Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Information Battle - Network Centric Warfare

August 17, 2016: YEH DIL MAANGE MORE! Shouts Captain Vijayant of 9th Para SF on his encrypted Satellite radio. The tactical HQ receives this message. Brigadier Bhardwaj - in charge of this whole operation - lets out a scream of joy and a silent 'thank you' to the almighty. The message sent by the young hotshot meant that Capn Vijayant and his platoon have just destroyed a terrorist camp located in jungles and are on their way to EZ (extraction zone). He could also see the current position of the unit on the huge display in front of him. Capn had just updated his location on the map grid using his SAATHI terminal.

SAATHI was first introduced to the troops involved in COIN ops in J&K in early 2000. It was a spin off of the Simputer developed by IISc Bangalore. With the time SAATHI became a potent tool with its small size and loads of features. IA integrated SAATHI in its 'Battlefield Management System’ (BMS) to increase situational awareness and increase the speed of decision-making.

A UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) sent in the area for damage assessment over the location of the camp. All of a sudden UAV operator finds something moving in the jungles just 1km south of Vijayant's EZ. He zooms in on the object and gets a shock of his life. Camouflaged using camo net was a SAM (Surface to Air Missile) launcher lurking in the jungle with 12 soldiers guarding it. SAMs can be dangerous for helicopters coming in to extract Capn Vijayant & Co. He immediately passes on this information to tactical HQ. Brigadier Bhardwaj receives the information and immediately takes a decision to task Vijayant & Co to take care of the SAM. He immediately contacts Vijayant and passes down the information about the SAM and soldiers guarding it. He updates the location of the SAM on his console. This update is immediately reflected Vijayant's SAATHI terminal. Once he has the location, Vijayant and his brave troopers plan their approach and take care of the SAM and its guardians. Once they give 'all clear' helicopters move in and extract them to their base to be welcomed with loud cries of "Bharat Mata Ki Jai". Availability and proper dissemination of information not only helped destroy the SAM but also saved lives of helicopter pilots and Vijayant's platoon.

The above scenario gives a hypothetical scenario where ability to conduct NCW not only increases efficiency of a unit but also minimizes loss of men and materiel. NCW is the latest buzzword in the military circles to enable forces to fight battles in future. NCW (Network Centric Warfare) or NCO (Network Centric Operations) is not about: changing the nature of war; substituting the network for military force; or replacing all other older forces and forms of warfare. Network-centric warfare is an emerging theory of war in the Information Age. It is also a concept that, at the highest level, exploiting information can be used as a weapon to gain advantage on a battlefield. The term network-centric warfare broadly describes the combination of strategies, emerging tactics, techniques, and procedures, and organizations that a fully or even a partially networked force can employ to create a decisive war fighting advantage.
Network Centric Warfare
NCW is about enhancing combat power through shared awareness. NCW generates increased combat power by networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters (ground troops) to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, flexibility, higher speed of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a collaboration.

Network Centric Warfare (NCW) is not simply focused on technological solutions, but rather on how these solutions affect individual and collective behaviour in military organizations and the final outcome of any conflict.


Network-centric warfare is like an engine with people, systems, and platforms as its components to form networked force that creates shared battle space awareness for information superiority and speed of command.

NCW has 3 key elements: sensors, command and control and shooters. They can be neatly arranged into 3 separate grids.

Sensor grid – connects the sensors into the system (Satellites, AWACS, UAV etc)

Information grid – connects the command and control function to the system (tactical HQ, AWACS etc)

Engagement grid – connects the shooters into the system (squads, tanks, artillery)

NCW lets all the participants (nodes in a network) share the information gathered by various platforms. Information is circulated in real time so as to give a ‘live’ picture of the battlefield. This helps the commanders take fast decisions so as to maximize combat effectiveness of involved units. E.g if a particular area is being defended, a commander knows who is defending it, what equipment they have and what threats are in the area. Since information is real-time, if there is any threat developing in the area, he can decide to send in more troops to reinforce the area. This cuts off the time taken to make a decision in conventional setup. In a normal setup ground troops will know about a threat only when they are attacked, then message is passed on to the commander who decides whether to send in the troops or not. This is time consuming and in a war, delays can mean losing lives.

Network-centric warfare is the product of the convergence of computers and communication. Unless you have a secure and very robust communication and information infrastructure – infostructure - on the ground you are not fit for the network-centric operations in a digitalized battlefield of tomorrow. Network should be capable of handling both data and voice. A picture with icons does not tell you the entire story. You need to listen it from horse’s mouth. Voice carrying capacity makes for effective communication between different levels of command. Voice provides meaning and context to the icons on electronic maps.

In simple words, NCW is a national level communication/IT infrastructure coming together to give a winning edge in warfare and other instances involving military forces.


Benefits of having prior information about enemy movement have been known since ages. In earlier days information regarding enemy troop movements was gathered using Scouts and spies. This information used to be hazy and confusing. Another problem was passing on this information to commanders. This used to be done using runners, riders or messengers. Once commanders had the information, they would deploy their troops accordingly. The time gap between gathering of information and deploying the troops used to be several hours. In the meanwhile if enemy moved the troops in different pattern, this delay could be devastating. NCW gives information in real time so that commanders can change tactics as per the new developments on the field. NCW is not a new theory of warfare. Radar operators guiding aircrafts to intercept the enemy was a primitive sort of NCW where a single radar will give updates to many fighters far apart from each other. It is somewhat similar to maneuver theory of warfare where an army adapts its movement according to the movements of the enemy units. This is quiet close to what German called Blitzkrieg during WW II. NCW gives you real time information so that you can outsmart your enemy and move faster than your enemy to gain advantage on the battlefield.

With the emerging technologies, armed forces world over are moving from industrial age to information age. This is very similar to business transformation we have seen in last couple of decades. The three main points for transformation both in business and armed forces are:

- The shift in focus from the platform to the network.
- The shift from viewing actors as independent to viewing them as part of a dynamic environment.
- The importance of making strategic choices to adapt or even survive in such dynamic environment.

How can it change the battlefield?

NCW gives ability to bring down combat power at right time on a target with far greater intensity than the past. Due to all its virtues, NCW increases combat effectiveness of all units. These can mean that a force with NCW capabilities can achieve similar goals using lesser resources (men and materiel) compared to a force that relies on conventional means.

General unreliability of all information presents a special problem in war: During heat of combat, the information pouring in may not be very clear and goes on to create a very hazy picture of what’s going on. This can hamper the decision making process slowing it down. In such scenarios, a commander needs to trust his talent or luck. NCW eliminates the need to rely on talent or luck by giving objective information that leads to faster and more effective decision-making. It aids the commander to increase the speed of command through enhanced situational awareness.

To check how well network centric operations increase the efficiency, USAF conducted a test between F-15s using conventional voice communication and F-15s equipped with Link 16 secure data-link. F-15s with Link 16 saw 2.5 times improvement in kill ratio both during daytime and nighttime. Using conventional voice communication, pilot needs to build up a mental picture of the position of friendly (Blue) and enemy (Red) aircrafts. Air battles are very dynamic and 3-dimensional. Due to this a mental picture of Red & Blue positions becomes obsolete within 10-15 seconds. Link 16 gives a visual picture of the battle to all the nodes. They can also share the picture created by any one of the platforms say an AWACS. This data can be circulated among all the nodes. Once a pilot has a visual picture, he can directly go to the planning phase increasing the combat effectiveness. A pilot can engage multiple targets as he knows the location, wingman can be used in offensive role instead of ‘watch my six’ duties and ambushing enemy aircrafts from blind side.

Where is it implemented?

Network Centric Warfare (or Network Enabled Capability as called in UK) has been effectively utilized by some of the advanced military forces across the globe. With the increasing threat of terrorism, many countries are building capabilities to conduct NCW. Within a decade armed forces of all major countries will boast ability to conduct NCW. US armed forces have been the pioneer in building NCW infrastructure and using it in locations like Iraq. Listed below are some of the examples from practical implementation of NCW.

The Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) system commissioned by US Navy creates a grid where Navy ships and aircrafts operating in a particular area are integrated into a single overlapping air-defense network. It works something like this. Radar data collected by various platforms is available to all the participants in real-time, giving a more accurate and composite picture of what’s happening in the air. This information can allow a ship to launch missiles at targets that its radar cannot see by using the data passed on by other units in the grid. The biggest advantage is what is called ‘hand-off’ capability. A missile fired by a ship/aircraft can be guided by other ship/aircraft in the network. This pushes the air-defence envelope further out than was possible with conventional means. CEC is designed to protect USN carrier battle groups. It is installed not only on the aircraft carrier but also on Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, amphibious ships and E-2C Hawkeye aircrafts that operate from aircraft carriers.

The Joint Fires Network is a system conceived by US Navy and later expanded to integrate US Army, Air Force and Marines with their own sub-systems. It links all the players in particular area into a single targeting grid to provide real-time targeting information to co-ordinate artillery and missiles to attack surface and land targets - particularly mobile and time-critical targets - like warships or land-based missile launch vehicles. US Navy’s sub-system is called Tactical Exploitation System-Navy (TES-N), US Army uses Tactical Exploitation System-Forward (TES-F), US AF has Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Manager (ISRM) while USMC’s version is called Tactical Exploitation Group (TEG). All these sub-system use same baseline software but are tweaked as per requirements of the particular arm. Interoperability of these sub-systems help carry out coordinated and time-critical strikes on targets maximizing the damage caused to enemy and achieving expected results.

Stryker Brigade is the newest unit in the US Army. Stryker – a medium weight, fast and stealthy vehicle – is the basic ingredient of this unit. From its very inception it was conceptualized to carry out Network Centric Operations. Inclination towards NCO is obvious from operational concept, structural design and its networking capabilities. Even its organizational structure is designed so as to take maximum advantage of information as a weapon by conducting NCO.

What are we doing about it?

Enough of ranting about US. I am sure most of you would like to know what is India doing about the whole deal. All of you armchair Generals out there, you need not scramble. Our forces are in tune with the times. Just like in US where US Navy pioneered the effort for NCW, Indian Navy has pioneered the move towards NCW. Indian Navy has plans to cover entire IOR (Indian Ocean Region) using various assets like satellites, ships and land-based sensors. IN has already started building its network by linking ships, submarines, aircrafts, helicopters and shore-based installations with high-speed data links creating a seamless flow of information between all the assets. Since IN has a very large AOR (Area of responsibility) stretching from Gulf of Aden to Malacca straits this network will help IN to patrol this whole region in a much better way. Malacca strait is notorious for piracy and gunrunning. Considerable naval assets are deployed for patrolling in that area. If IN has a 24/7 watch in the area using satellites and UAVs, IN can just deploy a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) on Andaman & Nicobar islands so whenever miscreants are identified, QRF can get into action taking care of the situation. This will free up additional resources like ships and aircrafts for other duties. Thus same results can be achieved with only a fraction of assets deployed earlier. With setting up of a new tri-service command in Andaman & Nicobar islands, there will be enough assets to reinforce QRF in case things get ugly.

Indian Army and Air Force may not have kept pace with the Navy, but they are taking some firm steps to catch up. Indian Army has already inducted the Artillery Command and Control System (ACCS), built by Bharat Electronics, Bangalore. ACCS circulates the targeting information among the artillery units in a particular area. It keeps updating the database as and when a target is destroyed or a new threat emerges. This allows a commander to keep track of whats going on in the field. In addition to providing information about the targets, it also provides the firing solution that helps a gunners setup their guns to destroy a particular target. IA has initiated a $ 700 million project called ‘Battlefield Management System’ (BMS) for infantry to integrate information at command HQ with the soldier on the ground. BMS will provide real-time situational awareness to commanders by collating information generated by various assets. In the due course IA will integrate ACCS and BMS to provide artillery support to infantry and eliminate enemy assets threatening friendly infantry.

IAF has made a huge leap towards NCW with induction of force-multipliers like Israeli PHALCON (Phased Array L-band CONformal) AWACS. PHALCON can give real time updates to friendly aircrafts using secure data links. These aircrafts can then plan their attacks or launch weapons at enemy assets without turning on their radars. In a air war turning on radar means giving out your location. So an aircraft with radar turned off would not give out its location unless it comes within radar range of hostile radar. Using a data link, friendly aircrafts have the visual picture in front of them without turning on their radars. They can attack enemy units without going into their radar range. This can instill fear and confusion in enemy forces, as they don’t know what hit them.

IAF has already launched an ambitious project to link different aircrafts, ground stations and satellites to conduct NCW. Estimated cost of the project is around $ 1 billion and total time for integration will be 5 years. This project will be supervised by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.) and is divided into 4 phases.

Phase 1 – development and installation of software to link ground station and aircrafts.

Phase 2 – field trials to check how well the systems perform in a real scenario

Phase 3 – modification and optimization based on field trials

Phase 4 – networking of aircrafts, ground stations and satellites to conduct NCW

Networked aircraft will be able to share information in real time. All 3 ingredients of NCW viz sensors (satellites, UAVs, AWACS etc), command and control (ground station, AWACS etc) and shooters (fighters, gunship helicopters etc) will be integrated in these network.

Though building these capabilities requires lots of money and time, they are badly required. With India’s ambition to be a global player, such capabilities are very necessary if our forces are to operate in foreign lands for peace keeping duties or protecting friendly countries from invasion.

Peaceful applications

If you thought that Network Centric Operations are only meant to conduct war, you are in for a mild shock as NCO has been used for civilian use as well. NCO was deployed in aid of relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and to check SARS outbreak in Singapore.

During the relief operations after Hurricane Katrina, US Army National Guard soldiers relied on AFATDS’ (Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System) command and control functions to coordinate the relief effort. AFATDS provided them with chat and instant messaging to increase the efficiency of the relief effort by giving a clear picture of what resources were needed in their area of operations.

Similarly, during SARS outbreak in Singapore, government realized that it was an epidemic beyond the control of health ministry and required involving other departments. Departments like immigration, education, economy, tourism, border control etc were involved. All the involved departments shared information so that SARS patients could be identified and people in his/her contact can be checked for the disease. Immigration control received updated lists of people served with home quarantine orders. Immigration control could check the list and deny exit to a person found on the list. This not only helped prevent disease from spreading across Singapore, but also across the world.


  1. Network Centric Warfare (NCW) ....

    i am amazed reading it!i was just unaware @ it... technology is bliss in so many ways! n the idea is again superb!

    i love the type of subjects u choose for ur blog... it upgrades me a lot! keep it up!

  2. i was total unaware @ SATHI also...


  3. fantastic blog but the info provided by u was too much for my li'l brain!!!! :(

  4. Refreshing read. Reminds me of 'EndWar' by Tom Clancy and 'Future Weapons' on Discovery channel.

    Keep more coming.

  5. I was just seeking this information for a while. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, finally I got it in your site. I wonder what's the Google's issue that doesn't rank this kind of informative sites closer to the top. Usually the top websites are full of garbage.