Army kicks off high-tech “digital soldier” project - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 11 November 2013

Army kicks off high-tech “digital soldier” project

 Rs 40,000 crore ($6.5 bn) project will link formation commanders directly to tanks and soldiers on the front lines

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Nov 13

The Indian Army has moved a step closer to the battlefield of the future, where command networks know the precise location of every soldier and weapon, with whom generals can exchange reports, photos, data and verbal and written communications.

On Monday, Army headquarters called in fourteen Indian companies and issued them an Expression of Interest (EoI) for developing a Battlefield Management System (BMS). The BMS will integrate combat units --- armoured, artillery and infantry regiments, infantry battalions, helicopter flights, etc --- into a digital network that will link together all components of the future battlefield.

While precise costs are still unclear, vendors competing for the contract say the army expects to pay about Rs 40,000 crore for developing and manufacturing the BMS. This includes the software architecture as well as the hardware that will link together every component of some 500 combat units, each having between 500-900 soldiers.

The BMS acquisition is being pursued as a “Make” contract under the Defence Procurement Policy of 2013 (DPP-2013). The vendors will respond to the EoI with a detailed proposal, based on which the ministry of defence (MoD) will short list two vendors or consortia as “development agencies” or DAs. The MoD will pick up 80 per cent of the development bill for both DAs to build prototypes of the BMS. The winning design will form the basis of the system.

The army’s directorate general of information systems (DG IS) is overseeing the planned shift from a twentieth century to a twenty-first century battlefield. The communications backbone of the new digital architecture will be the Tactical Communications System (TCS), which is being pursued separately as India’s first “Make” project.

In addition, the army is working on a Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS) that allows commanders to control the battle; a Battlefield Support System (BSS) to manage artillery units; and an Air Defence Control & Reporting System (ADC&RS) that will control airspace.

The BMS will link these overarching systems to the cutting edge --- the combat soldier on the front line. Each soldier and combat platform (tank, helicopter, jeep) will be a separate digital entity, whose location and state of combat readiness will be available to higher commanders. The BMS will also allow the sharing of inputs from a range of sensors in combat units, including seismic sensors, battlefield surveillance radars, long range optical sensors and thermal imaging devices.

The full rollout of the proposed digital network will enable a divisional or corps commander to talk directly to, and receive images from, a soldier in the trenches or a tank on the front. “This is all about situational awareness,” explains a serving general who terms it “Blue Force Tracking”.

The vendors who received EoIs today include eight companies that are already competing for the Rs 10,000 crore TCS contract --- L&T; Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL); Rolta Ltd; Tata Power (Strategic Electronics Division); Hindustan Computers Ltd (HCL); Wipro; Electronics Corporation of Indian Ltd (ECIL) and ITI. The six additional companies competing for BMS include --- Bharat Forge; Punj Lloyd Ltd; Tata Consultancy Services (TCS); Infosys Technologies; Tech Mahindra; and CMC.

Vendors have been given four months to form consortia, engage technology partners (who may be foreign companies), frame their proposals, and submit detailed proposals. Those will be evaluated by an Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT), which will then select two DAs.

The EoI enjoins the DAs to develop four “test beds”, or configurations of the BMS. These are for (a) armoured units; (b) mechanized infantry units; (c) infantry units in mountains, and (d) infantry units in jungle terrain.

The EoI specifies that 30 per cent of the weightage in selecting a DA will go to the amount and level of R&D that a vendor will put into the BMS. Another 30 per cent will rest on the amount of indigenous content that the BMS will contain.


  1. @broadsword,Hope something good comes out of this project with private sectoe participation.The Indian Army s project management offices are scams ,being open ended and in existence for over a decade plus now.They are but excuses for cushy Delhi postings for Cols and above with vehicles and messes thrown in.If their performance is audited by an independent and external agency they will have no place left to hide their faces.

  2. Beware. All systems based on Internet network technologies and foreign Operating systems are guaranteed hackable. Any encryption scheme based on standards can be cracked. I wonder if Indian defence planners (along with private & public sectors) have really given thought to such basic concerns. Ever wonder why our embassies do not use phones for strategic communications? Just imagine the data which our Generals are viewing also being viewed by Enemy force commanders. Even worse, if the data being viewed is totally fake. A perfect intel failure. Our situation will be like that of Hitler's where he couldn't believe his entire armies which existed on drawing boards, in reality were destroyed. Modernize, but with your own ingenuity not someone else's technology. China has the 2nd fastest supercomputers to hack & crack almost any network, on top their networks are protected by quantum based encryption technologies and hardware, they have their own line of microprocessors. What hardware does India have? Unless our defence planners have answers to these questions, I believe they will only be engaging in expensive "jugaad", which will fail in times of critical need.

  3. Shuklaji,
    No BMS config for infantry units in desert terrain???

  4. This "Blue Force Tracking" is a NATO term. Im guessing our generals were exposed to this technology during one of the previous Yudh Abhyas 2010 excersizes which took place in Hawaii.

    The TCS program idea was borne out of its predecessor AWAN.

    Generally, military technology and methods once obsolete goes to the civil world. However, the concept of tracking movements of units via GPS is known to be conceived by the logistics industry to ensure, timely delivery of its packages.

    In India itself, the first instance of such technology being used by a large business which i witnessed is the Falcon-i Vehicle tracking System by American Megatrends Inc, Chennai.

    A good tool to monitor motor vehicle usage and fuel pilferage.

    Id like to write a lot but im at the office.Fact is our one star officers and above dont read and dont discuss professional skill development.

    Instead they spend evening after evening at parties with their wives organized by COs who despite having professional competence have to resort to employing their military planning skills towards event management.

    Suddenly our general who go on international courses and joint excersizes are taken aback by how much difference their is between where they are and where a worthy contemporary army is. And now catching up is in full swing as they know PAK ARMY will buy and PLA will Invent whatever they want.

    A decade and 3 years into 21st century and our Army and AF is still disputing and trying to master the concept of Joint operations and CAS. We are already plagued by a bureaucracy and a risk averse govt.

    Last thing we need is one star and above offrs who cant run, with poor turn out akin to Guj state Home Guards, are 6 Months pregnant, No martial or spartanic spirit (present exuded or present) so troops are motivated. And no interest in the profession of arms and thereby a lack of curiosity in any military science or development. Thus, ignorant.

  5. Heard of the first when first went for the basic course. At that time it was to be fielded soon. 17years down the line someting has stirred. At this rate by the time my son joins the armed forces a rudimentary system which will be outdated even before it is fielded should be in place. And we will still have a Chief who will very seriously say, WE WILL FIGHT WITH WE HAVE AND GIVE A GOOD ACCOUNT OF OURSELVES'.

  6. What happened to INSAS 2020 sir? We always start projects but in the end our soldiers are not getting anything? Also what happened to Arjun mk2 trails? we need to get at least 1500 Arjun mk2 MBT's and import them too.

  7. Is this part of the F-INSAS program and when is the F-INSAS project set to be completed?

  8. Ghorcharrah Gabbar15 November 2013 at 04:51


    The Army's effort in designing, developing and fielding the CIDSS is a horror story waiting to be told. The project is a perfect example of how a software project should NOT be executed. Despite industry big-wigs like TCS and NIIT participating, and the DRDO supervising, the project floundered for mortal failings on almost every count - technical, financial and functionality. The software specifications were poorly and incompletely drawn up eons ago by untrained Army officers, the application software was developed using modern day object-oriented software engineering techniques, the hardware mix to run the same was an exhorbitant array of industrial-grade servers and workstations running unmanageable modern RDBMS/Web/Application/GIS servers - at the infantry battalion level ! The data transmission and backbone network was based on the existing ASCON links that required to be extensively re-engineered. Failure was a foregone conclusion because an uninformed Army General Staff threw crores of tax-payer Ruppees into a project that promised the world to the infantry honchos on PowerPoint slides but was unmanageable right from its design stage.

    In contrast, the Brassey's Battlefield technology series volume on Command & Control Systems reveals that the entire logistic management of the Coalition forces was largely based on a common spreadsheet software 'Lotus 1-2-3' and Lotus Domino collaboration and messaging software suites because it allowed data compatibility, simplified hardware and minimal communication overheads. In fact the CIDSS project begs study by the CDM or IIMs or a third-party audit agency just to learn from its mistakes. What is galling that the potential pitfalls and failures were evident at the very outset, but conveniently ignored by the EME and Signals honchos as well as the DRDO (CAIR) who made merry - financially and by accepting second employment tenures with the companies involved.

    The technical awareness of the infantry, in particular, is especially pathetic. In fact, the infantry's pet project F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System) is such a comical paradox that makes me laugh and cringe in embarrassment.


  9. Ghorcharrah Gabbar15 November 2013 at 05:06

    ... Contd

    I have heard authoritatively of the circus at an infantry brigade headquarters on the LoC in J&K where a visiting Army Commander was shown a streaming LORROS feed deployed remotely (16 km) on a forward post of one of the LC units. The 'innovation', attributed to a favoured infantry battalion, had taken the Divisional Signal Regiment over a week to engineer and took up a 2 Mbps communication channel. The remote terminal on which the wide-eyed Army Commander was shown the LORROS feed was a desktop PC running the Microsoft NetMeeting desktop client in a 4" x 3" video-conferencing screen video window. He could barely make out anything on the screen as would be expected after squeezing a 20 degree field of view into a miniature screen. The brasshats were ecstatic and directed extension of such video from sensitive posts onto their office PCs. The innovation was quietly buried once the Signals made extravagant bandwidth and equipment demands. Another fine example of infantry's inspired innovativeness and techno-culture !

    While serving in an infantry formation headquarter, I was amazed at the follow-up to the recovery of a new class of hand-held radio sets from militants who had infiltrated successfully across the LoC and were subsequently captured / killed in the hinterland. The Garmin Rino 650 Handheld GPS / Walkie-Talkie 2-Way Radio was a typical hand-held radio set that was integrated with a GPS receiver. Each receiver would graphically display the relative positions of other receivers operating on the same frequency on a LCD screen. The position updates were exchanged automatically amongst all similar radio sets operating on a common radio net. This allowed an infiltrating militant group to exercise accurate command and control over its ingress into India; the scouts (or guides) would be at a safe distance ahead of the main track (group) and keep sending back GPS way-points of the sanitised and reconoiterred route automatically to the main group without any voice transmission made. This was a rudimentary but effective BMS functionality that the Indians have yet to adapt to. Predictably, when examining recovered equipment the infantry commanders saw a radio set and a GPS separately - they never realised the integrated functionality of the sets. The Intelligence folks were even more clueless. Similar radio-sets are now issued to units as Army Commander's Special Financial Powers stores - not in pairs or multitudes, but as single pieces as Garmin GPS sets exclusively. That says it all.

    Bottomline - the Indian Army is not ready in terms of threshold knowledge, perspective plans, IT culture or domain expertise to concieve, monitor development and field an Army-wide BMS. They refuse to learn from CIDSS failures and are again re-inventing the bloody wheel for very, very questionable motives. The companies that will be involved in the development will hire officers and their kin by the score - and that's the way the cookie shall crumble !

    This Rs 40,000 Crore booty is just another cherry for the picking by future generations of retiring, clueless but conniving traitors who are promoting the same today as serving officers of various hues and ranks right upto the very top of the hierarchy.


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