When we reflect back, we can see that wars have been fought since the conception of tribes. It has progressed from tribal battles to states attacking each other and nations fighting each other. Weapons of battle evolved from arrows, lances, swords, and machetes to rifles, tanks, artillery, rockets, and nuclear bombs. Two horrific World Wars have taken place, wreaking havoc on the human species.
Even space will become a battleground in future conflicts. The advent and experimental advancements in digital technology are permanently changing the character of conflict and the shape of the global geopolitical scene. Some technologies have proven to be truly disruptive, altering the war’s path. A plethora of military inventions is being produced in today’s Information Age to take advantage of the online revolution. The single breakthrough that will fundamentally transform the contemporary battleground in our age is the ubiquitous smartphone, which practically every citizen uses for every possible need.
What have we tried to bring about using Cellular Technology?
While militaries around the world have made use of communication systems in some way, the Indian Armed Forces have mostly failed to reap significant productivity gains from this radical mode of communication. In 2007, the Indian Army got a head start by establishing a 2G CDMA-based Mobile Cellular Communication Network (MCCS) south of the Pir Panjal, which was succeeded by a more advanced 3G CDMA network in the Kashmir Valley in 2016. This kind of network has shown to be innovative in every manner when it comes to addressing the tactical, analytical, logistics, and organizational needs of troops stationed in these locations.
Encouraged by the incredible success of these initiatives, the Corps of Signals decided to take a great step forward and design a cellular network that would run the length of the Northern boundaries, but the project was unfortunately abandoned at the last minute. Pursuing the initiative to its rational end might have been a key differentiator in the recent Dokalam and Galwan episodes, in retrospect. The operational requirement for cellular technology, which not only makes agencies perceptive but also asynchronous in space, persists to be noticed not only for our counter-terrorism procedures but also for every plausible operational, logistical, and administrative necessity all along the Northern borders.
In 2013, the Indian Air Force launched AFCEL, a cellular network based on 3G WCDMA, to provide mobile and secure end-point communication to air combatants stationed around the nation. The Indian Army is now working on a large-scale initiative to upgrade its 2G CDMA network to a 4G LTE network. The initiative is well underway, but given our proclivity for overreaching to advanced technologies, we should avoid repeating our past errors, since our convoluted procurement process ensures that we are always one generation short.
Why should the military be interested in 5G?
Until now, cellular telecommunications has mostly been primarily concerned with human communications, allowing people to communicate with one another. However, the next-generation mobile network, also known as 5G, will enable a new type of network that will connect nearly everyone and everything, including machines, objects, and gadgets. This will make it easier for our Armed Forces to exchange information in real-time in an ever-changing operational environment. With 5G networks providing the potential vital infrastructure, the concept of smart entities in the Tactical Battle Area, including smart frontiers, which requires the implementation of the Internet of Things (IT), can be really materialized.
What role will 5G play in the current state of warfare?
Presently, armies around the world are shifting their armed forces away from the conventional concept of Total War and toward a new era of ‘Persistent Competition’ in the Information Age. This necessitates dispersed AI-assisted decision-making, with our decision-makers at the forefront. The data collected by millions of battlefield IoT devices will be crunched with 5G. Deliver the essential information to the best shooter and the right decision-maker instantly at the edge. We’ll also see data processing at the edge of the battle zone, as well as the transmission of massive volumes of information (not data) to support AI decision-making. As we prepare for relentless rivalry and usher in the much-anticipated and expected jointness in our military forces, we will need to herald in and harness 5G as soon as possible.
What should be done?
Telecom Service Providers are actively conducting trials for 5G networks (TSPs). The three Services under the command of the Signal Officer-in-Chief must be proactively involved in the current trials in order to create and evaluate military-specific use instances and applications. Nevertheless, even if 5G becomes widely available in India in the near future, integration for active use by the Armed Forces might take anywhere from 5 to 8 years, based on previous acquisition inefficiencies, decision difficulties, and financial constraints. This is an unacceptable deficit in terms of addressing our operational needs, particularly along the northern border.
In the meanwhile, this critical gap must be bridged by deploying LTE-based systems in our forward zones, ensuring that the operational benefits of communication systems are accessible to military troops as soon as possible. LTE technology is well-established at the most affordable pricing, and made-in-India solutions are commonly accessible. The Indian Army’s Mobile Integrated Network Terminal (MINT) project, which is based on the LTE Network in a Box (NIB) solution, requires an organizational push to get off the ground before the technology becomes antiquated. We should be able to effectively leverage LTE-based networks to the full extent before 5G is introduced and tactically made accessible to the three Forces, by any accounting.