In a blow to prospect of “digital army”, army shutting high-tech “Make” project - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 19 July 2018

In a blow to prospect of “digital army”, army shutting high-tech “Make” project

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th July 18

On Friday, the army will officially shut down a project that was aimed at transforming it into a 21stcentury force, which leverages digital communications and information technology (IT) to swiftly detect, identify and destroy its foes.

Senior generals, including the army’s vice chief, want to scrap the revolutionary Battlefield Management System (BMS) to save the Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion) it will cost to develop. Instead, they want legacy weapons like rifles and light machine guns.

The official foreclosure of the BMS project will be declared on Friday, ironically, by the Defence Production Board (DPrB) – a defence ministry body charged with promoting the development of futuristic defence platforms.

The battlefield efficacy of a digitally networked force was first demonstrated in the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein's vaunted Iraqi Army was overwhelmed in 96 hours by a US military that had married sensor technology with real-time networking, across combat and support units.

Stunned by that demonstration of force application, all major militaries began developing networked battlefield systems. A Chinese version of BMS, the Qu Dian, began deployment a decade ago. Pakistan is developing its own BMS, named Rehbar.

But the army, placing traditional weapons above high-technology, says that equipping the army’s 800-plus combat units with BMS would cost an unaffordable Rs 50-60,000 crore (500-600 billion), going by prototype development costs. Industry sources counter that prototype development costs far more than industrial production, where scale would dramatically drive down prices.

After the BMS project was okayed in 2007, the defence ministry chose two Indian consortia to develop competing versions of the BMS. In one, Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) is partnering L&T, while Bharat Electronics has joined hands with Rolta India in the other. 

The BMS project is one of only three “Make” category platforms that India’s defence industry has been asked to develop, with the defence ministry reimbursing 80 per cent of the costs. 

BMS seeks to leverage India’s IT skills and talent to equip individual soldiers and commanders – each carrying a high-tech “software defined radio” (SDR) – as “digital entities” that can receive information from battlefield sensors, such as unmanned aircraft, radars, ground sensors and lookout posts. In turn, each soldier transmits battlefield information in front of him, feeding into a comprehensive “battlefield picture” available to every combatant.

The principle on which BMS works is the same as Google Maps, which gets drivers to their destinations quicker by “crowd-sourcing” traffic information from numerous sources, including drivers’ mobile phones. BMS similarly “crowd-sources” battlefield information from its own soldiers, through their SDRs. 

A networked military is faster on what military jargon calls the OODA loop – the cycle of observing (detecting the enemy), orienting (locating him), deciding (the type and location of a weapon to engage him most effectively) and acting (to launch the weapon to destroy the enemy). Engagements are usually won by the force that “closes the OODA loop” quickest. That is what the BMS enables.

An industry executive says the technologies that would be developed for BMS – which involve connecting numerous entities on a single network – are the same as those that drive an Internet of Things (IoT). “BMS would galvanize IoT knowhow in India. This would be a classic case of technology ‘trickle-down’ from defence to civilian applications,” he says. 

Paradoxically, BMS, which networks the army’s frontline combat echelons, is being shut down even as work continues on networking higher headquarters through projects like the Tactical Communications System, Command Information and Decision Support System, Artillery Command, Control and Communications System and Battlefield Surveillance System. 

Junior army officers, who are far more tech-savvy than the digitally-uncomfortable generals, scoff at the logic of a 21stcentury command and control network that controls an old-style combat force.

“Every military worth its salt will be networked in a decade or two. We will have no choice but to be networked too. Foreclosing BMS today will only mean that, instead of Indian companies, it will be the Israelis or the Americans who network us”, says an officer who is part of BMS.


  1. The "digital army" did rather poorer in Iraq the second time around.
    Still won of course, but Iraqi concealment and comms discipline led to very effective neutering of allied recon efforts.

    Theres a lot C4ISTAR can do, but unless the enemy is profoundly unwise, it wont involve destroying divisions at long range with guided weapons.
    US ground forces were utterly scathing of the intel they received in the 2003 war, and onwards, "blobology" being the nontechnical term.

    The US has effectively ended FCS and the UK FRES

    Your likely to get a lot more utility out if a less dramatic comms system that focuses on giving Cols easy encrypted contact with their captains and neighbouring Cols than trying to give him access to sensor data from overhead platforms, he is unlikely to be trained to interpret it if nothing else.

  2. ARTIFICIAL intelligence and other cutting technologies will be common in ten years time.

    IF INDIA IS STILL IN THE GULF WAR DOCTRINE IN 2030 then foreign technology will be all pervasive


  3. All is not lost ducky!
    You wrote we have google maps, internet of things etc..,
    We have Indian ‘Jugar’ (improvisation)
    We have Desi IT knowhow.
    A) Get Jawans to provide their own smart phones out of their salaries.
    B) Get Indian software developers to write a great Anroid BMS app for downloading priced Rupees 500, Indian Jawans can afford this too.
    C) Jawans smart phone can be mounted on helmets via plastic frame, (Rupees 250 from Amazon) now we have HUD.
    Also Cheapo earphones (Rupees 100)
    There you go problem solved.
    On yer bike! Broadsword.

  4. Rather than scrap the project it could have been scaled down to provide SDR based communication for soldiers with the power of GIS.Atleast some lead time could be saved for next modernisation project....or are we saying soldiers need only weapons ???

  5. Oh my god. If we have a million plus legacy weapons then sell them as scrap. The money we get from this can be used for BMS.
    Jokes apart, IA will spend money judiciously. Infantry and artillery need to be modernized. There are delays We need to trust the chief of army staff when he says all spending is prioritized and balanced.

  6. Surprised that PM Modi , the RM or civilian bureaucrats were not blamed for this.

    But I'm sure in the future we will have retired Generals and brigadiers lamenting how India's military was shortchanged due to a lack of this BMS and how its all the fault of politicians and those sneaky IAS wallahs.

    I have yet to read an article by a retired Army officer that tries to question the role the Indian army's generals and brass has played in becoming the lumbering, corpulent force of sepoys it still is despite 70 years post independence.

    I guess the Army brass want to be sure that should the call to fight the battle of Stalingrad ever present itself again they can acquit themselves as a thoroughly "authentic" force.

  7. Sad news indeed.

    The Indian Generals are holding good to the adage that they are preparing to fight the last war .

    After spending so much of time and money, the project is being scrapped by myopic generals who cannot simply visualize the future battlefields and that too when the project has finally reached fruition with an INDIAN PSU.


    Saddened by the decision of the 'Hand picked' GORKHA.


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