|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
As per news reports of early December 2017, the MoD and the Army were looking at closing down the Battlefield Management System, despite its prototypes being developed by two Indian consortiums. Later reports indicated the Army had ordered foreclosure of the BMS project. In-house reports also confirm Army has scrapped the projects due to high costs. Post establishment of the Directorate General of Information System (DGIS) in 2004, Army's Tactical Command, Control, Communications and Information (Tac C³I) system was taken up, of which the BMS was one component, other components being the Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCS), Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS) and Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS). Of these operational information systems (OIS), only the ACCCS has been fielded in the Army to-date. All components of the Tac C³I, including BMS, are be integrated through the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS), also being developed by the DGIS. The Tac C³I will also integrate Army's Electronic Warfare System (EWS) and Electronic Intelligence System (ELINT) operating under Military Operations and Military Intelligence Directorates respectively.
The Tac C³I is to provide state-of-the-art C4I2 connectivity within the Army at Corps HQ and below levels. The BMS is to enable faster decision process by commanders at all echelons, better decision with reliable operational information provided in real time and have the ability to quickly close the sensor to shooter loop by integrating all surveillance means to facilitate engagement; through an automated decision support and command and control system, exploiting technology for mission accomplishment in the tactical battle area (TBA) by rapid acquisition, processing and transfer of information, enhanced situational awareness, capability to react to information, sharpen ability to synchronize and direct fire, plus establish and maintain total surveillance resources. In simple terms the BMS integrates resources bringing them to the right place, at the right time, with right lethality to provide real time, appropriate, common comprehensive tactical picture; to link the soldier to the battalion / combat group commander level for situational awareness and decision support. The BMS was to comprise a tactical hand-held computer with individual warfighter and tactical computers at Battle Group HQ and combat vehicles, enabling generation of common operational picture by integrating inputs from all relevant sources through integrated use of a high data rate geographical information system (GIS) and GPS.
The BMS approach paper floated in early 2000s envisaged development, trials and GS evaluation in period 2008-2009, followed by its fielding into the Army during 2013-2017. But the MoD-Army red-tape and DRDO intervention to grab every project took over. Only by end 2011 Defence Acquisition Council approved the BMS as a 'Make India' project, followed by Integrated Project Management Study, Expression of Interest (EoI) prepared with industry empanelment pending with MoD, latter expected to be issued to the industry by August-September 2013. At that time it was envisaged to shortlist two Developing Agencies (DA) by about March 2014. Subsequently, design phase was expected to commence by July 2014, limited prototype tested in laboratory by end December 2015 and finally, prototypes developed and fielded for user evaluation by December 2016 (instead of earlier schedule of 2012). The cascading effect by then had already delayed completion of Phase 2 (Equipping) from initial plan of 2017 to 2021 and Phase 3 (Change Management and Up-gradation of System) from 2022 to 2025 as per then status. This delayed schedule too was considered possible only if there were no further hurdles.
However, despite the EoI having been prepared by end 2011, it was finally issued only in February 2015, to 14 domestic companies, in which only two consortiums, Tata Power SED-L&T, and BEL-Rolta India, qualified the bids. Then in February 2016, MoD signaled these two consortia to develop BMS prototype that could eventually generate about 40,000-50,000 crore worth of procurement for 600 sets of BMS for the Army. These two consortia were asked to register "special purpose companies" for this project (with freedom to choose overseas partners), with each DA separately developing a working BMS. Each BMS prototype was to have four variants:
Technologies to be included in each prototype include a geographical information system (GIS), multi-sensor data fusion system, rugged computing devices, and software defined radio-based communication system for soldiers.
As per media, the sanctioned cost of Project BMS in 2007 was 350 crore per DA, but presently MoD is still bargaining for the DAs to slash development costs from the quoted 2,500 crore. Speculations in media centres on Army finding it difficult to balance between its immediate weapon requirements and force multipliers like the BMS in run up to Defence Budget 2018 since at today's prices, the BMS for the entire Army to be fielded by 2025, is to cost upwards of 50,000 cr. In addition, development cost by two DAs under high-priority 'Make' category of 5,000 cr is to be compensated by Army paying back 1,000 cr over five years out of its own allocation. There is also a view being floated that optimal use of BMS is in two tactical war scenarios which are no longer relevant – own forces operating in foreign lands, and deep ingress in enemy areas.
However, deeper analysis is required why a high-priority 'Make' category project like the BMS has ended in foreclosure.
There is no denying that the BMS is an operational necessity which was required yesterday, and accordingly rated "high priority" project. The contention that "optimal use of BMS is in two tactical war scenarios which are no longer relevant – own forces operating in foreign lands, and deep ingress in enemy areas" is naïve. Not only conflict situations, the BMS is very much needed to effectively deal with sub-conventional conflict situations astride borders, in addition to counter insurgence operations within the country. In case of latter, the BMS should be looked at for the cutting edge of the entire security sector, not the Army alone. The mention of the two war scenarios not relevant to India any more is also grossly defeatist. No such prediction can be made with certainity in say 2025 and beyond. Besides, NCW capabilities cannot be acquired overnight. It will be ironic that while there is so much hype about optimization of technology and digitization, a project like the BMS is being scrapped without even examining selective fielding in progressive manner. If we can invest 1,00,000 cr for a bullet train on a 508 km Ahmedabad-Mumbai track, with the overall Indian Railway network (fourth largest in the world) being 1,15,000 km, can't the finances of few thousand cr be found for the BMS on 'progressive' basis? The Defence Minister needs to urgently intervene for:
Integrated Battlefield Management System (IBMS) of Pakistan Army is designed for the operations of amour units in the field to meet the requirements of future battlefield. The user-friendly system provides battlefield awareness through comprehensive land navigation system based on GPS and digitized maps. It enables commanders in mission planning, modification and dissemination of plans, monitoring of battlefield at tactical and operational level, through safe and secure radio network. Pak-IBMS(Rehbar) also facilitates commanders in remote firing of AAMG by auto tracking the aerial and ground targets from inside the tank.