The ability for armed forces to successfully and effectively engage with the enemy is moving beyond simply fielding the greatest military might. The concept of ‘smarter’ warfare is emerging, rapidly refocusing attention away from air, land and sea platforms themselves, and onto the networks that link them to each other along with dismounted troops and operation commanders.

As Network-Centric warfare (NCW) develops, the face of modern conflict is developing with it. The warfighter of the near future will be a mobile sensor suite, with superior situational awareness, capable of accessing and dispensing vital intelligence in real time via advanced communication networks linked with multiple platforms. With integrated command and control (C2), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and comprehensive C4ISR solutions, warfighters and battle commanders are able to shorten decision-making cycles, and increase combat effectiveness in fast-changing hostile environments.

Singapore’s future soldier

In June 2009 ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems) was awarded a contract by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for their Advanced Combat Man System (ACMS), the 3rd Generation Networked Warrior system. The ACMS will bring full Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) and network capabilities to the SAF in order to bring a significant advancement of fighting capabilities by improving situational awareness, command and control, lethality and survivability of the soldier.

The contract was issued as part of Singapore’s efforts to bring its armed forces new and improved abilities under the programme known as SAF’s 3rd Generation Transformation. The system works on two levels; first in enabling seamless integration of the individual soldier’s capabilities into the wider network, and secondly in allowing section commanders and team leaders access to the wider resources of the battalion, shortening decision making and response times. When the system is complete (expected in 2012), the SAF is expected to be a network-centric force, with digitised warfighters operating within a network where information can be easily communicated in all directions.

A major aspect of the ACMS is the full suite of wearable C4I systems that are being developed in order to allow each individual soldier to be fully networked, and ST Electronics points to ‘lightweight, good ergonomics and efficient electrical power management’ as the three most important considerations in the design of ACMS to meet the demanding operational requirements of dismounted solders. Developing kit with a minimal weight that allows each soldier to fully exploit the network without impeding his mobility, flexibility or endurance is one of the biggest challenges of any NCW programme. The ACMS will implement wearable weapon, helmet and load-bearing vest, and a ‘light but powerful’ wearable computer linked to modular systems that provide navigation, head-mounted displays, all-light cameras, and voice and data communications systems; and the customised Soldier Battlefield Management System (SBMS) will allow each solider to track his position and those of friendly forces, mark hostile forces, effectively engage the enemy, communicate directly with other soldiers and systems and call for fire and combat support.

The key components of the ACMS are the soldier computer sub-system that contains the ‘brain’ of the system, facilitating situational awareness, call for fire, and enabling the control of, and integration with, other sub-systems, as well as the processing and analysis of C4 data for intelligence gathering. The head mounted system features full colour OLED display and active noise reduction and hearing protection; the navigation sub-system provides indoor/outdoor navigation and Dead Reckoning Module (DRM). The Communication sub-system gives voice and high-rate data communication via wireless mesh network; and the weapon sub-system provides round-corner viewing and weapon reflex sight with laser aiming device.

Perhaps the single aspect that puts Singapore far ahead of its regional neighbours in terms of developing a fully networked force is the broad vision for the entire armed forces, and the digitized dismounted solider is only a single part of the 3rd Generation flexible, integrated, full-spectrum force. The Royal Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is also undergoing restructuring into five commands, the highest of which is the Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC), which will act as the high readiness core of the RSAF. The Singapore Ministry of Defence names the other four commands to be established as the Air Combat Command, the Participation Command, the Air Power Generation Command and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Command. The new structure of the RSAF will enable better exploitation of new platforms, technologies and battlefield concepts to fulfil the future mission commands of the 3rd Generation SAF, which will be a truly networked force that will be capable of shaping and influencing ground and sea campaigns from the air, brining enhanced air defence through significantly advanced networking of weapons, sensors and command and control systems.

Singapore’s approach to developing the new generation of its armed forces is a prime example of the way modern warfare is moving away from a focus on platform-centric warfare and towards network-centric warfare. On today’s battlefield, the ability to communicate information and intelligence quickly is paramount, and the ability to do this better than one’s enemy is a major tactical advantage. Without an effective network, the most advanced platform will be incapable of waging successful warfare in urban terrain; while the soldier who was superior situation awareness, high-speed data and voice communication links to information gathering sensors and command and control units is the most important asset an armed force can field.

The Indian approach.

One of the main NCW programmes underway in India is the Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS) programme that focuses on the modernisation of the tactical level soldier. F-INSAS will see the complete overhaul of the individual soldier’s kit, including modular multi-function weapons including a dual calibre assault rifle and grenade launcher, body armour and radio systems. Other equipment will include helmet visors with video cameras, and thermal, chemical and biological sensors, complete with heads-up display monitor; lightweight and bullet proof clothing equipped with sensors to monitor health parameters to enable quick medical attention when required. Phase one of the programme is underway with a request for information (RFI) for open calibre carbines issued in January 2010, to cover night vision devices, laser designators and detachable under-barrel grenade launcher procurement.

Digital skies

India is also taking steps toward a NCW enabled Air Defence (AD), with the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) modern, state-of-the-art digital information grid known as Air Force Network (AFNET) launched mid-September. According to the Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD), AFNET is a fully secure and reliable network that will transform the IAF into a ‘true net-centric combat force’, and marks the first of the three Indian services to complete the project of interlinking major installations throughout India on a high bandwidth network.

AFNET will allow the linking of all major formation and static establishments through a Wide Area Network (WAN) and will provide the backbone for the automated command and control system for AD operations known as the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), and integrate all ground-based and airborne sensors, AD weapons and C2 nodes. The AFNET system will give a major leap in capabilities for the IAF’s AD capabilities, and will be an effective force multiplier for intelligence analysis, and mission planning and control. A number of functionalities were carried out at the official launch, including the practise interception of simulated enemy air targets by MiG-29 fighter aircraft, the facilitating of video from UAVs, and the transmission of pictures captured by Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to a control centre hundreds of kilometres away.

Australia’s link with Israel.

In an important step towards developing a fully networked force by the year 2030, Australia has awarded a contract to Elbit to develop a Battle Management System (BMS) for the Army. Believed to be similar to what the Israeli Defence Forces use, this system fill allow the flow of data to and from individual soldiers. In addition the Army will soon update its entire suite of night fighting infantry weapons and sensors and it is theoretically possible that this information will also be relayed via the BMS.

Australia is taking a many-pronged approach to developing true NCW capabilities. As well as the recent Foreign Military Sale of the Shadow 200 UAV to the Army (emerging details of which include remote viewing terminals and ground control station units), current ADF efforts centre on the introduction of the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) new Project Vigilare Network Centric Command and Control System (NC3S). The programme, also known as the New Air Defence Command and Control for Control Units 2&3, or Air 5333, will replace the Air Defence Command and Control system with two new systems located at Regional Operations Centres (ROCs) at RAAF Tindal and RAAF Williamtown, as well as design and deliver an integrated Australian Defence Force (ADF) Air Defence System communications network.

The programme has been developed by Boeing, and will integrate advanced technologies combining data from land, sea, air and space platforms, as well as sensors, data-links and intelligence agencies to provide tactical and strategic-level surveillance and battlespace management operations.

The system passed site acceptance testing in April 2010, and on September 2 2010, the RAAF began using the Vigilare Northern Regional Operations Centre (NROC) at RAAF Base Tindal for surveillance and battlespace management operations across Australia. The legacy WARDEN system is believed to have been switched off on the same day. This followed successful trials in major multinational air combat exercise, Pitch Black 2010. During the exercise the system interacted with multiple airborne assets, including RAAF F/A-18 Hornets, F-111s, Hawks, forward air control PC-9s, and AP-3C Orions, and a number of RSAF, Royal Thai Air Force assets.

Boeing spokesman Steve Parker described the system’s ability to bring several disparate systems together as a ‘true systems of systems environment’. The NC3S works by combining information in near real-time from a wide range of platforms, sensors, tactical data links and intelligence networks to deliver tactical and strategic surveillance operations and battlespace management in the air and joint domains; and the live input from these sources present a unified operational picture to the operator at single or multiple control centres, giving the RAAF a significant leap forward in its networked warfare capabilities.

It is no coincidence that Boeing are also the Prime Contractor for the RAAF’s six enormously capable ‘Wedgetail’ Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft. Though several years late, it now looks as if they will deliver to their full potential in the near future. With a powerful phased array radar and high capacity data links, these aircraft will be major nodes in the coming network. When combined with Vigilaire and assets such as the Jindalee Over The Horizon Radar, these aircraft will add greatly to Australia’s situational awareness.

The Thai approach.

Thailand has also taken significant steps towards achieving networked capabilities recently, with the unveiling of the integrated defence system for their Gripen C/D multirole fighter aircraft last month. Developed by Saab, the Royal Thai Air Force will acquire the foundation of an advanced network based defence system for the Gripen C/D due for delivery in the country in 2011, and the ERIEYE airborne early warning system (to be housed in a Saab 340 aircraft) and a C2 system including data link communication, due late 2010/early 2011. An additional Saab 340 and three ground based Radio sites complete the package, which will focus on technology transfer between Sweden and Thailand.

Bridging capability gaps

There are a number of countries within the Asia-Pacific region whose NCW capabilities are in need of expansion and development as the face of modern warfare changes. The requirements of any armed force to provide an effective and sustainable defence relies on multi-layered sensor assets, including UAVs and AWACS, that can respond in real time without any leaving room for any capability gaps.

The Japan Self Defence Force (JSDF) has recently implemented its Japan Air Defence Ground Environment (JADGE) system to bridge the gap between its requirements and capabilities. The C2 system is part of a wider upgrade of the country’s air defences, and provides conventional AD and ballistic missile defence in real time, but there are areas in which the system needs improving and expanding. The JSDF F-2 fighter craft have no data-link system, and the system does not provide information integration, situational awareness or real-time transmission of tactical-level intelligence in order to carry out operations effectively and successfully.

Cyber warfare

With more and more armed forces investing heavily in 2nd and 3rd generation networks and equipment, attention must be paid to the security of those networks in order to protect the data and intelligence they transmit. For some nations the prospect of cyber warfare, and the gaining of entry to an enemy force’s network or the partial or complete disabling of that network through sustained cyber attack, is a more advantageous option than focusing on their own network-centric warfare capabilities. It is becoming more apparent that relying so strongly on networks to wage effective warfare is also a potentially catastrophic weakness.

In the mid-2000s China made headlines around the world following reports of a suspected attack on US military satellites, and is widely believed to be investing significantly in – or at least testing – weapons capable of attacking foreign military networks, known as laser anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. In January 2007, it was reported that China carried out a successful ASAT weapons test when it destroyed one of its own inactive weather satellites with a kinetic kill vehicle launched by a medium range ballistic missile. It is believed that in addition to developing ASAT weapon capabilities, Beijing is developing jammers for Global Positioning System (GPS) corruption, as well as highly vulnerable optical sensors on satellites through the use of laser radars.

The implications of this technology are far reaching, and other nations with significant space capabilities, including the US and India, are believed to be working on the development of ASAT technology, though few details are known of the programmes.

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