Networked Future

The era of algorithmic alliances is here

Prasun K. Sengupta

Navstar-Glonass-IRNSS Receiver

As explained earlier (FORCE, February 2020) by this author, rapid technological advances since the late Nineties in the arena of network-centric warfare have seen to it that multinational military alliances—or coalition of the willing—are seeing to it that it is no longer imperative to have formal military treaties between countries to ensure multi-spectrum cooperation and the conduct of joint forces operations. Instead, today’s ‘algorithmic alliances’ can be struck and activated within just a few minutes through the exchange of alphabet-/digit-based algorithms.

For instance, the India-specific Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was inked on 6 September 2018 during the maiden 2+2 ministerial meeting between India and the US, deals with secure encrypted military communications channels even though the hardware being used are different. This, for instance, the COMCASA’s Military Information Sharing Technical Arrangement (MISTA) component now enables the Indian Navy’s (IN) Boeing P-8I LRMR/ASW platforms and the US Navy’s and Royal Australian Air Force’s P-8A Poseidon LRMR/ASW platforms to function in a networked manner for real-time, persistent wide-area surveillance stretching from the Ombai-Wetar Strait off Timor Leste all the way westwards via the Lombok and Sunda Straits, all of which are used by China’s PLA Navy when deploying from the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

In March 2019, the Indian and US navies had inked a loan agreement and installed two Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) kits at the IN HQ and discussions are still ongoing for more such systems to be installed at a variety of locations and platforms. These kits enable encrypted communications between networked navies, enabling a quantum increase in maritime domain awareness (MDA).

In a related development, the IN has accelerated its certification-related user-trials of the Defence Research and Development Organisation/Defence Electronics Application Laboratory (DRDO/ DEAL)-developed High Frequency (HF), Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) software-defined radio (SDR-NC), covering a waveband of 3 megaHertz to 3 gigaHertz, thereby paving the way for Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) to commence series-production of the SDR-NC units for all of the IN’s principal surface combatants, submarines and manned airborne platforms. The SDR-NC accommodates 10 waveforms for carrying voice and data traffic with proprietary encryption and frequency-hopping communications security.

In terms of data rates, rates of 9.6 kiloBits-per-second (kBps) are achievable when using the HF radio, although this increases to 200kBps when using the VHF radio. The SDR-NC comprises a single HF radio and two VHF transceivers. Given the size of the programme, BEL expects deliveries of the SDR-NCs to continue until around 2025. In the airborne domain, BEL is moving towards the third phase of testing of the airborne version of the SDR-NC, which will also be used as the transmitting/receiving platform for the IN’s Link-2 family of secure tactical/ strategic data-link network that allows for seamless transmission and reception of data/ imagery/ voice inputs in real-time not only between different platforms, but also between different fleets—indigenous and multinational.

In other words, the SDR-NC/Link-2 combination is the IN’s answer to the US Navy’s CENTRIXS, with the latter existing as long ago as the mid-Eighties! The secondary transmitting/ receiving systems for the SDR-NC/ LINK-2 combination (apart from the VHF/UHF transceivers) are ORBIT-supplied OceanTRx (Rukmani) stabilised VSAT antennae that operate in the C, Ka, Ku and X bands. The V/UHF transceiver of the SDR-NC has been undergoing testing on an IN-owned and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd-built (HAL) Dornier Do-228-101/201 turboprop.

The last remaining foundational agreement—Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)—was inked in New Delhi on October 26. Essentially, it is an agreement between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US department of defence and India’s ministry of defence. BECA allows both countries to share all kinds of military information such as geo-magnetic and gravity data, topographical maps, nautical and aeronautical charts, commercial and other unclassified imagery. While most information shared will be unclassified, there are provisions for sharing classified information like sensitive data obtained by overhead recce satellites, with safeguards to prevent it from being shared with any third party.


NavIC IRNSS Receiver

Simply put, the BECA will now make available to the IN and Indian Air Force (IAF) navigational and locational coordinates supplied by the US ‘Navstar’ constellation of global positioning system (GPS) satellites in PY-Code format (with a CEP of less than 10 feet), instead of the CA-Code that the US has made available to the whole world since 1991 totally free of charge (as is also the case with Russia’s GLONASS-K, Europe’s Galileo and China’s Beidou GPS satellite constellations. In addition, the BECA will also ensure access to PY-Code locational data on a global scale, since India’s own NavIC seven-satellite constellation of the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) has only a regional footprint and thus cannot be labelled as being a GPS services provider.

BECA had been pending for more than a decade-and-a-half after the earlier United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government did not sign it because India’s Left-wing political parties, which were part of the then ruling coalition, were strongly opposed to forging close ties with the US. The signing of these mutually binding foundational agreements is mandatory under the US law. In India, companies from both the public sector and private sector have already begun mass producing receivers for both military and civil applications that can supply data obtained from Navstar, NavIC IRNSS and Glonass-K GPS satellite constellations.




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