000 plus has reduced the DGIS strength prior to move out of Military Survey to about 50 officers. With continuing financial crunch and inability to acknowledge information as a strategic asset, it would not be surprising if some of the other systems are also foreclosed.
In 2018, the then Director General Information Systems of the Army had told media, “The future vision of Army reportedly is to seamlessly integrate Operational and Management applications through a comprehensive Indian Army Information System (IAIS) which would be an army wide application catering for all operational and peace time functions of the Indian Army.”
The road map and time-table of the IAIS is not known but hopefully this will be accorded due top-down impetus. We may have fought PLA with clubs, iron rods and stones in Eastern Ladakh but next we would be fighting with an NCW-capable PLA who has also been practicing exercises in conditions of complete communications blackout.