Contributor: Richard de Silva
Posted: 07/18/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
Back in 2007, the Indian Army signed an agreement to be supplied with Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) standard secure radio systems, manufactured in partnership with Finmeccanica and the indigenous Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL).
BEL has also had a hand in India’s Army Radio Engineered Network (AREN) tactical area communications system that has been supplying ground forces with a secure capability since the early 1990s. This has involved the provision of a truck-mounted shelterised trunk exchange that allows up to 192 digitised voice, 256 teleprinter and 32 data channels, but can no longer cope with the huge growth in demand for high-grade information.
AREN is to be replaced with the Tactical Communication System (TCS), while the Army’s Automatic Message Switching System (AMSS) is being ousted by the Army Wide Area Network (AWAN)., connecting all services and installations within India.
Modernising the System
A large-scale plan to include the TCS programme into F-INSAS should see the development of a digital network connecting soldiers in the battlefield to command posts anywhere in the world. As AWAN seeks to integrate communication between all Indian services, the potential scope to build in interoperable allied partner networks is also being studied.
TCS will consist of “trunk nodes such as the key bandwidth carrier connection points, terminating at access nodes for Brigade-level communications”. This will then extend to command posts at Company level.
In 2010, it was reported that TCS would cost around £1.3billion, with India consulting with major IT firms to develop not only a system that incorporates mobile technology and equipment sensors, but one that is secure enough to protect highly sensitive data.
At that time, the government was looking to stoke competition between indigenous companies – including L&T, HCL Infosystems, Tata Power's Strategic Electronics Division, Wipro Technologies and Rolta India – with the winning contractor providing up to 80 per cent of the manufacturing within India and footing 80 per cent of the development bill.
Aiding TCS development is India’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), which has launched “preliminary R&D”. Recent CAIR communication products have included Wireless Message Transfer Unit (WMTU) that enables transmission of IP packets over wired and wireless media using Mil Std 188-220 A protocol, and Programmable Communication Interface Unit (PCIU) that provides interconnectivity between a formation HQ LAN and a battlefield-wide WAN. The latter provides facilities for interfacing to Fibre optic modems, HDSL modems and Synchronous/Asynchronous modems.
Seeing the Big Picture
Palmtop devices are likely to be rolled out with the new networking measures, offering GPS navigation and friendly force tracking. Some reports indicate that this technology is also being considered as a wrist mounted version so as not to encumber the troops and to minimize the risk of misplacing the device.
Aside to this, the fusion of the new technology with an innovative helmet-mounted display (HMD) will also presumably improve communications, offering direct data and voice to the soldier on the battlefield. Soldiers may be able to look towards a mountain range, for example, and be able to automatically feed their point of view instantly by video to another unit, which can in turn assess for anomalies or targets, and rapidly communicate this information back to the tactical unit in order for the soldier to make an active decision.
The HMD will not only include thermal, chemical and biological sensors, and night vision, but will offer the wearer the equivalent perspective of two 17-inch display screens.
In addition, a 2012 RFI was released to fill a gap in fibrescope technology, issued under the observance of several directorates including the Directorate General of Infantry. Once a special operations technology, the fibrescope is essentially an optical wire that can be inserted through 10mm gaps in doors and other obstacles, relaying the image on the other side without detection. The scope is intended to be INFRARED capable, capturing and recording up to 10 hours of footage or up to 1000 black and white photos, which can be simply uploaded to a computer via a USB connection.
Learning from Allies
India may well be looking at the interesting advancements in the US Army where the Signal Corps is developing its Micro-Cyber programme in an effort to deliver cheaper, lighter and more easily deployable communications devices, much of which is being based on COTS based SMART technology, such as tablet PCs.
The US is also integrating communication networks into a single network, which should, according to the Chief Information Office, reduce the risk to data leaks by establishing a much smaller digital footprint.
Considering the growing volume and rate of data needed in the field, all militaries of the future will have greater requirements than we are seeing today, and virtualisation is being factored in. In other words, while soldiers will have standard data packages on their personal equipment, such as maps and GPS, they will have access to the majority of information on a cloud server.
Cybernetics is an area still in its infancy, but France’s FÉLIN system provides computerised audio conferences while on the battlefield, reducing the limitations of single network radio. The long-term future may well see efforts to allow voice command of remote units.