Sub Title : In the TBA, what is visible will be hit. Signature management is an imperative for survival
Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 2 May – Jun 2023
Author : Col Ashwani Sharma (retd)
Page No. : 40
Category : Military Technology
: May 27, 2023
Signature management will remain an essential component of modern warfare, requiring a combination of advanced technology, skilled personnel, and careful planning to be effective in the future. Managing digital signatures is equally essential in the modern day sensor driven battlefield with EM spectrum getting heavily crowded with emissions in multiple waveforms.
With loss of linearity in the tactical battlefield, there is no sanctuary in modern warfare. The enemy can strike throughout operational depth with precision. Signature management to conceal own footprints is the first imperative to survivability. Survivability also depends on dispersing troops, ammunitions stocks, command and control, logistics and maintenance areas and weapon platforms. Ukraine successfully evaded Russia’s initial wave of strikes by dispersing its arsenals, aircraft and air defence assets. Conversely, the Russians succeeded in engaging 75% of static defence sites in the first 48 hours of the war. Setting up a headquarters in a civilian building is no longer sufficient to make it survivable unless emissions and visuals are well hidden.
The pervasive ISTAR on the modern battlefield and the layering of multiple sensors at the tactical level make concealment exceedingly difficult to sustain. Survivability is often afforded by being sufficiently dispersed to become an uneconomical target, by moving quickly enough to disrupt the enemy’s kill chain and thereby evade engagement, or by entering hardened structures.
Signature Management in Future Wars
The objective of signature management is to increase the survivability and effectiveness of military assets by reducing their detectability and making them harder to target by enemy forces. We can now add digital signatures to this list as very often it is the EM spectrum which is a big give away in terms of detection and identification.
Signature management will continue to be critically important in future wars, especially as modern military assets become increasingly sophisticated and advanced. In the future, military assets will likely be equipped with a range of advanced sensors and detection technologies, making it even more challenging to avoid detection and remain hidden from the enemy. Moreover, the future battlefield is likely to be highly contested and cluttered with a variety of different sensors and surveillance platforms, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellites, and ground-based sensors. As a result, military assets will need to be equipped with advanced signature management capabilities to avoid detection and remain effective on the battlefield.
With the rise of asymmetric warfare and the increasing use of non-state actors, signature management will be even more important. Non-state actors often lack advanced sensors and detection technologies, making it easier for military assets to remain hidden. However, they may use other tactics such as human intelligence, informants, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that may not require advanced technology.
Recent wars and Signature Management
Signature management must be built into protection systems as a primary constituent. It is no longer an add on in the form of conventional camouflage nets or a ghillie suits. Modern day battlefield is sensor driven with different bands in the EM Spectrum providing visibility. Ukraine Russia conflict and prior to that operations in Syria and Nagorno Karabakh have amply demonstrated this fact. Signatures must be hidden from IR, thermal and visual bands, preferably in that given order, considering the characteristics and capabilities of the sensors in vogue. Signature management can be in the form of technology enhanced camouflage nets (personnel and platforms), Protective coatings (weapons and platforms), anti-thermal and anti-IR paints, radar absorbing paints and shapes and customized suits like ghillie suits for personnel on specialized close in tasks. Visual and sensor detection must be avoided at all costs through an attempt to merge with the background.
One of the big lessons the militaries are learning from the Ukraine- Russia conflict is how future conflicts are likely to be much more transparent, making it harder for combat troops, weapon systems and platforms to hide. A major part of the problem in TBA is about the ubiquitousness of sensors and the ability to fuse open-source information. It’s going to be a lot harder to hide our units and formations on the battlefield than it has been in the past. Proliferation of commercial off-the-shelf sensors, like drones, that can be easily deployed by small units to track enemy troops, collect intelligence or improve targeting has added to the problem.
Low-cost loitering munitions that were utilized in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan demonstrated the ability of small forces to establish some level of air superiority, or at the very least, contest forces using commercial drones. Ukraine – Russia conflict continues to see impact of military drones and loitering munitions (and the counter drone means). Sophisticated nation-states possess advanced aerial and satellite capabilities that can track formations, military convoys and stockpiles. One of the major takeaways from Russia’s first incursion into Ukraine nearly a decade ago was their ability to locate Ukrainian command posts and neutralise them with fire assaults, just based on their signature. It emphasized the notion that conflict will be much faster and the large static command posts would not be suitable. Forces must move much more quickly to avoid being located and targeted.
Moving forward, soldiers must also be more mindful of their own digital footprints they might leave behind – namely, on social media. Our soldiers are going to have to be a lot more concerned about their own signatures. Part of the way the Ukrainians have been able to target the Russians is when the Russian soldiers get on Facebook and post pictures, as some studies reveal.
Impact of Terrain
Terrain during operations may change from wooded to grass to desert along the path of the journey especially in the Indian subcontinent – threat sensors may include visual, IR, RF, and acoustic – long distances may require vehicles which entail additional signature contributions. In case of move by aircraft or by battleships/vessels signature management acquires a different form. Ships/Vessels and individual operators must be undetected by RF, EO/IR, acoustic and magnetic sensors or mines. Transit speed for minimisation of exposure and risk of detection should be optimized.
Signature Management during Operations
Studies and analysis of modern wars has spurred several military modernisation efforts to improve signature management, reduce the size and complexity of command posts and develop better electronic countermeasures and jamming capabilities. Moreover, the military has been on a recent trend to utilize open-source information, in many cases, as a first indicator before its exquisite collection capabilities. Additionally, sophisticated tactics employed by top adversaries such as the US, China, Russia have enabled them to track forces based on their electromagnetic signature.
At the unit level, assaulting troops must endeavour to be extremely close to the target before being seen or heard; every second delay in detection increases the chances of mission success. Avoid detection by RF or IR sensors at longer ranges, and short range communications must not be detected by the target. During direct action, must minimize acoustic and visual signatures to hinder targeting by threat. Communications signals and physical communications equipment must not be detectible by RF, EO/IR, or visual means.
Digital Signature Management
Identification and collection of digital signatures gives the adversary access to patterns and profiles that provide insight into our operations, plans, and personnel. The constant stream of data emitted from personal cell phones, computers and social media accounts—devices and platforms that intertwine military’s personal and professional lives—draws a distinct outline around troop movement and physical location and creates a trackable, traceable, and near-real-time record of activity. Further, implementing strictly disciplined avoidance of susceptible devices and applications is not only burdensome and limiting to both personnel and operations, but may in itself provide a significant indicator to adversaries in an environment where use of such devices and applications is the universal norm. Commanders and decision makers must realise that this new domain applies globally, at all times, and for all of their personnel.
Advantages we currently maintain as critical to our operational success, such as human performance, overwhelming force, superior technology, phenomenal logistics, and insightful intelligence, are significantly degraded by ignorance of digital signatures. Operations will continue to be betrayed by poor digital hygiene unless the military addresses its digital signature problem. If the problem is not addressed, the intermingling of personal and operational electronic devices in training events and deployments will continually contaminate the command.
There is therefore a definite requirement to prohibit our adversaries’ ability to “pull us from the ether” and identify our operations and intent within the white noise of the data environment is achievable. The strategy to protect the force and preserve our operational advantage should be built on three pillars:-
Digital Signature Awareness Training. Technology is constantly changing the operational environment and training should reflect the realities of the landscape. Training should help standardise the behavioural pattern and make the troops follow best practices in the digital domain. Training should include refreshers as technology evolves and threats and challenges change. Militaries must adapt to the changes in order to respond effectively to the unanticipated threats.
Robust systems Architecture. Technology should support operations and not be a limiting factor. As technology continues to evolve, it will require persistent monitoring by technical subject matter experts to incorporate new systems into existing infrastructure and phase out the older and more obsolete technologies.
Regular Compliance Auditing. Continuous monitoring for compliance is necessary to make better, more informed decisions as new technological threats to personnel and operations are identified. Over time, the auditing may be adopted as doctrine, providing a useful insight into internal processes that will reinforce the overall security of personnel and operations. The constant defensive management of our digital signatures and personal data is critical for the security of the force as well as the success of future operations.
The need to educate troops about security compromises through innocuous social media posts is increasing. Based on their digital footprint, soldiers can reveal units strength, operational movement and give away possible intent.
Integrated Mobile Camouflage System
Hyper Stealth Technologies Pvt Ltd has developed an Integrated Mobile Camouflage System to protect Armoured vehicles from detection by enemy’s sensors (Visual, IR, Thermal, & Microwave).
Vehicles are most detectable when moving, thus making multi spectral properties and fully optimised sensor protection essential to ensure concealed mobility. IMCS self-balances its own multispectral signatures as per surrounding terrain. The IMCS camouflage properties defeat hostile sensors and target acquisition system in all phases of the mission. The Multi-Spectral Signature Management properties of IMCS lower a vehicle’s internal temperature signature, extending the endurance of personnel and electronic equipment.
The IMCS is a passive stealth technology. Herein, the target tends to blend with the surroundings according to the terrain’s multi-spectral signatures, effectively becoming invisible to hostile surveillance sensors.
It reduces substantially the detection range of target from UV, NIR, SWIR, MWIR & amp; LWIR sensors than compared to any other technology. Developed from nano-materials and making functional changes of the compound, it gives the product ability to merge with its surrounding.
It consists of three major subsystems: –
(a) Radar Absorbent Material. Radar Absorbent paint reduces the radar signatures of the tank for sensors like BFSR. Radar Absorbent paint will be initially in paint form when applied on carbon fibre self- adhesive film. In semi-cure stage it is applied on tank where the coating takes any shape which it is moulded into. After curing it takes the form of a composite structure.
(b) Anti-thermal Coating. These coatings are applied on top of Radar Absorbing Material that has already been applied on the tank. This reduces the thermal signatures of the target for the sensors like TIFCS
(c) Multi Spectral Camouflage Net (MSCN) Fabric. MSCN helps in reducing the signature in Visual, Thermal and Radar sensors. The fabric possesses high strength and is rugged for rough field conditions.
Barracuda, the global leader in camouflage nets, is now finalising plans to ‘Make in India’ its state-of-the-art multi-spectral camouflage nets. Similarly, HMG Paints Ltd of the United Kingdom is planning to make coatings which meet the IR camouflage requirements of DEF STAN 00-23 and the Chemical Agent Resistance Coating (CARC) requirements of DEF STAN 0072.
The Indian military, therefore, need not dilute its acquisition requirements on account of quality in this domain, particularly in the case of strategic systems where survival is of utmost significance.