By Maj Gen LB Chand, VSM (Retd.)
New Delhi. 03 December 2020. Many a question may arise in the minds of “Military Thinkers” regarding the veracity of the heading. Some even wonder how a communicator, who once wore Olive Greens, can comment on communication systems of men in Whites and Sky Blues? A technical answer would be – Communication systems vary depending upon propagation properties of Electromagnetic Spectrum across medium and the best suited modulation technique and antenna system. The basic philosophy and architecture of communication systems remains similar and a very fine line differentiates the communication systems of the three services. Technical reasons aside, there is a strong charge that flows amongst all communicators.
Communications is a field where technically purplisation (a term often used for jointness in HQ IDS) was feasible from the very start. “Communication means the act of transferring information from one place, person or group to another.” Traditionally there was always a need for all communication systems to interconnect. They were designed to interconnect directly or through interfaces/ applique units. So why, in this computer age, there is only voice interconnect amongst service specific networks? The answer has to be found on priority by Policy Makers in the Service HQs.
Indian Armed Forces, bureaucratic boundaries created on the basis of security, authorised access to data, trust in each other’s communication policies and SOPs etc are the main hurdles in interconnecting the information infrastructures of the three services. During my service I have also noticed that, ascendency in Information Communication Technology (ICT) somehow governs willingness to interconnect. Like a sine curve, ascendency changes. Upto 2007, it was with Indian Army, which was overtaken by Indian Air Force and now Indian Navy is on the verge of taking the lead. In Network Centric domain, Indian Navy (IN) has been in the lead. “The trudge along Net-centricity path is never over. New horizons and associated challenges keep the Communicators exploring for optimal solutions”. I am narrating this fascinating short story of Indian Navy’s ICT transformation. John J Garstka, in his book on NCW identifies Communications as the Entry Ticket to net-centricity. Let me start by narrating the felt need in the peculiar context of Naval Operations.
Geopolitical and Security Situation in IOR – It would be prudent to let the Maritime expert emphasis this extremely important and potentially volatile region in the world. Communication support and com-system planning are governed equally by Doctrines / Operational Capabilities & Plans and technology. At the very start of the narration, a look into reach and tasks of Indian Navy is an appropriate prelude. In the next decade right through 2030s, it is clear that the IOR will become an increasingly important and complex maritime space from a geostrategic perspective. China’s, ever increasing dependence on import of oil and natural resources has made SLOCs through IOR strategically vital to its sustained economic growth. The proactive policy of salami slicing and in its national interest not settling border disputes with its weaker neighbours is their trump card to keep them at bay. It compels them to act with caution while forming an axis with China’s economic and military competitors; primarily USA. Joint ventures mega infrastructure development projects in developing countries, with post completion/ operationalisation agreements that favours China. If there is ever a default in repaying the loans the country in a debt trap. Countries like Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal are on the verge of falling into the debt trap. Indirect influence and control by China in South and Southeast Asia region is posing an economic and military threat to India. This complexity is enhanced many-folds, both by continued naval involvement from adversaries of India and their policy to enhance their naval task-group and expeditionary-force.
Over the past four decades Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while resorting to their Salami-slicing & boundary disputes policy never crosses the threshold of full-scale war. As regards stronger neighbours like Russia they have settled their border disputes. Due to the geo-strategic location of India and CCP’s strategy of opening a direct trade route into Arabian Sea, China will keep the boundary dispute alive. On the contrary, China will exploit provisions of “Border Defence Cooperation Agreements” to its advantage. PLA has mastered the art of exploiting the terms and conditions of BDCA to its advantage.
In military perspective, Air Force and Indian Army would primarily play the role of counterweight in No War No Peace scenario. Asymmetric Warfare in Technology domain (or unrestricted warfare) targeting culture & character and critical infrastructure through social and cyber domain has emerged as preferred military tactics of PLA. Projection of Naval power, that potentially threatens SLOCs and thus their economy is the underbelly of China. It is heartening to know that since almost past decade Indian Navy has become a viable power to reckon with. If one is to quote Ashley J. Telis “Indian Navy, in IOR has a distinct military superiority over Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)”. IN is on the right course to retain this superiority. Extent of IN’s reach is governed by the matching reach of its communication infrastructure in the blue waters.
Ensuring Reach of Networked Indian Navy within her AOR – IN, by carrying out Human Assistance and Disaster Risk Management, joint exercises, counter pirate operations, medical relief in the entire IOR region has successfully demonstrated her military capability to operate from Strait of Malacca to Strait of Hormuz and from the coast of Africa to the western shores of Australia. Success of naval operations in entire IOR is governed by integrated maritime operations of all Naval assets in a fleet viz, combatant vessels, submarines, air assets, surveillance and anti-submarine assets, UAVs, Unmanned Surface & Subsurface Vessels. Indian Navy aims at becoming a “Three-Dimensional Navy” in IOR. Modern warfare is swift, accurate & intense. Digitisation of Battle Space acts as a catalyst in intensifying it further. To meet her communication requirements, Indian Navy has many firsts, like exclusive Satellite with adequate foot print in its Area of Responsibility, Software Defined Radio, Robust Encryption systems that offer encryption over World Wide Web, HF and VLF systems. IN is also investing in futuristic developing technologies like quantum cryptography, quantum networks, laser communications, ultra-high capacity wireless networks. These futuristic systems are unlikely to be deployable in next five to ten years. In the interim period high capacity, low latency network-on-the-move commercialised & mature Military Off The Shelf communication systems need to be incorporated in the fleet’s communication inventory.
Satellite is ideally suited to connect all assets within a fleet and rearwards to the Headquarters on main land. However, they have inherent limitations in terms of latency, susceptibility to rain effect, denial of service attacks, dependence on hub for switching (hub-less terminals, though available, still need one or more terminals to be assigned with administrative functions) and they are now easy target of Anti-Satellite weapons. Satellite networks need to be supported by an alternative high capacity wireless network that connects all assets of a Three-dimensional Navy. High Capacity Kinetic Mesh Mobile Adhoc Network (MANET) SDRs are emerging as a suitable, time-tested communication system. A Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM) waveform is proving to be a popular waveform for high bandwidth MANETs. IN is oncourse in development of Satellite infrastructure. A satellite constellation will enhance this capability many folds.
SDR Programme of Indian Navy – IN’s Weapon and Electronics Systems Engineering Establishment (WESEE) in collaboration with DRDO and BEL has achieved success in developing and SDR for voice and data links. These radios are primarily FM, with frequency bands of 3 to 512 MHz with programable power. These sets are MANET enabled. However, the Band Width and number of nodes in the mesh are unspecified. Considering the single band FM wave form, the BW is likely to be ≤ 1 Mbps per mesh. The adequacy of this BW in a digital battle field and for drone SWARM, UAVs, autonomous unmanned vessels, Opto-electrical (OE) sensors based situational awareness etc are highly suspect. Snapshot of their fascinating success story is diagrammatically represented.
Snapshots of Make in India SDR
Network Centric Three-Dimensional Navy – Modern Digital battle field requires spectral efficient high capacity wireless networks. SDR MANETs are emerging as preferred solutions for Combat Net Radios. Electro Magnetic Spectrum is a scarce yet inexhaustible resource in digital battlefield. Higher BW per hertz is an urgent operational requirement in tactical wireless communications. Modern wave forms that employ Multi Channel Modulation (MCM) like Coded Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM) and provide BWs in excess of 80 Mbps need to be developed and incorporated in IN’s SDR programme. These waveforms are not competing but complimenting low BW SDRs. These waveforms are also available in the upper spectrum of frequency bands identified by IN (300 to 475+ MHz). The advantage is a quantum jump in BW Mesh MANET to the tune of 80 Mbps. MCM waveforms are also available in L, S & C bands.
M/s EXICOM Technologies (India) LLP, as a manufacturing partner of DTC, UK are manufacturing spectrally efficient, high BW (> 80 Mbps / mesh) Mesh MANET SDRs. These qualify as Make-II, Made in India products. The base module of EXICOM SDR is small (small matchbox) and weighs around 60 gms. It packs the power of State-of-the-Art Mesh MANET. Form factors (power Amplification, Antenna System) can be customised based upon operational requirements. Form Factors and their characteristics of these Mesh MANET SDRs is given below.
Point to Ponder – Why not incorporate these low hanging SDR wave form and firmware in the IN SDRs and enhance their BW and MANET capabilities many folds?
“The unique State of the Art Ultra High BW Mesh MANET SDR is a versatile and robust. It supports communication on the move at speeds upto 80 Kmph, is self-forming and self-healing Mesh MANET. Supports surface to air, SWARMs, UAV, Autonomous Vessels, interconnection with Satellite, inter / intranet and terrestrial network infrastructure (cloud).”
This SDR can be considered for interfacing with the SDR Programme of Indian Navy in 300 to 475 MHz band
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org)