Tactical Battle Area: Under the Digital Shield

Sub Title : The need of having state of the art communications in the TBA

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 6 Jan/Feb 2020

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM, (Retd)

Page No. : 31

Category : Military Technology

: January 28, 2020

Due to the multi-dimensional and increasingly unpredictable battlespace there is a need for quick decision making. Hence the necessity of having  state of the art communications in the TBA. The article amplifies the aspect and dwells upon connecting issues

General Qasem Soleimani’s assassination and the subsequent hyped ( though ‘failed’) missile attacks by Iran are examples of superior technology and/or lack of it. Simply stated, the Americans were:-

  • Efficient in surveillance and precise in attack.
  • Their Command and Control and Surveillance Communications in the TBA were reliable and secure.
  • Their sensors, weapon systems and platforms were adroitly networked via multiple interconnected networks and media; a consequence of professionalism and dextrous skills in the use of contemporary technology.
  • In the final count, their superior ‘Digital Shield and Communications Superiority’ enabled American Military Commanders defeat the opponent’s OODA loop.

Soleimani was leaving Baghdad airport when his convoy was hit by missiles from two MQ-9 Reaper drones: American commanders state that the attack relied on “informants, electronic intercepts, reconnaissance aircraft and other surveillance.”

There are no US drone bases in the area, the nearest are at Ali al-Salem airbase in Kuwait, Al Udeid in Qatar and Al Dafra in UAE. Kuwait is nearest at 570 kms from the target area. MQ-9 Reaper drone, has a range of over 1800 km and top speed of 480 km/h. The execution would have required excellent planning, fail proof communications and efficient weapon systems.

The Fifth Dimension (three dimensions of land, sea, and air complemented by temporal, spatial and cyber dimensions) is undoubtedly the contemporary winning strategy for modern warfare.

Tactical Battle Area (TBA)

TBA is the arena where all military duelling takes place. In terms of technology, the TBA is devoid of static and permanent infrastructures and flush with uncertainties. Some areas in close vicinity of the International Border and Lines of Control in our case will be well developed with networked sensors and surveillance systems. This is necessary to prevent infiltration and surprise attacks and/or provide a firm base for developing operations into enemy territory. However, even this comfort of permanency will change once the battle is enjoined. Everywhere else in the TBA, all structures and organisation will be adhoc and mobile to provide flexibility in deployment and operations. Adhoc (non-permanent and shifting) deployments place prominence on the use of Wireless devices for Command, Control and Coordination. TBA in the case of attack on Soleimani extended a few hundred Kms beyond defined boundaries and maybe thousands of Kms beyond the Command and Control elements.

The comfort of a well-developed strategic and operational communication network based on Cables and Lines is misplaced and hackneyed, because, the arena where all the action is taking place is the TBA; an arena of uncertainties and opportunities. Not paying enough attention here would be dangerous to say the least. Efficient, secure and networked wireless systems in the TBA will ensure a ‘Battlefield Rhythm’ which is the key to target neutralisation, battlefield domination and victory.

Digital Components in the TBA

Contemporary digital services, and worldwide navigation via GPS have helped extend ranges, improve security and increase capacity of wireless/radio/cellular and satellite systems. All these have added great value to Situational Awareness and sharing of information throughout the Battlespace. The Battlefield till the forward edge (last mile) today is flush with Voice, Video and Data. The only constraint is Bandwidth which is sought to be improved with ‘Cloud Computing’ and ‘Data Banks’ placed well forward and securely networked with terrestrial systems.

Explosive growth of smart devices in the battlefield (sensors and surveillance devices, handheld computing and communication devices, active protection systems for tanks and attack heptrs, unmanned aerial vehicles etc) and their dependency on wireless technologies increases the complexity of their deployment in TBA.

Despite pressures on overall defence expenditure, a universal trend towards Network Centric Warfare combined with an unstable geopolitical landscape, is continuing to drive significant investments in military communications.  The market is expected to account for over $40 Billion in revenue by the end of 2020, with investments ranging from the adoption of multi-band and multi-mode tactical radio systems, to the integration of ad hoc networking platforms in unmanned vehicles.

Key Findings of Military Communications Market Opportunities, Challenges, Strategies and Forecasts 2015 to 2030.

  • Military communications market will account for over $40 Billion in revenue by end of 2020.
  • Driven by growing bandwidth requirements, military communication systems routed more than a 100 Petabytes of data daily in 2015 alone.
  • Military satellite systems are gradually moving towards higher frequencies such as the Ka-band (26-40 GHz).
  • Investments on tactical LTE CIAB (Cell in a Box) solutions will account for over $90 Million in revenue by end of 2020, following a CAGR of 37% between 2015 and 2020.

Future soldiers will be better informed and protected than at any time in history due to the high-tech systems that they carry in their backpacks or on the dashboards of their vehicles; the need is as crucial and complementary as the weapons that they carry and operate.

Desired Capability of the Smart Devices

  • Greater ranges and over the horizon communications specially to address the data needs of aerial surveillance platforms and long-range weapons.
  • The forward edge of the battlefield will consist of numerous surveillance, communication and security devices and weapon platforms needing large volumes of uplink and downlink data for management and control. Quite like IoT devices in a Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) Network for last mile connectivity in urban areas; enhanced performance with improved capacity (large number of users per square mile), coverage (higher penetration of service area) and throughput (high user bit rates) are enduring buzzwords of digitization.
  • The need for spectrum is bound to intensify sharply with the increase in demand for wireless data leading to Dynamic Spectrum Management. This will optimize allocation and use of electromagnetic spectrum to enhance the quality of battlefield communications.
  • Last mile connectivity at the forward edge to be provided by Low Power Multinode Mesh Networks with no single point failure and a self-healing architecture. The Tactical Communications architecture is quite comparable to a BWA Network working under stringent security requirements, uncertainty and Electronic Warfare threats.
  • UHF SATCOM on the move systems will be a vital component of any mobile force both for Command and Control Communications and as a redundant media for the terrestrial networks.
  • Small form factor requirements continue to drive computing platforms in modern communication devices installable in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). Airborne and Electronic Warfare components. The desired capability is for more computational and connectivity performance while reducing size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C).
  • Meeting specialist communication need of remote/autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, smart bombs and missiles is a contemporary requirement.

Advantages of BWA Networks in the TBA Over the Wired Ones:

  • Rapid deployment; greater flexibility in redeployment and readjustment of forces.
  • High data (Mbps/sq km) scalability; greater adaptability to changing requirements and the notorious uncertainties of TBA.
  • Low maintenance and upgrade costs of the wireless facilities; savings and economy of effort in terms of manpower and resources.

Essential Requirements of Smart Devices in the TBA

  • Low bit error rate; reduces noise, interference, distortion or bit synchronization errors.
  • Low intercept ability; enhanced security against interception, monitoring and disruption.
  • High resistance to electronic counter measures; leading to better survivability.
  • Low latency for command/payload data; to be more responsive and efficient.
  • Small size, low weight and less power consumption; makes a soldier happier!

As per current standards, Broadband access must provide at least 5 Mbps peak (burst) rate per user in the downlink direction and 500 Kbps peak (burst) rate in the uplink. The average bit rates may be significantly lower in many applications. This bit rate asymmetry arises because applications such as web browsing are asymmetric. The growing demand for streaming audio and video will increase downlink throughput and quality of service (QoS) requirements. Other applications such as telephony and video conferencing need symmetric and constant bit rate services. Internet services and content are evolving in ways hard to predict; suffice to say that the growth is exponential, video streaming and conferences keep the commanders happy!

Challenges of BWA Systems

  • Multipath Propagation.
  • Spectrum Efficiency.
  • Network Scalability.
  • Self-installable CPE antennas.
  • Reliable non-line of sight operation.

These are serious challenges that can cause interference, noise and disruptions. Contemporary technologies are however evolving rapidly, and these challenges are being overcome using Smart Antennas and MIMO Technologies.

An efficient ‘Digital Shield’ in the TBA is the unquestioned enabler to produce the rhythm required to conduct penetrative and effective strikes with minimum losses to own troops. It ensures effective synchronisation in ‘Time’ and ‘Space’ of distributed war fighters. It provides agility to strike forces and depth to the defender. It helps commanders handle recurring (predictable) and non-recurring (emergent) national security events more efficiently. In the final count, budgets notwithstanding, state of the art communications in the TBA are inescapable to draw on the operational advantages in the Fifth Dimension as it happened on a dark night over Baghdad on 3 Jan 2020; technology left a dreaded General wrong-footed and dead.