|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Indian multinational giant Larsen & Toubro (L&T) engaged in technology, engineering, construction, manufacturing and financial services operating in over 30 countries has disclosed on April 7, 2020 that it has bagged a large order from the Indian Army for establishing a first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art Unified Network Management System to 'manage, support and operate' the countrywide Armed Forces Network under the Network for Spectrum (NFS), stating, “This is an extremely crucial and sensitive project for the Ministry of Defence and we are proud that the ministry has reposed their faith in our technical, engineering and solutioning capabilities to execute this project.” Elaborating on the scope of the mandate, L&T Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, S. N. Subrahmanyan stated through a company statement, “It involves creating a centralised network monitoring, management and control system for all the seven layers under NFS which interconnects 414 defence stations.”
Though L&T has not mentioned value of the contract, as per its project classification, the value of a large order ranges between 2,500 crore and 5,000 crore. It may be recalled that successive shortage of annual budgetary allocations for defence has brought modernisation of the Army to almost standstill. In March 2018, the report tabled in Parliament by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence shared the view of the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) that the Army did not have enough money to pay for ongoing schemes, emergency procurement, weaponry for 10 days of intense war, future acquisitions and also strategic roads along the China border. Also, that the marginal increase in defence budget barely accounts for inflation and didn't cater for taxes. It was also brought out that 68 per cent Army's equipment was vintage whereas this should be just one-third. Moreover, the budget was insufficient even to cater for committed payment for 125 on-going schemes, emergency procurements and 10 days intense war. However, no additional funds were allotted. The only reaction was the then Defence Minister (now Finance Minister) denouncing the report and the Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee for Defence, a veteran Major General who was a Union Minister in the previous NDA regime, being replaced by another politician. This was a serious setback to information systems under development as part of Army's Tactical, Command, Control and Communications (Tac C3I) system in pursuit of network centric warfare (NCW) capabilities.
Forced by cash crunch, the Army had to foreclose the Battlefield Management System (BMS), despite its prototypes being developed by two Indian consortiums (Tata Power SED-L&T and BEL-Rolta India in 2016). BMS was one part of Tac C3I, other components being Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCS), Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADC&RS) and Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS). All components of Tac C3I were to be integrated through the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS) also under development. 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. Had MoD opened the private sector to the BMS project in the beginning instead of doing so with Tata Power SED-L&T years later, BMS would have been fielded in the Army way back, instead of DRDO dragging it for 13 years with the costs shooting up exponentially. The Army, then decided to make changes to systems under development; data was to be used in an Army Cloud enabling shift in computing, providing a platform for agile and cost-effective applications, IT infrastructure and equipment.
The project bagged by L&T now involves creation of a resilient cloud-based Information Technology (IT) infrastructure on 'Infrastructure As A Service' (IAAS) model. The scope also includes Next Generation Operations System and Software (NGOSS) based Unified Network Management System, Eight Network Operations Centers (NOCs) consisting of National NOCs, Disaster Recovery NOCs, Regional NOCs, Security Operation Centers, Tier III Data Centres and Training Infrastructure. The facilities under this project will allow real time monitoring of the complete IT network backbone of the Indian Army and provide complete visibility of deployed network assets, leading to optimal utilisation of resources. The project is to be implemented in 18 months followed by three years of warranty and seven years of Annual Maintenance Contract during which L&T will provide Managed Maintenance Services including SLA monitoring, service impact analysis and root cause analysis for the countrywide Armed Force Next Generation Network. It is not known at this stage whether the complete project will be exclusively handled by L&T or the security part is apportioned to DRDO's Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) although latter does not develop any security solutions itself, but outsources the same.
Security no doubt will be of prime concern considering the sensitivity of the project. And there have been many instances of breach of data. Fact remains that clouds have been breached. Information of even US military and of NASA have been stolen. Besides there is 'some' malware in almost all internet connected devices. This necessitates instituting 'air gaps' in operational systems. Internet naturally remains as it is. However, the national gateway, the pipes are cut and bent back in own proxy servers. In doing so, China's current and future capabilities to disrupt or possibility of a futuristic technology to 'capture' a cloud also must be taken into account. The second important issue would be to have back up data available to commanders and troops on ground in an NCW environment in the event of disruption in communications. This will entail doubly ensuring adequate inbuilt redundancy as well as requisite bandwidth.