Armed Forces’ Tactical Info-communication Network: Key to India’s Warfighting Capability

Traditional hardware-based radios have limitations on cross-functionality and can only be modified by physical changes.

From Milind Kulshreshta

In the modern battlefield, the availability of accurate critical tactical information in real time decides the outcome of military operations. This information is transmitted via a tactical information and communication network for a specific area of ​​operation in order to ensure synergistic command and control over the deployed combat units. These digital communication networks form the essence of an action information organization to provide the latest general picture of situational awareness for each of the participating units. The information and communication networks are also integrated with the higher echelons at the local and central level of the headquarters according to pre-defined authorization protocols. Each node in combat capability has access to real-time information for better decision-making and to eliminate the risk of friendly fire in an area of ​​multidimensional, high-intensity conflict.

Tactical communication networks have highly formatted message structures for exchanging information to achieve interoperability using optimal bandwidth. The main necessary capabilities are related to the simultaneous operation of multiple tactical networks and receive tactical information from all units to compare with the local picture and update the weapons of friendly units of calculation. Managing such a network against challenges such as message conflicts and blocking, etc. are constantly overcome to achieve a flexible architecture. The interface of legacy systems with the latest generation of tactical data connections has never been an easy task.

The Indian Tactical Information and Communication Network

In India, the three services independently pursue the design and development of tactical information and communication networks, each network tailored to meet the challenges of their individual characteristics on the battlefield. Various government organizations such as DoT, DRDO, Defense PSUs and some selected private players are an integral part of these efforts by the three services. The decision to continue locally in this effort is a difficult one, but the surest in the long run.

The Indian Navy has its own ambitious program to develop a local information and communication tactical link for ship data to maximize data throughput with minimum latency. This data communication system has an airplane version for naval aviation units for close operation with warships and submarines at sea. Meanwhile, the IAF is independently upgrading its data link operating system to maintain the capability as a network force, especially when operating fighters from Russia, France and elsewhere.

The Indian Army is rapidly advancing towards the establishment of ASCON (Army Static Communication Network) as an integrated communication network along with other systems such as Tactical Communication System (TCS), trope-scattering communication, etc. to achieve a multi-layered tactical information and communication network. The Indian Army’s Combat Net Radio (CNR) has always been the backbone of communication for ground battlefield operations. The technical work to improve the CNR for the data transmission functions is a continuous activity to achieve C4I capabilities.

Software defined radio stations (SDR) as a technological breakthrough

Traditional hardware-based radios have limitations on cross-functionality and can only be modified by physical changes. SDRs are a special type of advanced radio system where the functions of the physical layer are realized with the help of software code. SDRs have the flexibility to operate across much of the spectrum and support multiple protocols and are multi-mode, multi-band and multi-function radios. SDRs are software configurable by simply downloading the latest version on existing hardware and are thus adaptable throughout the life of the hardware. SDRs improve data transmission capabilities, voice enhancement, and data quality even in spectrally noisy environments. They work in a clear and secure mode, using multiple waveforms, thus providing greater security and survival of the system.

BEL, DRDO, CDAC, WESEE (Naval R&D Lab) and other divisions are working to develop a family of modular and interoperable software-defined radio stations (SDR) versions (such as Naval Combat (SDR-NC), Tactical (SDR-) TAC), air (SDR-AR), Manpack (SDR-MP) and SDR-HH (manual)). Here, the SDR-Tac is a four-channel nineteen-inch marine mounting module to support simultaneous operation of all four V / UHF and L bands to achieve ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore and ship-to-air voice and data communication. To support ad hoc network operations, the MANET (Mobile ad-hoc Network) waveform is used in UHF and L-bands, and SDR is capable of many types of waveforms for narrowband and broadband applications. The Indian Army is in the process of replacing legacy radios with locally developed V / UHF Manpack SDRs in the Make-II category from February 2021. The CNR for Combat Armored Vehicles (CNR-AFV) will also be based on the SDR in the future.

Interoperability challenges

The complexity of tactical networks is caused by many reasons, such as dynamic integration with multiple critical data exchange systems. The analytics designed within such systems shall support the retrieval of information from interoperability data links and the secure exchange of data between ground fighters, warships, submarines and combat aircraft. With the development of theater teams, greater community and synergy between the tactical information and communication network of the three services are more needed now than ever. Accordingly, steps are considered to achieve interoperability between the armed forces by developing joint operational forms of SDR waves.

The bridge between the Indian Tactical Information and Communication Network and that of NATO forces is highly desirable for working in a multinational task force and for more inclusive participation in combat activities. The NATO-US Tactical Data Links are Link-11, Link-16, IJMS (Tactical Information Distribution System Message Specification), JREAP (Joint Extension Protocol), ATDL-1 (Extended Tactical). data connection). The current Link-22 combines these efforts to achieve the NATO standard for the exchange of tactical information between military units. Even the United States faces the challenge of operationalizing and upgrading its Tactical Data Link network. Development of the Link-22 began in 1992 to replace the legacy Link-11 system (such as low data rates, susceptibility to electronic interference, and lack of stability) and to improve the interoperability of Allied forces. The specifications of the NATO Standardized Agreement (STANAG) 5522 are the guidelines for Link-22.

Straight ahead

The challenges ahead are not limited to backward compatibility with legacy systems, but also to ever-evolving real-time constraints and voluminous data sets for future battlefields. With the advent of artificial intelligence in the cabin control system of a cabin, warship or combat vehicle, the limitations of the scale and latency of data availability have multiplied many times over. In addition, current and future technological advances such as 5G, the atomic clock with General Atomics’ mercury ion in space (to improve communication with GPS and Deep Space), quantum communication in free space, etc. will continue to be engines of progress. Thus, the tactical information and communication networks of the Indian Armed Forces will remain not only a challenge for interoperability, but also an evolutionary military science in the 21st century. An integrated project management team for a tactical information communication network, led by three services, with the support of DPSU, DRDO and other private agencies under the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, may be an appropriate way to keep the armed forces ready for the future.

(The author is a strategic analyst with a strong interest in technologies related to C4I and Multiplatform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF) solutions. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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