A few hundred years ago, wars were won on the strength of numbers. In the last century, wars have been won from the air, and also through the power of nuclear science. But today’s wars can be fought and won on the strength of information technology. Why the US has so few casualties in the wars it gets into today is because of the extent of IT-enablement of its armed forces. From smart cruise missiles, to stealth bombers to electronics warfare that cripples and disables the enemy’s systems and communication networks, to ground soldiers bristling with equipment that gives them an unbeatable advantage, no other nation in the world has used IT in defence so powerfully.
This holds many lessons for India as our armed forces and Pakistan’s forces just about begin to back down from the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that’s been on for months now. The Indian government does recognise the potential of IT-enablement of India’s armed forces, but the actual reality of ground level implementation is not yet all there. “I regret to say that India’s armed forces are far away from achieving superiority in the field of IT,” says Lt. Gen. Baldev Singh, MD, Rsystems International.
The role of IT in defence is much larger than in other walks of life, simply because of the size of the defence establishment. “IT is perhaps the greatest force multiplier for the armed forces. All future wars will be won or lost on the field of information technology,” says Lt. Gen. Singh. It’s clear that the side that has mastered the art of using IT to enhance its combat potential and combat effectiveness during peacetime will emerge as the victor in war. “The great relevance of technology for defence policy is undisputed. Technological developments make possible improvements in quality and force of existing weapon systems and open up novel options for political and military action,” adds Paul Kuah, product marketing manager, Southeast Asia Pacific, Autodesk.
The Ministry of Defence has set up a Task Force on Information Technology for Defence. This was set up keeping in mind the need to formulate an IT vision and policy for the defence sector and establish a platform for interaction with industry. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has launched a number of programmes for the development of critical technologies and systems, through a consortia of institutions and industry, technological empowerment of laboratories and collaborative teams. The main theme flowing through all these initiatives is information technology. India’s much talked about missile programme, the LCA project, the pilotless target aircraft project and surveillance radar Indira are just some results of these initiatives. The Pace Plus supercomputer, 32-bit microprocessor Anupama, and silicon and gallium-based chips are some other IT successes.
IT on the ground
Computers and computer-based systems are used by the Indian defence forces for routine administrative and logistical functions at various levels. Geographical Information System (GIS) enables the use of IT for important functions of operations and digitisation of maps, etc., both on land and at sea. “Besides enhancing administrative efficiency, the operational capabilities of the armed forces and the utilisation of weapons and equipment can be rapidly optimised with progressive computerisation,” explains Anil Sethi, CEO, NCNL Infomedia.
An effective communication network is a vital link for the defence sector. India’s Core Signals Group is responsible for the implementation of IT in the army. It is in the process of implementing state-of-the-art data networks that will be connected to field units. Apart from this, various access network technologies, particularly satellite communication, are being used to enhance IT proliferation in the defence sector. The Indian Navy is implementing the Naval Enterprise Wide Network (NEWN) project, aimed at strengthening networking infrastructure and providing support to a whole new range of existing and new applications. “NEWN is based on the latest IT concepts and is meant to handle futuristic trends in communications for the next decade,” says Sethi. NEWN will connect 22 naval locations around the country.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is in the process of acquiring state-of-the-art technology for communications and computer networks. It plans to use a Multi-sensor Command and Control Constellation (MC2C) based around the use of radars, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), and aerostats. “Of all the three forces, the Navy and Air Force take the cake when it comes to IT implementation. This is because of the communication systems that they have and the nature of their operations, which demands more use of IT than the army,” says Lt. Gen. Singh. Agrees Air Commodore N K Chibber, secretary general, Pacific Telecommunication Council (PTC) India Chapter, “Though we have still not reached the stage being totally computerised, many of our air systems are fully automated thanks to usage of IT.”
Information warfare is an emerging area. It relates to computer virus attacks, precision attacks on command and control nodes and soft and hard skill capabilities to significantly degrade or paralyse the information structure of the adversary. “Although there is a chance of hackers doing some damage, they cannot affect equipment because they have standalone computerised systems integral to the weapon system and equipment. However, anything on a network or dependent on satellite-based functioning can be affected,” says Rajesh Dixit, editor of defenceindia.com.
To counter such attacks, many Indian agencies are working on IT-based defence systems. The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing’s (C-DAC) Networking and Internet Software Group (NISG) at Pune is working on the development of core network security technologies, which include C-DAC’s Virtual Private Network (C-VPN), a crypto package (C-Crypto) and prototypes of e-commerce applications. Besides, DRDO has been successful in integrating security mechanisms in the Army Radio Engineering Network (AREN) and Army Static Switch Communication Network (ASCON).
The IAF in partnership with IIT Kanpur is on the verge of developing a 128-bit encryption algorithm. Once approved, it would be used for bulk and online encryption. IIT Kanpur has also collaborated with the Indian Navy’s Weapons and Electronic System Engineering Establishment (WESEE) in the development of Trinetra, an encryption code for naval communications, which is believed to be the first time that a major block cipher system has been developed indigenously.
Room for improvement
India still has miles to go before our defence sector can be completely IT-enabled. Areas such as battlefield prediction/battlefield assessment, knowledge management, personnel management, communication, material management and logistics management have lots of potential for improvement using IT.
“In any government-controlled organisation IT-enablement is usually slow, but defence thankfully is coming out of it and is also collaborating with the private sector, which has better expertise in IT implementation,” says Pradeep Joshi, business consultant, Netcons Associates. One industry association that has taken a lead in such collaboration is the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). In the recent past there have been many conventions on co-operation between private IT organisations and the defence forces.
The Indian defence sector can also leverage the strengths of the Indian IT industry, especially the software sector. Although the defence establishment has taken some steps in this direction, it doesn’t come close to the potential there is for co-operation in this space.
Take the case of Israel. IT firms and the defence establishment work very closely there, thus resulting in Israel’s armed forces being one of the most modern forces on the globe today. This co-operation has also paid off in the vast number of high-tech weapon systems that Israel has developed in the recent past. The co-operation has also helped the Israeli IT industry grow. “I endorse this viewpoint. IT professionals in India are some of the most competent people in the entire IT world. Yet, our armed forces shy off from using this talent. This could well be because they do not appreciate the full force of IT or they erroneously believe that it would compromise security. This could well be considered a shortcoming at the strategic level,” says Lt. Gen. Singh.
“We have had a lot of collaborations with different public sector units like CMC, TCIL, ITI and BEL. However, there has not been much collaboration with private IT players due to the security issue. We do not have an open tender system, but shortlist companies on our own,” adds Air Commodore Chibber. Commodore Navin Chandra, CEO and director, India Operations, Infinite Computer Solutions, is also of the same opinion. “I believe the biggest fear is the security issue. And that’s the reason why dependency on the IT industry is limited to logistics, administration, material and inventory management,” he adds.
Even as we back down from our latest confrontation with Pakistan, we must remember that the core issues that have brought this conflict to the near flare-up stage haven’t been dealt with. Rather, they’ve just been swept under the carpet. There’s every chance that very soon we could see the same situation unfold again. While India’s defence forces are increasingly using IT, the pace of IT-enablement definitely needs to be speeded up. And co-operation between the private sector and the defence sector is a must, especially when it comes to India’s software sector. The surest way to make India’s armed forces lean, mean and unbeatable is through rapid IT-enablement. The teeth-to-tail ratio of the defence forces an often debated subject can be increased simply by automating various limbs. If we do this right, we could go ahead and bring down the attacker, whether he faces us in a frontal conflict, or through a low-intensity conflict based on terrorist attacks, with the same confidence and power that the US does.
Published in ExpressIndia