Intelligence gathering is the first step in the process of making coordinated strategies for choosing whether or not to act on such information. In the realm of C4I2SR, the value of intelligence gathered in real-time against that of having a multi-stakeholder chain of gathering, processing, and hand-over of intelligence for eventual actions, may immensely affect the outcomes of several case scenarios.
Therefore, with the rapid evolution of technology there is also a case for continuously evaluating the chain of intelligence gathering alongside the decision-making chains against such leapfrogging technology regimes. Overhauling space assets alone cannot deliver value to tactical users. Real value for tactical users lies in overhauling the processes and technologies from the point of decision to building a specific use case to delivering it for the ground user to be able to tap into the asset in the least possible timespan.
In order to build such capabilities in space-based C4ISR one has to take note of building responsiveness—not just of the space assets once in orbit but in responsiveness in getting the space asset up as well as in enabling the ground user to directly use the asset with real time capability. Therefore, responsive ground decision-making chains and responsive launch capabilities shall remain key to overall ability of armed forces to be able to be able to leverage space as a real-time theatre control frontier.
Responsive decision-making chains in command of space assets
Decision-making chains in C4I2SR can be extremely challenging since the blocks of organisations of a particular decision-making chain can be long and there can often be a hand-off to different stakeholders within the system. These hand-offs or hand-holding may be a necessity due to the technological infrastructure and know-how being available with particular blocks within the system. These decision-making chains therefore have a direct impact on the latency of the action, starting from the request for acquisition of intelligence to the time of return of the intelligence.
Considering the importance of low latency in decision chains of C4I2SR, there is a need to introduce such decision-making chains into using of the space-based assets of the country for effective ground utilisation. Figure below provides an overview of different decision chains for using space-based assets in C4I2SR and eventual utilisation of intelligence. There are three cases scenarios for decision-making depicted with decreasing latency in decision-making.
The classic case of usage of space assets for C4I2SR (especially geo-intelligence via imagery) is leveraging the space-based technology infrastructure available for gathering intelligence for specific areas of interest (cartographic/resource monitoring satellites in case of imagery specific intelligence).
In such a case of armed forces using civilian space assets (dual use of technology), there is a mechanism of coordination that is needed between the times of request for intelligence to the hand-off of such a request from the domain of forces to the civilian realm. Such an operational mechanism will then involve the civilian chain handling the intelligence request and tasking space assets in acquisition of relevant intelligence, receiving at their stations with eventual processing and hand-off of the intelligence along the same lines of communications between the civilian and the armed forces chain of command.
The latency of such an operational regime not only poses immense challenges in bureaucratic stages involved in such hand-offs, but also has a potentially eroding effect (sometimes exponential) on the quality of the intelligence. This then becomes a step towards the armed forces pushing for an independent command and control chain as an effort of potentially decreasing the latency in decision-making in removing the civilian operations segment.
The need for decreasing latency as posed in the former case may take form by creating civilian equivalents of intelligence gathering, processing establishments within the C4I2SR realm. In missions such as CARTOSAT-2A/2B, the satellites have been commissioned to be built by the Ministry of Defence for dedicated scene-specific spot imagery in high resolution for armed forces, [i] the development of the technology infrastructure (space and ground) and the training can be provided by a dedicated space establishment (in this case ISRO). This is a step ahead of avoiding several stages of bureaucratic hand-offs in information between the civilian and defence realm, however, the chain of utilisation still has the presence of a nodal agency within the C4I2SR ring which may act as a front for facilitating the intelligence.
A specific example of this may be that satellites that may be commanded by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) in coordination with the armed forces tasking and specially cater to the their requests, while another organisation Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) with receiving centre at Gwalior supporting the armed forces by analysing satellite data.[ii] Although the operational regime of such a system may lie completely within the defence establishments’ ambit, this is also a case of increased latency of generation and processing of intelligence and eventual use.
It is important to note that the rapid rise of miniaturised technology has not only resulted in developing smaller space assets but also has made a case for using potentially mobile ground segments that can receive data at unprecedented rates and can be processed in near-real time for facilitating the intelligence needs specific to a user. Some of the particular users within the C4I2SR realm can benefit from specifically tailored technology architectures that shall enable direct real-time relay of intelligence for decision-makers at a particular area of interest to directly act on the intelligence.
Extension of this tailored technology architectures into space assets for specific space data users within the C4I2SR based on the applications needed within particular areas of interests provides an excellent opportunity to create a closed loop of direct access to space-based assets to a particular post or user, therefore providing a near-real time capability. This is one of the best plausible scenarios of low latency operations within least hops in the chain of actions required in gathering, processing and choosing to act on intelligence.
A typical geo-intelligence example of such an operational regime can well be to have mobile ground segments that can be used to command the satellites to specifically image particular areas of interest while the gathered data is directly relayed to a particular post or user (also using mobile ground segments) who is in need of such intelligence. The mobile segment on the user or post may have an integrated data processing unit that specifically caters to the signatures and analytics that are of interest to the user. Some of these aspects of utility in C4I2SR concern the ability to tailor technology architectures to suit such low-latency decision-making approaches. An extension of such can move into specific geo-coordinates may be marked for automatic intelligence acquisition and relay with archival mapping.
The current form of space-based C4I2SR in India can well be a mix of both Case A and Case B depending on the type of intelligence. However, with the maturity of technology alongside miniaturisation, reliability, constellation capabilities, there lies a strong case for defence forces to consider moving to an independent, low-latency, tailored architecture regime (Case C) to facilitate near-real time operations with space-based C4I2SR.
This is an excerpt from a recent Occasional Paper published by Observer Research Foundation titled ‘Exploring Small Satellites for India’s Security Interests – A Techno-Entrepreneurial Perspective‘.
[i] ‘CartoSat-2A – eoPortal Directory – Satellite Missions’, accessed 18 August 2015, https://directory.eoportal.org/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/c-missions/cartosat-2a#foot1%29.
[ii] Cmde Ranjit Rai, ‘Indian Navy: India Navy: A C4ISR Nuclear Force’, India Strategic, accessed 18 August 2015, http://www.indiastrategic.in/topstories717.htm.