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India outwitting PLA along LAC

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  • When bullets can’t be fired, fire electrons and photons
Maj Gen LB Chand (Retd.)

By Maj Gen Lav Bikram Chand (Retd.)

New Delhi. 14 January 2021. Pervious Border Agreements starting with ‘Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement of 1993’ and subsequent series of Confidence Building Agreements have not been entirely successful in achieving their stated objectives. 2012-14 onwards, in comparison to previous, years saw an increase in number of unique incidents along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). While there were 14 unique incidents reported from 2003 to 2011, in 2012-2014 sixteen unique incidents were reported. Border incidents were well planned and orchestrated by PLA. Main reasons for increase in border incidents were first, sudden positive ties between India and USA that lead to Nuclear Deal in August 2008. Second, Tibetan protests on the eve of 2008 China Olympics, convinced China that Indians, Dalai Lama and Tibetans living in India continue to be a threat. The recent example of Nepal declaring Kalapani to be part of Nepal, on China’s instigation is primarily because Dharchula in Pithoragarh district has a high population of Bhotiya community. Bhotiyas are nomadic pastoralists moving about borders of India and Tibet. Third, India’s decision to develop infrastructure upto the LAC, which was contrary to earlier policy of extending communications to regions 50 to 60 Kms short of LAC- which offsets the strategic advantage terrain offered to PLA. Fourth, closer military ties with USA, Joint Naval exercises further spooked China. Recent developments along LAC, India’s stand in Indo-Pacific region and increasing role of India in Quad Countries is unlikely to be a temporary blip. Even after their relations improve strong under-currents will remain permanently.

Border Defence Cooperation Agreements (BDCA) and related Border Protocols place India at a tactical disadvantage. Terrain favours China and facilitates quicker deployment. Permanent deployment of a much smaller size Chinese Force (four battalions) require two Indian divisions plus to match operational timelines and bring balance on ground. Standard Operating Procedures derived from Confidence Building Measures, that are basically “Banner Drills’ are no longer effective. PLA will no longer timidly vacate disputed territory based upon Banner Drill. They have mastered the art of anti-banner drill. Indian Armed Forces have to resort to tactics that largely conforms to CBMs yet place Indian Troops in a position of strength. In such fluid situations that can be construed to one’s advantage and wherein use of Force is prohibited, employment of superior technology is the only option. Remote unmanned surveillance and observation, smart LAC management and control, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and networked force are mandatory to counter China. “When bullets can’t be fired, fire electrons and Photons”.

Training policy and syllabi of Corps of Signals makes them most suited for Networking and AI. Like some one so simplistically described AI as learning about the real world (digital battle field) and getting/ doing what you want smartly. Machine Learning which is a subset of AI, on the other hand is a computer learning about the real world (data) making a mathematical model. AI is Machine Learning plus smart action (doing) to achieve end result. Indian are naturally gifted in Information Technology Services. They lack manufacturing base for advanced high end Printed Circuit Board Assembly, microprocessor and other modules. Manufacture in India along with inherent IT expertise offers realistic opportunity to India to become a leader in the field of AI. A robust network collecting data (sensors), data storage and analytics is the prerequisite for AI. In other words, Information Infrastructure is the entry ticket to Modern Network Centric Warfare. Roll out of network that will support digital battle field is elucidated in following paras.

Since 2004 Indian Army communications made considerable progress in Leh Sector. ‘Mercury Streak’, was an ambitious joint strategic OFC project between Army and Department of Telecommunications. This was the first joint venture between IA and DoT. Indian Army took on the onerous responsibility of laying the OFC in the harsh terrain. For many years this remained lifeline communications for Army and Civil population in Leh. Army owned Satellite stations, both static and deployable were next major step in networking the units deployed in forward areas. CI/CT operations in 15 and 16 Corps Zone were accorded higher operational priority. Force structuring and capability building were prioritised in accordingly. In ICT too, higher priority was accorded to 16 and 15 Corps Zones for roll out of Army owned Mobile Cellular Communication Systems (MCCS). Presently, Military Mobile Cellular services are extended to Leh region through the concept of Network in a Box. Post 2012, LAC became more active and it was given high priority. China became adversary number one. Network For Spectrum (NFS) and ASCON Phase 4, that extend Army Static Communications right upto the IB/ LC/ LAC is being rolled out with appropriate priority in LAC. Galwan incident, in one stroke brought about a further review of operational priorities. Operational voids in Surveillance, Electronic Warfare, Drones etc are being addressed through emergency procurements. These systems being procured are all network enabled. Do they have matching communications? Tactical Communication System (TCS) for mountains is yet to be placed on the anvil. What can be Pre-TCS Era communication systems for High Altitude Areas?

With these ground realities how can we outwit China in LAC management? The first response would be through effective observation, orient, decide and act (OODA). OODA needs to be customised to the rules of border management agreements. And yet scale up when face off escalates in intensity. Effective surveillance grid that tracks the movement and automatically hands off the target to most suited surveillance system is most efficient and trustworthy means of surveillance. For example, the HQs in depth areas are kept under surveillance through high resolution remote sensing satellites. Number of satellite and their orbits are configured to ensure adequate passes over these areas. Troop movements are tracked and handed over to long range surveillance radars and Opto-electrical sensors. All tactical commanders falling in likely route(s) are given early warning and are placed on be-prepared notice. Approaching suspect is handed over to the tactical commander when the suspect enters their AOR. Tactical Surveillance grid takes over the tracking. Such a robust ISR grid will reduce the probability of intrusions going unnoticed to almost Zero. CBM protocols, if required can be suitably modified.

Above mentioned procedure is simplistic at the front user end. Complexities of the process can easily be tackled by suitable AI technologies. In such a scenario Surveillance Grid and Command and Control (C2) Grid has to extend from Strategic HQs (connecting all national stake holders and their assets) to operational and tactical levels. Weapons Grid and Integrated Tracking and Surveillance System (TSS) and Missile and Air Defence System (MADS) would be existing and activated only if required. Operational TSS and MADS in itself has huge deterrence potential.

Networking all assets in battle space is the entry ticket to AI and OODA. NFS, DCN, ASCON, AFNET, NEWN are all designed as Next Gen NWs and suitable for Smart Operations (AI). Void in Network for Higher Defence Organisation and at the integrated tactical battle field needs urgent addressed. Once NFS is rolled out, there is a quick-fix option of Defence Communication Network (DCN) being designated as HDO network. For the TBA, the options are Satellite communications, International Mobile Telecommunications (4G/ 5G etc) or Mesh MANET. Mesh MANET (with capacities >80 Mbps) is rapidly becoming the preferred option in TBA primarily due to its inherent advantage of being infrastructureless, versatile (ground to air, air to air SWARM, Surface to Surface and Surface to Air), low latency and highly flexible and agile. Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capability of China, very large satellite foot print – spilling into enemy territory, high latency and effect of weather adversely effect availability of Satellite Communications. IMT, is a strong contender however, it has three major draw backs one, IMT was primarily designed for civil use, MOTS IMT is a big challenge. (lessons learnt from MCCS). 5G is application oriented IMT. It is suited for very low BW applications to Machine to Machine and Autonomous applications. MOTS version will take at least half a decade to be deployable in TBA. Two, they are not infrastructureless if a large area is to be covered. Three, they have an inherent disadvantage of screening and Line of Sight. MANET, on the other hand have over come all these issues. They have wave forms that are Non-Line Of Sight, Low Probability of Detection/ Low Probability of Interception and same waveform can be used in Ground-Ground, Air-Ground, Surface-Air, Surface-Surface roles.

LAC can be dominated by remote observation and smart action. Time has come for Shivaji Maharaj’s form of Guerilla warfare Chanakya Neeti to take its appropriate place over Sunzu Art of Warfare.

(Maj Gen L B Chand, VSM, Retd is a retired Corps of Signal Officer. As Project Director of ASCON he setup the ASCON Phase-III network. He has been associated with design and test-bedding of communications for Indian Army Tac C3I systems. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted on editor.adu@gmail.com)

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