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Vineet Ravindran asked: What are the emerging trends in network-centric warfare?

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  • Kishore Kumar Khera replies: Like the much-touted term Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the 1990s, a new term Network Centric Warfare (NCW) was coined to give an appearance of a new warfare concept. However, simply stated, NCW is just an extension of existing concepts of warfare prevailing for centuries and based on a military commander’s intent in knowing the status and location of all combat elements, friendly and hostile, in the battle space. This information is vital to formulate plans and incorporate changes, if need be, to achieve defined objectives most efficiently. NCW therefore is an amalgamation of evolving technologies of communication, analogues and digital, in the battle space. 

    War today is a congregation of various battles being fought simultaneously in different domains in different geographical locations by different combatants using different platforms, weapons, sensors and infrastructure. Technology has helped expand the battle space from sub-surface to space and the use of long-range precise kinetic weapons, express mobility and extensive use of the electromagnetic spectrum. Battle space is dynamic and with relative equation between warring entities changing with every weapon fired, it is important to accurately know the progress of every individual battle so that limited resources can be directed to achieve military objectives efficiently. The development of high-speed communication links and digitised output of sensors has allowed voluminous data flow. Every modern combatant, platform or system is equipped with multiple sensors to gather information about the battle space within its vicinity that could range from a few hundred metres to several thousand kilometres. To fully and optimally exploit information from a plethora of deployed sensors, a network is essential that not only gathers and collates data but can distribute information that will enhance battle awareness of relevant combatants. Instead of only vertical transmission of information to and from the military commander, a network allows lateral communication of information as well. This enhances mission effectiveness and operational efficiency. 

    Currently, the work is on enhancing the security of the network, and rate and volume of data flow. Security is a significant aspect as a plethora of devices in battle space are connected to the information network and a compromised device/combatant can result in a military catastrophe. As data points are gradually increasing to and from every combat element (combatant/platform/system including the heart rate of combatants to know their status), bandwidth is often a limiting factor. One way to circumvent the problem is to increase the data flow capacity, and quantum communication holds the key in this aspect. The other way to tackle the issue is to prioritise data. This needs human or artificial intelligence intervention, and work is on in this regard so that requisite data reaches the appropriate device. Work is also on the expansion of the network to connect a greater number of geographically separated combat elements to enhance mission effectiveness. To avoid information overload for the decision-makers, work is on to use various tools, including artificial intelligence, to create options for making decisions in a fast-changing battle space. How well military experts and data scientists collaborate will define the next generation of NCW.

    Posted on 31 December 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.