A prime example is the way reconnaissance and air support to ground forces is coordinated by the allied forces in Afghanistan, with real-time imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles, manned aircraft and ground sensors being transmitted via high speed satellite data links half-way around the world to control centres deep in the USA. The experts in these centres then quickly collate the raw data into useful intelligence and direct suitably armed fighter bombers to eliminate threats with minimum loss of time and deadly accuracy. To further reduce the sensor-to-shooter time, even the remote control of the UAVs and launch of PGMs is now being done from designated bases in the USA, with only launch and recovery operations being executed by locally stationed personnel. In these instances, networking has helped in reducing the manpower for intelligence extraction, with the same team of imagery experts often working on intelligence from well separated theatres. This also reduces the number of personnel required and commensurate logistical difficulties experienced in the operational zone.
Modern electro-optics allow soldiers and their coordinators to see even in total darkness and through heavy smoke, thus providing transparency in operations. Special forces have shown the advantages of networking right down to the soldier level. For example, in anti-terrorist and hostage situations, the Commander’s task has been greatly aided by the use of helmet mounted cameras being linked in real-time to a portable monitoring device.
Networking also provides enormous synergies even in areas where there is no armed conflict. For instance, real-time networking of civil and military communications in Europe, covering the airspace of over 20 countries, offers gap-free air defence coverage over a vast area, while offering seamless positive control to civil and military aircraft in the world’s most dense air traffic routes. Similar advantages are being realised by US law enforcement officials, wherein agencies such as Customs, Coast Guard, Drug Control, Air Defence, Air Traffic, Homeland Defence and others are now on a joint data and communications grid. This ensures that illegal activities such as smuggling, drug running, human trafficking, illegal migration and such like are effectively controlled, using the available multi-spectral sensors, databases and law enforcement personnel most effectively and economically, and in a collaborative manner. Plans are afoot to integrate fire, para-medic, forest and other services, in order to further improve response time and bring about further efficiencies by data-synthesis, in the event of mishaps or disasters.
Realising the enormous versatility and potential of network enabled systems, research laboratories, manufacturers and system integrators are trying to ensure that all new systems - whether they are for the armed or para-military forces, or for agencies involved in law enforcement, homeland defence, industrial security, border management, medical services or disaster relief - are digitally capable of being interlinked. This needs to be underpinned by flexible software and connectivity through fibre optic and radio frequency. The limited radio frequency spectrum available specifically for this purpose demands innovative techniques, which are developing at a rapid rate and heading towards providing transfer rates in the range of gigabytes per second. This is now possible using the same bandwidth that previously provided for data exchange rates of only hundreds of bits per second, whilst at the same time reducing the physical footprint of and the power required for the equipment at the sharp end.
It is this combination of significantly superior capability and operational efficacy coupled with enhanced efficiency that has made networked-enabled capability a foremost priority for many defence and national security agencies around the world, including, not least, the Indian armed forces.