Army's BSS – Still hiccupping

By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) August 21, 2017
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Battlefield surveillance relates to the ability to obtain real or near-real time all weather picture of battle space. This encompasses human intelligence (HUMINT), technology related imagery intelligence (IMINT) and signal or communication intelligence (SIGINT) together with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). The basic concept of battlefield intelligence is to obtain knowledge of the battle space enabling detection of changes to interpret intention, actions and deployment of the enemy, to enable pre-emptive action. Indian Army's Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS), named 'SANJAY', was conceived to develop an automated system with dedicated intra-communication, which involves integration of surveillance sensors at Division and Corps level on a customized Geographical Information System (GIS) platform with multi sensor data fusion undertaken at the Surveillance Centre for providing inputs to the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS). The requirements at Brigade level were included later in 2008. Phase 1 involved provision of the concept by developing a test bed system, which has been completed and operational validation accorded. The system was developed on turnkey basis by BEL in collaboration with Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR).

Phase 2 of Project Sanjay involves equipping all Corps of the Army after successful completion of 'proving phase'. Responsibility for development of the system in Phase 2 is also with BEL and is behind schedule by many years. As per initial plan, equipping was to commence in 2010 after the 'proving phase', however, BEL has been facing problems in the development, akin to the case of the Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCCS) of limited indigenous capacity in applications, design and software customization though bulk hardware and technology was imported. Later, it was hoped that the test bed for 'proving phase' of Phase 2 was to get going by mid 2012 and the complete fielding pan-Army was to be completed by year 2017 but has not taken off yet. Meanwhile, the Army introduced another battlefield communication system for use on the Line of Control (LoC) as also other tactical and operational situations in August 2016; by developing its own 3G network-based technology where smartphones could be used to capture and share live images and videos for operational purposes. The upgraded 3G version named Mobile Cellular Communication System (MCCS) was launched in the Srinagar-based Corps. MCCS is a cellular system and offers enhanced security, better voice quality and high data rates.

As per media, quoting Army sources, sharing images and videos could be done only by using a monitor which is connected to the internet through optical fibre, which has limited scope but makes it possible to share images using smart handsets. MCCS is reportedly secure and dependable since it uses Arm's own algorithm. This system also aids Army's Long Range Reconnaissance and Observation System (LORROS). For Phase 2 of Project Sanjay, the Army was to supply vehicle, which is part of the contract between the MoD and BeL. However, this has not been done so far. While the deliberations continued, last year Tata Motors bagged an additional order for supply of 619 numbers of 6x6 High Mobility Vehicles (HMVs), multi-axle vehicle with material handling cranes, for the Indian Army, which was the single largest order to an Indian private Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). This was a follow on order to an earlier order received by Tata Motors in year 2016 for 1,239 such HMVs. The Army has now identified this 6x6 HMV as the vehicle required for the BSS. The Directorate General of Information Systems (DGIS) has written to the Master General of Ordnance (MGO) to procure the vehicles. How much time the MGO Branch will require to complete the procurement process is not known. However, once the vehicles are procured and handed over to BEL, the requirement will be to mount the system onto the vehicle and produce a prototype. How much time BEL would take to do so is not known. The prototype, once developed, will then need to undergo extensive trials including its integration with the CIDSS which too has not been fully developed and fielded yet. It is only after these trials are successful that the fielding of the BSS pan-Army can commence; completion of which could well take anything up to a decade or more. The irony in all this is that technology is developing at such fast pace that information systems get outdated before a two-year period elapses. The danger always is that instead of state-of-the-art systems being provisioned, older systems can be provided to make additional money through 'upgrades' moment the system is fully fielded, and this has happened on earlier occasions.