Technology as a game changer for Network Centric Operations in a battlefield scenario

by cdr. Gautam Nanda, Associate Partner, Aerospace & Defense, KPMG in India

Digital transformation has shifted from the realm of the future to a reality that most companies are trying to harness to disrupt traditional ways of doing business. One of the key areas of digital transformation is the creation of real-time dashboards that guide business decision-making. A similar organizational system is used for command and control in military formation.

In military parlance, the use of computers and communications network technologies to create a shared awareness of a battlespace and to carry out command and control is called Network Centric Operations (NCO). NCO is a powerful force multiplier and with the right long-term vision and strategy, it is a game changer in a battlefield scenario. Technologically, NCO consists of a backbone network infrastructure that supports advanced capabilities such as secure communications, battlefield command and control, and application of artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance security capabilities. The platforms in the armed forces have a communications network that, when integrated into NCO, improves their operational capability. Furthermore, interoperable NCO infrastructure promotes the joint operations of the three services and coordination with stakeholders involved in internal security, border management and disaster management are other key areas.

In the Indian context, the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) summarizes the armed forces’ requirements for a specific network. Optical Fiber Cable (OFC) networks, Software Defined Radios (SDRs), Satellite Communication (SATCOM) terminals, High Frequency (HF) sets are some of the equipment proposed for development in the TPCR. Some of the key facets for the implementation of effective and efficient NCO systems that need to be addressed are listed below.

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Architecture: Collaboration in operations and interoperability of networked platforms are the foundation of any efficient NCO system that seamlessly connects all networks/platforms. The NCO system developed must have an open architecture that can be integrated with internal security and civil networks. Innovative frameworks such as open architectures and multiple use of NCO infrastructure between military, paramilitary and civilian authorities aid NCO adoption.

Disruptive technology: Technology plays an intrinsic role in shaping a long-term vision in which 5G is a disruptive technology that is about to go mainstream. The superiority of 5G over 4G is exponential and it makes it possible to link sensors across an organization, providing near real-time decision support and a common business image. 5G technologies can be used in conjunction with the existing network backbone to extend the reach of NCO.

Table of possible applications of 5G in defense

Enabling Tactical Data Link (TDL) Interoperability Between Aircraft GenerationsAlternate Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT)5G Compatible Sonar ArraysHave a single device that is 5G but can fall back to 3G and 4G and also digital HFLinking Ground Stations for Redirecting Space Assets
Onboard ISR / Efficient Data Processing and TransferLight and armored vehicles with 5G support.5G on piers for data offloadingActive Cyber ​​Defense/ProtectionOn-orbit edge computing, ie processing data in space
Creation of early warning system radarObtain real-time data regarding vehicle location and capacity in the fieldSubmarine with 5G supportProvide virtual gateways between previously interoperable systemsDeliver resilient backhaul to the battlefield via satellite constellations with 5G support

Manage infrastructure lifecycle: An open architecture ensures cost-effectiveness of network deployment and long-term availability of product and service support. Network components can be used as security elements to prevent data leakage from the network and a secure network can be established by using a layered approach to restrict access. An open architecture approach would reduce the life cycle costs for these networks through the use of common equipment and subsystems.

Implementation: Rapid and effective implementation is essential to maintain technological superiority and control lifecycle costs.

The following recommendations are proposed to oversee the implementation of NCO infrastructure in line with the vision and innovation components of the broader NCO Roadmap for the Indian Armed Forces.

Creation of a special department of NCO: A dedicated central department with overall responsibility and authority to determine all aspects of NCO would facilitate the preparation of technical specifications, project planning and execution and budget allocation for all NCO projects.

The operation and maintenance of the advanced NCO equipment is likely to require dedicated and well-trained personnel. Such a workforce may not be readily available within the armed forces, therefore it is necessary to establish training centers to ensure the simultaneous introduction of non-commissioned officer equipment and skilled labor to make the best use of the non-commissioned officer equipment.

Interaction with business: Recent development of NCO-related infrastructure shows that private industry is technologically and economically capable of carrying out large-scale NCO projects. Also, private industry has outpaced defense institutions in R&D and deployment of NCO infrastructure. It is therefore recommended that business be given a greater role in formulating policy and strategy for NCO.

Managing Aging: Network infrastructure has long investment and carrying timelines, which is why aging management is critical.

Learn: The implementation of NCOs must be guided by a clear doctrine.

In addition to its core capabilities, robust NCO has the potential to act as a major enabler for other maturing technologies viz. Augmented Reality (AR)/ Virtual Reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics. These technologies have potential applications in training and simulation, automation, vehicle to everything (V2X communication), edge applications, etc. These enabling technologies can support various applications such as smart border control and automated patrolling. Also use swarm tactics where human-operated and semi-autonomous vehicles work together for greater effectiveness. The deployment of NCO technologies can enable armed forces to build hitherto unattainable capabilities to understand, analyze and respond to different types of situations in real time.

Cdr Gautam Nanda was one of the speakers at a panel on “Foreign Investments & Technology: Key to ‘Atmanirbhar’ Defense sector” during the
Aerospace and Defense Summit 2022
held on March 24.

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