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Army kicks off high-tech 'digital soldier' project

Rs 40,000-crore project to make battlefield management system that will integrate combat units; 14 companies asked to submit proposals

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

The Indian Army has moved a step closer to the battlefield of the future, where command networks know the precise location of every soldier and weapon, with whom generals can exchange reports, photos, data and verbal and written communications.

On Monday, Army headquarters called in 14 Indian companies and issued them an expression of interest (EoI) for developing a Battlefield Management System (BMS). The BMS will integrate combat units — armoured, artillery and infantry regiments, infantry battalions, helicopter flights, etc — into a digital network that will link together all components of the future battlefield.

While precise costs are still unclear, vendors competing for the contract say the army expects to pay about Rs 40,000 crore for developing and manufacturing the BMS. This includes the software architecture and the hardware that will link together every component of some 500 combat units, each having between 500 and 900 soldiers.

The BMS acquisition is being pursued as a “Make” contract under the Procurement Policy of 2013 (DPP-2013). The vendors will respond to the EoI with a detailed proposal, based on which the Ministry of (MoD) will shortlist two vendors or consortia as “development agencies” or DAs.

The MoD will pick up 80 per cent of the development bill for both DAs to build prototypes of the BMS. The winning design will form the basis of the system.

The army’s directorate general of information systems (DGIS) is overseeing the planned shift from a twentieth century to a twenty-first century battlefield. The communications backbone of the new digital architecture will be the Tactical Communications System (TCS), which is being pursued separately as India’s first “Make” project.

In addition, the army is working on a Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS) that allows commanders to control the battle; a Battlefield Support System (BSS) to manage artillery units; and an Air Control & Reporting System (ADC&RS) that will control airspace.

The BMS will link these overarching systems to the cutting edge — the combat soldier on the front line. Each soldier and combat platform (tank, helicopter, jeep) will be a separate digital entity, whose location and state of combat readiness will be available to higher commanders.

The BMS will also allow the sharing of inputs from a range of sensors in combat units, including seismic sensors, battlefield surveillance radars, long range optical sensors and thermal imaging devices.

The full rollout of the proposed digital network will enable a divisional or corps commander to talk directly to, and receive images from, a soldier in the trenches or a tank on the front. “This is all about situational awareness,” explains a serving general who terms it “Blue Force Tracking”.

The vendors who received EoIs on Monday include eight companies that are already competing for the Rs 10,000-crore TCS contract — L&T, Bharat Electronics Ltd, Rolta Ltd, Tata Power (strategic electronics division), Hindustan Computers Ltd, Wipro, Electronics Corporation of Indian Ltd and ITI. The six additional companies competing for BMS include Bharat Forge, Punj Lloyd Ltd, Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Technologies, Tech Mahindra; and CMC.

Vendors have been given four months to form consortia, engage technology partners (who may be foreign companies), frame their proposals, and submit detailed proposals. Those will be evaluated by an Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT), which will then select two DAs.

The EoI enjoins the DAs to develop four “test beds”, or configurations of the BMS. These are for (a) armoured units; (b) mechanised infantry units; (c) infantry units in mountains, and (d) infantry units in jungle terrain.

The EoI specifies that 30 per cent of the weight in selecting a DA will go to the amount and level of R&D that a vendor will put into the BMS.

Another 30 per cent will rest on the amount of indigenous content that the BMS will contain.

  • Command networks will know precise location of every soldier and weapon
  • Generals can exchange reports, photos, data and verbal and written communications with soldiers in the front
  • System will integrate all combat units
  • BMS to link systems that manage battle, artillery units, air defence and the soldier on the front line
  • Range of sensors to help share data
  • Commander can get data directly from a soldier or tank in the front line

First Published: Tue, November 12 2013. 00:34 IST