The new Department of Military Affairs must take cognisance of C4ISR, which will directly affect success or failure of future military activities
Lt Gen. A.B. Shivane (retd)
C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) has revolutionised military operations in which the speed of information, advancements in technology, networking of organisations and specialist, will directly shape the success or failure of future military activities.
C4ISR is, thus, today as much a weapon or a tool to achieve asymmetry by decision dominance as any weapon platform. This capability would generate higher favourable force exchange ratios, enabled by superior shared situational awareness and coordinated precision engagements. The net desired outcome will be victory at lesser cost and minimum time by dominating the key factors of time, space, force and information.
The recent joint force structures of Space, Cyber and SF are the right steps in empowering the C4ISR enabled joint force concept. The raising of the Department of Military Affairs and appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) now opens vistas for an empowered decision-making body for force optimisation in terms of joint structures, doctrines, equipping and desired capabilities.
These combined with the lessons of Kargil, Doklam, Balakot and prevailing fragile situation on our disputed borders, mandates an integrated C4ISR networked decision support system, integrated with state-of-the-art targeting systems, as part of our joint force application. This article accordingly addresses the reality check, defines desired capability, identifies challenges, addresses the fundamentals and focus for capability development and visualises a way ahead for our future ready joint forces specific to C4ISR desired capabilities.
C4ISR Reality Check
Reality No 1: We have transited from the industrial age to the information age. Today, the world is becoming completely wireless, demanding uninterrupted access to information real time and anytime, and anywhere with better quality, high speed, increased bandwidth and reduction in cost, size, weight and power utilisation. Further a common media, virtual cloud storage and cellular wireless generation from 1G in 1980 to 5G or 6G is bringing about transformation.
In Operation Desert Storm, 5,42,000 US troops used 99 Mbps of satellite communication, whereas in Operation Iraqi Freedom, only 3,50,000 troops were deployed but used 3,200 Mbps of satellite communication — a 60-fold increase of bandwidth. The tracking and elimination of Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and recently, Qasem Soleimani are perfect examples of the power of C4ISR for precision targeting. Thus, the key determinant of success in future conflicts across the entire spectrum and surgical strikes will be information superiority and decision dominance rather than brute power.
Reality No 2: In future wars the challenge, however, will be one of having to make decision in the face of too much information rather than too little. There will be information overload both self and enemy generated. Thus, the aim will be to get the right information, at the right time, at the right place to the right person without information overload. Therefore, the object of C4ISR will be to champion the concept of ‘need to share’ over the concept of ‘need to know’.
Reality No 3: The four core characteristics and capabilities related to C4ISR in future battle space will be:
(a) Shared situational awareness (Space)
(b) Decision dominance (Time)
(c) Joint force synchronisation and optimisation (Force)
(d) Rapidity of force application and precision fires for favourable force exchange ratios (Force)
In short, we need a knowledge based; decision oriented networked joint force application capability.
Reality No 4: The Global C4ISR market is estimated to increase a compound annual growth rate of 1.34 per cent with the leader being aerial ISR systems and satellites. The challenge is, shrinking defence budgets are placing demands on the industry to bring new technology at the right point in the design cycle and at a reliable, reasonable cost. The Indian defence industry must optimise its true potential for offering indigenous solutions.
C4ISR Capability Definition
A joint force capability that integrates command direction, sensor grid, and processed fused intelligence with integrated common backbone communication grid. This architecture must function as an integrated, pervasive and persistent system, to provide decision makers with effective ‘real time-shared situational awareness’ across the entire spectrum of battle space.
Present Challenges and Inhibitors
C4ISR capability building in a fiscally constrained environment will demand new paradigms, strategies, and cultural change of mindsets. While some progress has been made in system and data interoperability, we still lack a common joint C4ISR architecture that allows data to be moved from all domains and across multiple platforms and sensors, rapidly, efficiently, and effectively. The present system is also more focused on need to know rather than need to share. The existing challenges and inhibitors are multi parentage, lack of integration, accountability and duplicity in the system. Besides, there is the challenge of existing platform centric focus versus desired net centric synergy, along with stimulus to processing, exploitation, and dissemination methods. These challenges have resulted in a sub optimal C4ISR grid with limited capability, capacity, coverage, connectivity and ability to overcome constraints of weather and terrain. Thus, the need is for enhanced richness, reach and interaction in our C4ISR architecture.
C4ISR Capability Development
The key fundamentals to develop a C4ISR architecture are:
- C4ISR is a GS function which is command led and staff executed. Thus, C4ISR must be led, not managed.
- C4ISR goal must adapt to address a problem centric requirement and not a resource centric approach. The ultimate aim is sensors irrespective of organisation, shooters independent of platforms and decision makers irrespective of geographical locations.
- C4ISR must dilute inter-service lines and shun a compartmentalised rigid approach. C4ISR must be theatre specific in keeping with the terrain, weather and operational needs specific to a joint theatre requirement.
- C4ISR must be addressed holistically with a single parentage and not the present culture of developing ‘I’, the ‘S’ and the ‘R’ in compartments with little synergy. The need is transforming from a loose confederation of separate specialist and reporting chain into an integrated enterprise with single parentage.
- The heart of the C4ISR or its jugular vein is the communication or networks. Pervasive and persistent C4ISR is only possible, if there is pervasive and persistent communication.
- C4ISR will only be empowered if we shift from a platform centric approach culture to a network centric approach. The outcome will be a factor of networking sensors, decision makers and shooters.
Capability Development Focus
The imperatives for an integrated and effective capability manifestation must address the following:
Critical Capability: Persistent and pervasive, all weather, all terrain layered surveillance and fused intelligence for force multiplication effect at the cutting edge.
Capability Thrust: Achieve seamless and secure information superiority across the battle space dovetailing state of art technology with zero tolerance time.
Capability Mix Solutions: Layered ISR and Networks — Persistent, flexible, interoperable, affordable and survivable; a continuous multi-tiered, multi domain, multi intelligence and time sensitive C4ISR grid; a geo-fused C4ISR data cloud with standard protocols at apex level and data fusion centres for relevant needs at lower level; multi layered, secure, dynamic and robust communication backbone with terminal connectivity and plug a play concept with a mix of both top down and bottom up approach for joint service C4ISR optimisation; network agile, mission oriented & focused C4ISR process with matching human resource and training policies and empowered structures.
The need is to integrate intra and inter service C4ISR capabilities. This would apply equally to ‘Headware’ — doctrines, skills, training, people and processes; ‘Software’ — GIS, data, automation and clouds; and ‘Hardware’ — equipment, communication and infrastructure.
A joint C4ISR philosophy evolved must lead to shared situational awareness, blurring intra and inter service compartments. It must lead to evolution of a fused integrated layered mix of sensor grid architecture which is pervasive, persistent, survivable, enduring and affordable. The networks must address Volume (Growing Data Size), Velocity (Processing Speed), Variety (Data in Many Forms) and Veracity (Data Accuracy). Further, the ISR philosophy must address the HR policies and training must be central to the core of C4ISR with technology enablement. It must also define a geo-fused C4ISR data cloud with standard protocols and geographically distributed archival facilities and fusion centres on common GIS platform.
Based on the joint C4ISR philosophy, a time specific plan of capability development must be evolved. The ownership must be taken by the newly founded Department of Military Affairs under the CDS for a time sensitive implementation and monitoring. It should include the joint C4ISR doctrine, as an overarching framework, common data formats and data dictionary, common GIS with geo-referenced data, common coordinate digital maps and software, standard protocols, policies and procedures, as also joint encryption system moving towards quantum.
There is also a need for reviewing the C4ISR equipment acquisition policies and moving it out of the misery of capital procurement process under Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). Assured budgeting for C4ISR in the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) with critical requirement made on a fast-track mode thus merits consideration. The focus must be in integrating the indigenous capability manifestation in a spiral approach in conjunction with enhanced investment in R&D as well as S&T projects. This would require partnerships with the industry, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), intelligence agencies, academia, and national labs to find cost-effective solutions.
Last, but not the least, C4ISR must address the critical aspect of human resource development. A balance mix of domain experts both uniformed and non-uniformed with continuity would be essential. Women officers with domain specialisation inducted through TES entry or even outsourced academia experts could be considered. The mix must balance the technologist and the end user, because the best analysts are those closest to the problem.
Joint force C4ISR plays a critical role, not only in maintaining situational awareness but in conducting operations to prevail in today’s war and fight to win future wars. However, the challenge remains in addressing the cultural, cognitive, doctrinal, fiscal and physical domains, to manifest C4ISR into a time sensitive desired capability. An opportunity presents itself for the newly raised Department of Military Affairs under the CDS to take the lead.