The year 2021 will see the start of a historical transformation of the Indian Navy to be a Maritime Theatre Command (MTC), with IAF’s maritime squadrons and Army’s Amphibious units restructured to achieve an operational edge. In due course, along with the MTC, four additional Theatre Level Commands under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) are being evolved, one being the Air Defence Theatre Command and other three commands for land forces.
Maritime Theatre Command
The Indian Navy’spresent disposition into three commands viz. Western, Eastern Naval commands (both being an Operational Command) and Southern command (Training Command)shall be seeing a re-alignment of resources for Theatre level operations.
The MTC shall be headed by a Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the rank of Vice-Admiral. The Naval and Coast Guard resources shall be operating under the C-in-C along with the maritime units of IAF and the Army. Army’s amphibious brigades, located at Port Blair and Thiruvananthapuram and IAF’s Jaguars based at Jamnagar and Su-30MKIs/Tejas based at Thanjavur shall be part of the Maritime Theatre Command. It is planned to place the IAF and Army troops into two verticals, each headed by a two-star level officer from IAF and Army. The C-in-C of the Theatre level Command shall be reporting to the CDS through the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Over the last few decades, Indian Navy has achieved self-reliance in the Naval ship building industry, with multiple Public sector shipyards like MDL, GRSE, CSL, GSL supporting this indigenisation effort.
As this transformation is being seen as a functional re-deployment of resources for an efficient Command and Control, there are no additional billets for manpower or additional budget allocation specifically for MTC being considered. The Chief of Naval Staff shall be part of Chiefs of Staff Committee headed by CDS and shall hold more of an administrative role. INS Kadamba at Karwar shall house the C-in-C headquarter for MTC.
The Indian Armed Forces Joint Doctrine of 2017 is the basis of the MTC Roles and Responsibilities. Traditionally, Indian Armed Forces have been a well established Rank Based formation with a rigid information flow matrix. Each of the service arms has its own ethos and traditions. With the transition to Theatre level command structure, Netcentric Warfare paradigm shall be the basis of operations, and technology shall be playing an important aspect to bring jointness in the multi-services organisation. The inter-services Interoperability and Inter-changeability are likely to be the enablers here.
Navy’s digital transformation
Over the last few decades, the Indian Navy has achieved self-reliance in the Naval shipbuilding industry, with multiple Public sector shipyards like MDL, GRSE, CSL, GSL supporting this indigenisation effort. India is one of the few nations in the world who are building their Aircraft carrier indigenously, with Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)in the process of the last leg of construction at CSL.
India too has built and commissioned its own modern submarines at MDL. Remarkably, these warships are designed by Indian Navy itself for one of the shipyards to build. Further, the equipment to be outfitted on these ships too is selected by the Navy, thus establishing a right synergy between the end User and the shipyard. This activity led to the advances in the digitalisation onboard warships, necessitated by the need to operationalise the imported weapon systems with the other indigenous sub-systems onboard indigenous warship.
The expertise evolved over the last four decades ensured integration of all weapons and sensors at a digital level so much so that today Navy boasts of technical prowess to interface any weapon system sourced from wherever in the world. This has allowed Navy the flexibility to import the latest weaponry like SSMs, SAMs from the best supplier and their retro-fitment to keep its fleet modern. The primary areas where hi-tech digital transformation have been implemented on board Naval ships and submarines are:-
A – Integrated Ship’s Data Network (ISDN):
Keeping in mind the fact that responsiveness of a ship, submarine or an aircraft is dependent solely upon the speed with which the Tactical information and orders are disseminated, Indian Navy has been highly focused on inducting systems to support this paradigm. This information is compiled from each of the sub-systems like Missile systems and sensors onboard and exchanged utilizing an indigenously developed ISDN (Integrated Ship’s Data Network).
ISDN concept evolved from the initial Interface boxes which were fitted on board to integrate the Western systems with Russian weapon systems. The ISDN provides multiple levels of redundancy in a manner which ensures that even when a particular section of the ship is damaged due to an enemy attack, the rest of all the systems shall continue to get the information through multiple paths of the ISDN.
B – Tactical Data Link(TDL):
TDL is most critical equipment when the ship is operating at the Fleet level force. Tactical Data Link is the means to disseminate processed information from Combat systems, various Radars, Electronic Warfare systems, IFF, Sonars and combat action information. A TDL exchanges digital information on a near real-Time basis over a common encrypted and secure network and this tactical data is updated continuously and automatically by each of the Net Units (or Node). Hence there is a high constraint on the throughput and latency on a TDL and makes the development of such equipment complex.
The TDLs have several components like the Radio set, RF generator, Encryption etc. to move the ‘intelligence’ across various levels of the combat echelons Network-centric format. Link-16/Link-11 systems have been the main Tactical Data Link for US and NATO FORCES. Link 16 equipment is located on ground units, sea-based assets and airborne platforms. With Agreements like Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation) signed with the US, Indian Navy shall be able to undertake Joint Taskforce exercises and operations with multinational Navies in a more inclusive manner
C – Combat Management Systems (CMS):
CMS are mission-critical, real-time embedded Decision Support Systems (DSS) for the three dimensional (air, surface & sub-surface) Threat prediction and Weapon deployment. The systems utilize high-end processors which support RTOS (Real-Time Operating System). A CMS onboard completes the ‘sensor to shooter’ loop through automated warfare algorithms. Indian Navy procured such systems 1980’s with the induction of IPN-10 for indigenously constructed Godavari class frigates.
IPN-10 system procured along with the technical documents like the source code helped launch indigenous C4I project of EMCCA (Equipment Modular Command & Control Assembly). In early 2000, an indigenous CMS programme with enhanced C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) capabilities commenced. Joint development efforts with a foreign nation assisted in a quantum leap in the Tactical Warfare functionalities and, with innovative efforts by the Naval team, CMS-28 and CMS-15A became the basis for all the follow-on CMS systems. The success of this effort has ensured that the CMS systems today are a standard fit on board all the modern warships.
D – Space Initiative:
Over the past few decades, Indian Defence satellites, like GSAT-7 for Navy or GSAT-6 have been operational in the Low Earth Orbit along with other dual-purpose satellites like RISAT-2BR1 for ISR roles. The government created an Integrated Space Cell in 2010, which is operated jointly by the three service arms, the DRDO and ISRO.
For an efficient ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) over the vast IOR and Indo-Pacific regions, Indian Navy requires additional resources in terms of Space-based assets for enhancing its capabilities. Despite the best of the efforts in the three dimensions, the area of responsibility for a peninsular Navy is large and Space-based surveillance emerges as the way ahead. Space shall be the main deterrent against hostile forces from freely carrying out their clandestine activities on the high seas and support an optimal utilization of limited resources with Indian Armed Forces.
E – Naval Cyber Cell:
Navy has already a Cyber cell in place since it was realised that with IT-based advanced systems that the cyber-adversaries are likely to leverage Intelligent Edges and advances in computing power for cyber attacks. These threat actors shall continue to target and exploit emerging edge environments, such as remote workers, along with targeting the core networks at an unprecedented rate.
Year 2021 for Indian Navy shall be a transformative period for an expanded role as key regional power and Maritime Theatre Command shall be the key enabler to achieve the same.
With Navy possessing its own Indigenous technological drivers like the Tactical Data Link programme, in-house coded Combat Management Systems and Software Defined Radio’s (SDRs), the organisational capabilities are amenable for transitioning into a robust Maritime Theatre Command to achieve higher war-fighting efficiency. However, tri-services are required to centrally implement common Tactical link, Geo-coordinate translation schemes etc. for an inherent integration. A single Common Operational Picture amongst the Units for optimal deployment of resources shall be the start of any activity to garner the main benefits of the creation of these Theatre level Commands.
With the hostile Sino-India land border further stimulated by this year’s unanticipated aggression from the Chinese side, the border dispute is likely to be played out further on the high seas in the near future. The year 2021 for Indian Navy shall be a transformative period for an expanded role as a key regional power and Maritime Theatre Command shall be the key enabler to achieve the same.