Military Networking is a Vital Component of Modern Warfare

Network-centric warfare (NCW) encompasses the entire gamut of military responses in the information age. Since NCW relates to behaviour, both human and organizational, it is most important to develop a ‘Network Culture’ for application in military operations to ensure success

Special Feature

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

Entering the third decade of the 21st Century, we are approaching an even more operationally-demanding future that entails radical changes in our approach to conflicts and wars. Dimensions of conflict include aerospace, land, sea, electromagnetic and cyber. Information warfare spans network-centric warfare (NCW), C4I2 warfare, electronic warfare, cyber warfare and all other forms of operationalised cyber space. Space combat, cyberspace combat, radiation combat, robotic combat and nano-technology combat will add to the evolving forms of combat. Operations will be increasingly inter-agency involving greater application of all elements of national power.

Modern militaries need to be proficient in key domains of algorithmic warfare, robotics, autonomous platforms, drones, domination of electro-magnetic spectrum and quantum computing. Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT), space-based microwave systems and ground-based laser systems to suppress signals from orbiters or electronics of enemy satellites are on the scene. The ongoing cyber-war is continuously evolving. Software updates can change internal logic of a system to disable previously emplaced cyber capability when triggered. AESA radars as primary sensor and emitter on combat aerial platforms offer potential way to remotely trigger previously emplaced cyber payloads in enemy systems.

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Armed Forces currently conform to the organizational philosophy of vertically integrated command and control. But the changing nature of war demands adoption of a directive style of control, which is based on effective delegation of authority, appreciating that the future battlefield milieu is a mix of uncertainty and chaos

For success in combat militaries must be NCW-capable. NCW is an information superiority-enabled concept of operations that generates increased combat power by networking sensors, decision makers and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability and a degree of self-synchronization; dramatically increasing mission effectiveness

The belief that NCW implies only reliance on technology is misplaced. Networking, enabled by information technology (IT), needs to be meshed with overall technological advancements and combined with organizational structures, processes and above all, people – warfighters, operators, managers and commanders. NCW encompasses the entire gamut of military responses in the information age. Since NCW relates to behaviour, both human and organizational, it is most important to develop a ‘Network Culture’ for application in military operations to ensure success.

Armed Forces currently conform to the organizational philosophy of vertically integrated command and control. But the changing nature of war demands adoption of a directive style of control, which is based on effective delegation of authority, appreciating that the future battlefield milieu is a mix of uncertainty and chaos. Networks are particularly suitable for this environment, as they distribute decision-making which becomes a mix of bottom-up as well as top-down approaches. Transition to an NCW force requires an organizational system that increases the productive capacity of the subordinates by maximizing individual and variable human intellectual effort; not replacing hierarchies but making them more attuned to initiative by subordinates and optimally using fleeting opportunities.

NCW in our Armed Forces mushroomed bottom upwards instead of the required top down approach. In the absence of an NCW doctrine /philosophy individual services developed information systems and efforts to integrate them with other services were thought of much later

NCW in our Armed Forces mushroomed bottom upwards instead of the required top down approach. In the absence of an NCW doctrine /philosophy individual services developed information systems and efforts to integrate them with other services were thought of much later. The Air Force and the Navy have better intra-service networking because of operational necessity; they simply could not function without networking. But inter-service operability among the three services is still developing – probably a few years away from the required levels. After so many years, we still don’t have an NCW philosophy /doctrine, which should have been the starting point for initiating NCW capability in the military. There are doctrines for C4I2 and IW but these two are components of NCW and do not constitute NCW.

We need to accelerate establishment of an integrated C4I2SR system. At present, the three services are not integrated through common data structures, symbology and interoperable protocols. Finalising and adoption of standards and protocols, mutually compatible database structures, development/deployment of interfaces between systems using disparate platforms and commonality of hardware are challenges that need to be overcome. No single unifying secrecy algorithm for the three services has been developed either. There is an absence of knowledge management. A true ‘System of Systems’ approach has yet to come through. Integrated communications must be established to provide seamless connectivity, both vertically and horizontally. All platforms must be network enabled. Cyber security must graduate to information assurance and information dominance.

The hiccups in establishing Theatre Commands is in the media. But why we have not been able achieve a top-down approach for establishing a truly-NCW force is because of multiple reasons that include:

  • The three Services are not integrated with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
  • HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), which was established on the premise it would be part of MoD, has been kept as a separate HQ.
  • The CDS charged to ensure jointness in the military has been created as a toothless entity heading the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), separate from the Department of Defence (DoD) headed by the Defence Secretary who holds all the power and control of finances in the MoD.
  • The political direction through the bureaucracy to merely usher jointness in the Armed Forces and create Theatre Commands falls grossly short of what the political direction should be for triggering a true Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).
  • Merely purchasing weaponry indicates little understanding of measures that national security requires vis-à-vis the Armed Forces.
  • We do not acknowledge that NCW is a mere enabler for Effect Based Operations (EBOs) which is ‘the’ requirement of combating present and future threats; EBOs require a synergized effort of the entire nation, not just the military.

We have been developing a range of networking capabilities in the three services but usually with an environmental, rather than a holistic or joint focus. NCW capability requires a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach, which includes the development of matching doctrine and infrastructure, restructuring and even re-engineering of some organizations. It also requires qualitatively higher knowledge and skill thresholds. The military, the entire national security establishment, DRDO, PSUs and IT companies have to work closely in unison and leverage their capabilities for establishing a truly Indian system.

The opinion that RMA is driven by technological advancements made in the recent past in IT and changes in the fields of communication, computer and network is only partly true; limiting RMA to only systems would be highly incorrect. Recent technological advancements require revolutionary changes in the manner in which we conduct our military business because RMA encompasses the entire military organization.

RMA has four basic tenets: One, it not only technological but concerns significant progress and change in at least the important military-related areas of technology, organisation, doctrine and operational concepts; Two, progress in above areas (technology, organisation, doctrine and operational concepts) by themselves do not represent true RMA – it is a  synergistic combination of these that forms true RMA and alters the nature of warfare; Three, RMA emerges from revolutionary changes of historic magnitude within the broader social, economic and political environment of national and global societies, which in turn offer the conditions for RMA to be recognised, appreciated, internalised and exploited, and; Four, smooth and successful process of recognition, appreciation, internalisation and exploitation requires flexibility, acceptability, innovation and openness to change, particularly on the part of the military.

The interplay between RMA, NCW and C4I2SR is vital. Innovative application of technology as part of RMA, together with suitably changed doctrine and concepts, brings about a fundamental change in the character and conduct of operations, meeting 21st Century requirements. NCW and C4I2SR, too, are based on optimisation of technology, particularly IT. Therefore, RMA, NCW and C4I2SR are so intimately interlinked that they cannot be surgically segregated into separate compartments.

What Needs To Be Done

If the government is serious about marshalling effective RMA and establishing a NCW-capable military, it needs to take the following steps:

  • Enact an Act of Parliament for ‘Military Transformation’ on the lines of America’s Goldwater-Nichols Act and Germany’s Berlin Decree meeting Indian requirements. An Act of Parliament is necessary for overcoming ongoing resistance for creating Theatre Commands and avoiding tampering with the system on whims and fancies of every second bureaucrat and politician.
  • The National Security Council (NSC) should be tasked to prepare the ‘Draft Military Transformation Act’ in a timeframe of 6-8 months, given the fact that much of the required spadework already exists.
  • The aim should be to enact the ‘Military Transformation Act’ latest in the monsoon session of Parliament of 2022 followed by quick implementation.
  • The DMA and DoD in MoD should be merged and the CDS made a permanent member of the NSC, as well as a single-point military advisor to the Prime Minister.
  • HQ IDS should be fully merged into the MoD as part of much needed reorganisation of the MoD.
NCW capability requires a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach, which includes the development of matching doctrine and infrastructure, restructuring and even re-engineering of some organizations. It also requires qualitatively higher knowledge and skill thresholds

Swami Vivekananda had said, “We are responsible for what we are, and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act.”

Afghanistan’s takeover by the China-Pakistan supported Taliban has raised the collusive threat to us even more. We may not be able to catch up with China economically and in military terms, but we must aim to bridge the asymmetry through a fully networked military as part of true RMA, enabling requisite response against all forms of combat.

Finally, with comprehensive security getting more and more complex coupled with technological advances, the military will continue to be an important and critical element of national power. Our policy makers must acknowledge that the military establishment requires creative adaptation, fundamental changes and political determination for responding effectively to the adversaries.

-The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda.