Interoperability : An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Vol 10 Issue 5 Nov - Dec 2016
Jointmanship is an imperative in the present day and offers several advantages
Monday, December 5, 2016
The degree to which organisations or individuals are able to operate together is the measure of their ‘interoperability’. Although interoperability is generally regarded as being limited to technical or technological issues, it in fact bears upon human, organisational and technological systems with equal rigour and encompasses the entire range of goods and services that are involved in cooperative endeavour, particularly military endeavour and as such, has critical relevance at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.
Strategic interoperability is a component of a country’s geopolitics and needs to be addressed at the politico-military level.
The two principal instruments by which India executes her Foreign Policy are common to all nations — diplomacy and military power. Increasingly, there is recourse being taken to a hybrid of these — military diplomacy. The latter is the exploitation of the nation’s primary instrument of hard power (the military) to exercise soft power (diplomacy) upon another nation so as to shape the latter’s thinking and institutions in a manner designed to yield a desired strategic result. As the efficacy of military diplomacy is realised, the impact of strategic interoperability grows. Thus, multilateral constructs such as IORA, and those of military-diplomacy - of which the IONS is a prime example - become fertile ground for the growth of interoperability at all levels.
At the strategic level, interoperability issues are centred upon the harmonizing of the world views, strategies, doctrines, and force structures of major global and regional powers. Strategic interoperability provides a measure of dissuasion and deterrence to would-be troublemakers, and it helps motivate and shape defence research and development, acquisition, strategy, doctrine, tactics,training, and combined exercises. Of course, interoperability does have a cost that may be measured in a variety of currencies other than merely money.
At the Operational and Tactical levels, interoperability is measured in terms of military doctrine, procedures, processes, and, of course, technology. The benefits of operational and tactical interoperability are maximised when force elements, units and equipment become fungible(interchangeable). This stems from force rationalization —how best to accomplish a given mission with the resources available from the militaries or navies of partner countries. There are a number of ways in which this can be done and does not always have to involve a tightly integrated operation comprising, for example, mixed Coalition Strike-packages. Indeed, the boxed-grid pattern of deployment adopted by CTF 151 in prosecuting anti-piracy measures in the IRTC within the Gulf of Aden offers an alternative example — one that caters for national sensitivities within a multinational force, and allows for varying national rules of engagement amongst participating units.
At the operational level, ‘interoperable’ command centres with empowered liaison officers, standardised communications and digital data-networks (such as CENTRIX) and common C2ISR systems work exceedingly well.
Technological interoperability is where most of the national debate seems to be centred and it is where the associated costs and sensitivities pertaining to confidentiality and secrecy are highest. The standardisation of operating procedures in given contingencies that are short of full-fledged combat operations leads to greater interoperability.
Table-top and real-world exercises and operations pertaining to HADR and NEO offer excellent examples of how to get to the tough bits of technological interoperability gradually. In any event, it is now widely accepted that the solution lies in the adoption of Interoperable Open Architecture (IOA) — which is the ability of systems, units, or forces to provide and accept services to and from other systems, units, or forces, and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together. Of particular utility is the use of ‘middleware’ — a software-layer that is introduced to controls data that the proprietary software processes of the sub-systems are exchanging.
Against the foregoing backdrop, three clear avenues of argument emerge — each of which require roadmaps to either be created afresh, or to be critically reassessed and modified or updated.
The first has to do with interoperability within a single Service — the Indian Navy, for example — can our ships hoist one another’s sea-boats? Can they control and direct one another’s fixed/rotary-wing aircraft? Where technological interoperability is concerned, the huge success enjoyed by the Navy through the entirely commendable functioning of its in-house ‘Weapons Engineering Electronics Systems Establishment’ (WESEE) offers an excellent example of the correct approach. A strong and sustained interaction between WESEE and the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is essential, as is similar interaction with the European Defence Agency (EDA). The annual Navy-to-Navy Staff Talks offer a wholly adequate enabling structure for such interaction. Likewise, to progress WESEE’s interaction with the US DoD/Navy, a number of bilateral structures exist that can (and must) be fully exploited, as would be obvious from the following schematic depiction:
Apart from hardware, software and skinware, ‘liveware’ (i.e., human resources) is another area where interoperability at the single-Service (Navy) level can yield significant benefits. Two immediate avenues that offer promise in this regard are (1) the Maintainer-User concept, and, (2) Op Logistics — with especial emphasis upon making war-fighting concepts, doctrines, processes and procedures of the Executive Branch interoperable with those of the Logistics Cadre.
The second of the three ‘avenues’ has to do with ‘Joint’ structures and the attainment of ‘jointness’ — what is often called ‘jointmanship’. Here, the challenges are far more severe, but, since organisational, functional and training structures already exist (barring the creation of a CDS), these challenges are certainly not insurmountable. Their severity, on the other hand, ought not to be trivialised since their ambit includes liveware-intangibles such as specific-Service ethos and conditioning, quite apart from a large number of technological issues. With a number of tri-Service structures in place — such as NDA, DSSC, MILIT, DIAT, CDM, NDC, cross-attachments at each of the three Higher Command Courses; and, HQIDS, — the approach can certainly not be faulted. Residual problems in the attainment of full and vibrant jointness are, therefore, in the realm of conceptualisation and execution of a joint syllabus that suitably reinforces the principles that will lead to inter-Service interoperability. While there is a great deal that needs to be done - especially by the Joint Training Committee (JTC) - by way of seeking and maintaining conceptual clarity and supervising execution of joint training, the contours and waypoints of the roadmap itself seem fairly well established.
The third avenue is to do with generating, sustaining and developing interoperability with ‘Combined’ forces, products and services. Once again, there certainly are significant challenges in terms of hardware, software and liveware. At the strategic level, there is a marked and wholly understandable - but nevertheless debilitating - reluctance to surrender sovereignty/autonomy or to apparently weaken entrenched notions of national pride. This is most evident in the ongoing drive towards interoperability with the USA. At both, the strategic and operational levels of interoperability between Indian and the US military, there are a number of clear and written commitments signed at the highest levels of government, robust organisational structures, and detailed procedures and processes, all of which are firmly in place.
LEMOA is an agreement to share logistics during peacetime and will go a long way in mitigating capability gaps being suffered by both navies while discharging their respective strategic and operational commitments — as well as their future ‘combined’ ones -in the Indo-Pacific in general and the Indian Ocean in particular. Howsoever delayed, it has certainly rejuvenated the India-US Maritime Cooperation Framework agreement.
On the other hand, CISMOA, which aims to promote interoperability between the armed forces of India and the USA in terms of communications and information systems, continues to raise autonomy-bogeys in Indian minds despite the fact that like LEMOA, it is an enabling agreement and not a binding one. However, it is true that CISMOA is structured on the conviction that the USA is the ‘provider’ and India the ‘supplicant’, and its tone is so imperious as to almost guarantee offending of Indian sensibilities as it is the USA that will provide India the cryptographic and communication equipment that will enable interoperability, and not the other way around, the CISMOA has clauses whose intrusiveness is marked.
Why this interoperability shoe is firmly on the American foot is important to understand in the context of interoperability. While the Indian Navy most certainly possesses adequate technological, technical and procedural capacity and capability in terms of communications and cryptography, its pattern of deployment has been constantly circumscribed by a governmental obsession with autonomy. As a result, the Indian Navy has ceded strategic space (by way of influence in multilateral groupings) to the US Navy. So now when we wish to enhance our classified awareness of the maritime domain, we are forced to be the ‘supplicant’, instead of being the ‘provider’. In other words, our past stand-alone decisions and our earlier refusal to embark upon a path of interoperability with other maritime players have denied us the requisite degree of influence that would have allowed other countries to seek interoperability with us on our terms.
Yet, everything is not a gloom-and-doom story. For instance, the recent agreement to share aircraft carrier catapult-launch technology design capabilities will enable the two navies to operate a complementary set of aircraft-capable platforms. With large commonalities in other major platforms such as the P-8 (India) LRMP-ASW aircraft, the groundwork has been laid for the possible future acquisition of E-2D Hawkeye Early Warning aircraft and, if an agreement on co-production is reached, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters. Such commonalities will, naturally, greatly augment existing IN-USN levels of interoperability. In terms of sonars to be operated in waters of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, India is probably ahead of the United States and there are options here of assuaging the national sensitivities described above and of meaningfully addressing the alignment–autonomy conundrum that faces New Delhi and Washington alike.
Even outside of the US-India paradigm, the roadmap for ‘combined’ interoperability is supported by a number of enabling structures. Bilateral structures — most especially Navy-to-Navy Staff Talks — have reached an impressive degree of robustness and the respective interlocutors in each ought to be able to delve deeply into the knotty issues of interoperability. At the multilateral level, it is difficult to envisage a pan-regional maritime structure with greater potential than IONS.
Exercises with foreign militaries are an extraordinarily effective means of both, the exercise of military diplomacy and the promotion of interoperability. As such, they need to continue to be progressed with seriousness and gusto. The Indian Army, Navy and Air Force are currently engaged in an impressive array of combined and/or joint exercises, with the Indian Navy leading the way, as the following illustrative (not necessarily exhaustive) list shows:
In support of interoperability at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, our exercising with foreign militaries enables our own armed forces to:
• Gain and share operational and doctrinal expertise, as also transformational experiences
• Examine and exchange ‘best practices’ in a variety of domains
• Develop and standardise procedures and processes for multilateral security cooperation and interoperability, especially in areas such as HADR, NEO, CT Ops, Anti-piracy Ops, MIO (involving Scouting, as also VBSS techniques, etc).
• Generate familiarity with multiple types of terrain and environments (in the case of the Navy this promotes critical ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ [MDA]) through a variety of information-sharing mechanisms.
• Enhance familiarity with new technologies, equipment, weapons and ordnance, as also their organisational, employment, maintenance and safety aspects.
• Promote international camaraderie, professionalism, mutual respect and understanding
At a higher (operational) plane, participation in international level military exercises is a very visible and striking indication of the highest level of trust and confidence between the participating nations and, insofar as India is concerned, reflects the faith reposed by India in another nation or a group of nations.
At an even higher (strategic) plane, these exercises are excellent and versatile tools for perception management and strategic signalling to friends and potential adversaries, alike. Perception management and strategic signalling are integral and intrinsic component of the exercise of effective soft power. The overall perception that is sought to be conveyed by India — through this seemingly paradoxical application of soft power by its foremost instruments of hard power — is that of a geopolitically, geo-strategically and militarily significant power that cannot be ignored, trifled-with, or opposed, without unacceptable cost, yet one whose geopolitical approach is peaceful, non-threatening, inclusive, and mutually beneficial.
The value of exercises with foreign navies is very obviously enhanced by the large geographic extent over which geopolitical signalling is done through these exercises. For example, when successive editions of Exercise MALABAR - an extremely advanced and complex combined exercise - are conducted in oceanic areas as diverse as the western seaboard of India, the eastern seaboard of India and the East China Sea. Consequently, the strategic signalling is intense over a very substantial geographic swathe of the Indo-Pacific. Likewise is the case with other major exercises such as VARUNA and INDRA.
While it is true that it is quite possible to develop these avenues (‘intra-Navy, ‘joint’ and ‘combined’) independently of each other, yet, it would be immediately obvious that ‘Joint-and-Combined’ forces can only be interoperable once the ‘joint’ roadmap has been competently and comprehensively traversed. This is important because the natural progression of interoperability is the attainment of interoperability of ‘Joint-and-Combined’ forces, equipment, processes and procedures.
Towards this end, we cannot do better than to remain mindful of what Eleanor Roosevelt said in 1938: “... the trouble is that most people in this country think that we can stay out of wars in other parts of the world. Even if we stay out of it and save our own skins, we cannot escape the conditions which will undoubtedly exist in other parts of the world and which will react against us.... We are all of us selfish ... and if we can save our own skins, the rest of the world can go. The best we can do is to realize nobody can save his own skin alone. We must all hang together”.