Larsen & Toubro (L&T) has been chosen to manage the military’s ultra-modern communications network, called the Armed Forces Network (AFN), which will enable the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force’s 414 bases across the country to talk and exchange dates securely.
Since Independence, all communications between the service headquarters in New Delhi, theatre command headquarters in locations like Udhampur, Shillong and Kochi and further to corps, divisions, brigades and air and naval bases and logistical units were carried out via decades-old landlines, radio relay, radio and troposcatter links.
Now, a 60,000-kilometre long, pan-Indian, optic fibre cable (OFC) network will soon connect all these locations.
Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) has already completed 57,000 km of the AFN. This includes optical cabling, the transmission and routing backbone and, crucially, the last-mile connectivity with forward bases. Since many of them are in remote locations without road links, they are connected to the AFN with microwave radio or satellite links.
The final step was taken last Tuesday, when L&T secured a coveted order to create the software backbone that will manage the AFN. This is a significant departure from past practice, when Bharat Electronics (BEL) would have been “nominated” to discharge a contract with such crucial electronic security elements.
“L&T has secured a large order from the Indian Army to establish a first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art Unified Network Management System (UNMS) to manage, support and operate the countrywide AFN…” stated a company release.
The Smart World & Communication Business of L&T Construction, which won the Rs 2,700 crore order, is required to discharge it within 18 months. The AFN is coming up as part of the “Network for Spectrum” (NFS) arrangement, in which the military has surrendered 40 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) — 25MHz in the 3G band and 20MHz in the 2G band.
In return, BSNL was charged with establishing a pan-India OFC network for the military’s exclusive use. In May 2018, the Union cabinet approved the expenditure of Rs 24,664 crore for the OFC network.
At the heart of L&T’s UNMS software system is the so-called Next Generation Operation Support System (NGOSS), a key module that has the job of ensuring the entire network is up and running optimally. This will involve complete visibility and real-time monitoring of the diverse network assets on a common management platform.
The NGOSS functions like the backend software that conventional wireless network service providers —such as Airtel, BSNL, Jio and Vodafone — use to route and connect calls from subscribers’ mobile phones, find an alternate routing if a transmission tower is down, and quickly repair malfunctioning systems.
Similarly the NGOSS will ensure the proper functioning of all AFN services such as voice and video calls, data transmission, etc. It will also manage the adding and deleting of subscribers and value added services.
This will be done through a “Data Centre Infrastructure” that will be responsible for networking, routing and switching, provision of servers and storages, and the security firewalling appropriate to a military network.
Given the military’s requirement for watertight cyber and communications security, L&T will establish a “Security Operations Centre” at a centralised location, which will deal with security threats, logs, alerts, archives etc.
L&T will also provide the AFN with “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS) — an online private cloud that will provide virtualised computing resources for stakeholders within the military. This cloud computing resource will allow users to carry out functions such as, data partitioning, scaling, security and backup.