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Corps of Signals

Control of the battle has always been the concern of commanders down the ages and whoever could exert better control over his own forces and impress his will on his men won. When the armies were small and the distances relatively small, messengers on foot or on horseback sufficed. However, as the battlefields stretched out and the size of the armies increased, such means no longer sufficed. The coming of the artillery also underscored the importance of communications. Necessity being the mother of invention, such changes in the battlefield drove the evolution of the Signals and gave the Corps its unique place in the armies the world over.

The most ungentlemanly lot are the Signal Corps. The moment a world-renowned statesman wrinkled his nose to utter those famous words, 'Gentlemen do not read others' mail', they got about doing exactly that without a twinge of conscience. Their ability to pick out gibberish from an overused electromagnetic spectrum and get to understand it, is legendary. They listen to other people's tete-a-tetes without permission and have been doing so ever since modern conveniences came into being. The fifth dimension of war (space being the sixth), is given over entirely to them for their use -Electronic Warfare. They have long passed the stage when they would worry about providing efficient communications only. That is commonplace for them even if the equipment looked as if it had been exhumed from JC Bose's first laboratory. Today of course-it is a different matter.

Signals are essentially the NERVES of the army. The nerves in our body connect the brain to the sensory organs and also to the limbs. It is through the nerves that the brain receives inputs from the various sensory organs. The processing of these inputs results in a set of commands being issued to the various limbs which execute them to provide the response that our body makes to the external stimulus.

In the same manner, the generals, being the brains of the army, receive inputs from the troops in contact and from other sources through the Signals. These inputs are processed at the headquarters and converted into action plans. It again falls on the Signals to convey these operational plans to the troops who are to execute them. Feedback on execution gets conveyed back and the battle progresses.

It is therefore obvious that the Signals are intimately intertwined in all aspects of the functioning of the army both in war and in peace. Signals are present at all levels and at all places, just as we have nerves in all parts of our body.

Signals have gone through a process of evolution in keeping with evolution of communication technology. The earliest methods of signaling was through sight and sound. Primitive men discovered that the sound of drum and bell carried much farther than human voice. Conch shells have also been used in ancient times. To extend the reach further, man switched to visual signals in the form of smoke by day and fire signals by night. The use of flags and semaphores can also rightly be placed in this category and these are still used albeit ceremoniously by the navies of the world. The heliograph and the signaling lamp were also used. The use of carrier pigeons and other innovative techniques have marked the development and growth of the Signals.

The advent of the telegraph were major evolutionary steps in signaling and had their effect on the army signals too. The earliest record of army telegraphy dates back to 1868 when telegraph routes were built by the Army Signals. Till then, Signals was one of the functions of the Sappers and Miners. However, the increased sophistication and the enhanced responsibilities saw the birth of the Corps of Signals as a separate arm. Since then, the Corps has made rapid strides, keeping pace with technology and in a number of cases driving technology to evolve faster and more reliable communication systems. The Corps has also evolved drills and procedures that ensure the provision of reliable and responsive communications to the army under harsh terrain and tough battle field conditions - living up to the motto of the Corps - "TEEVRA CHAUKAS" or "Swift and Secure".

At the turn of the century there was no organised signal service in existence in India. As far back as 1857, there is a record of a Signals service in India, though it was not until 1911, as a result of the recommendations of Headlam Committee in 1910, that Signals in India came into being on a separate establishment under the auspices of the Corps of Sappers and Miners. The Corps was raised with a signal company for each Division and a nucleus of a wireless company for the line of communication. September 1935 saw the advent of the first Indian officer from the Indian Military Academy. 2/Lt AC Iyappa (later Director of Signals and Signal Officer-in-Chief) commissioned into the Corps. On India attaining independence in 1947, the Corps was completely Indianised and on 26 January 1950, on India attaining full sovereignity, the Indian Signal Corps was redesignated as the Corps of Signals.

The Indian Armed Forces fought two wars between 1962 and 1965 from which valuable lessons were learnt. It was realised that the age-old arms and ammunition which was till then used were no longer tenable. Keeping pace with the advancements in technology, the government initiated a modernisation process in the services. Funds were allocated for acquiring new tanks, guns, aircraft and ships to augment the strike potential of the services.

The Corps of Signals, which was responsible to provide operation communications mainly to the formations of Indian Army and, to a limited extent, to Navy and Air Force, also took stock of the emerging technological revolution and evolved new communication strategies to meet the command and control requirements of the field commanders. The Ministry of Defence formulated and implemented its modernisation plans and Corps of Signals got a fair share of the financial provisions made in the five year Army Plans. These were fully utilised for making the state-of-the-art equipment so that the Signal units could wear a new look.

During 1965-1971, efforts were made to develop better radio sets, telephones, cables and special vehicles which could carry the communication equipment to the battlefield with matching mobility and readiness. The Signal personnel were trained hard to handle the new equipment and the on-the-job training conducted by the units became result-oriented.

The efforts put in during these six years bore fruit when the Indian Armed Forces took on their adversary in 1971. They were ready for a war which was intense and fought on many fronts and over diverse terrains. The Corps of Signals personnel were earnestly involved in the war and used their newly acquired skills and equipment to the hilt.

The Corps of Signals is organised into Officers, JCOs (Junior Commissioned Officers) and Other Ranks. Unlike Officers who are employable at all aspects viz Communication, Administration etc, the other ranks are organised into various trades like ORL (Operator Radio and Line), TES (Technician Electronics and Systems) etc. The other ranks are employed only within their respective fields. The Corps is organised structurally into various regiments and companies. Each Brigade has a Signal Company commanded by a Major associated with it, while each Division and Corps has a Signal Regiment allotted, commanded by a Colonel. The Corps of Signals has the privilege of being the EW (Electronic Warfare) arm of the Indian Army with a vast array of computerised /automated state-of-art systems.

The Corps shoulders the onerous responsibility of providing to the entire Indian Army with peace-time static communication and combat communication. True to their motto of Teevra Chaukas, the Signallers have, time and again proved their professional competence and ability to provide reliable and responsive, real-time communication. The perfection with which communication was provided during operation Vijay is sufficient to testify the professionalism of the Corps. The Corps is now responsible for information technology in the Indian Army. Besides providing conventional communication in the field, the Corps is also responsible for a host of communication and information technology related activities and value added services. The Corps also provides networking, automated message switching system or automated message handling system and installation of the state-of-the-art exchanges with latest interactive voice response systems.

Besides the existing AREN and ASCON systems, the Corps of Signals has also taken up communication challenges for the future by mixing technology with an ingenuity of ideas. State-of-the-art communication networks using microwave, UHF, optical fibre systems and satellite as media and switching systems with security overlays duly incorporated are now being implemented to meet defence requirements. Secure radio and VSAT equipment have also been inducted to further the reach of existing networks. The ASTROIDS (Army Strategic Operational Information Disemination System) and the DCN (Defence Communication Network) are other networks which have been visualised to cover communication requirements of all three Services at the strategic level.

During operation Vijay, the Signallers despite heavy odds, lack of resources and highly inhospitable terrain, acquitted itself creditably and provided speedy operational and rearward welfare communication to fighting formations. The electronic warfare support fielded in the valley played a significant role in gaining information about the enemy's devious plans in Kargil sector.

The Corps earned several gallantry and distinguished service awards, including the first Yudh Seva Medal (Col Sudhir Bhatnagar, CO, 8 Mountain Division Signal Regiment), the fourth Shaurya Chakra (late L/Hav Birbal) and four Sena Medals (posthumous). Six Commanding Officers in the field were also awarded for excellence in command during operations.

During Malpa tragedy, as part of the Army's rescue operations, when the entire hill region near Dharchula was virtually cut off, the Signals quickly moved communication detachments to establish vital radio and satellite communications at Dharchula, Joshimath, Pithoragarh, Kausani and neighbouring areas to rescue the stranded civilians.

During operation Sahayata, eighteen high frequency radio and satellite detachments were quickly moved to Bhubaneshwar and neighbouring areas to restore the communications. The personnel of the Corps worked round the clock and rendered humanitarian help in distribution of food, medicine and water.

The Signals continue to send their personnel abroad to broaden their vision/experience in various fields of telecommunications, information technology and electronic warfare including exposure to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conferences on latest technology. In addition, the Signals also fielded communication detachments for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and the United Nations Peace Keeping Force, Sierra Leone. The Corps also sent personnel to the Indian Army's training teams at Botswana and Mauritius.

As part of the modernisation drive, some of the major achievements of the Corps in the fields of communication and networking include; commissioning of the Army internet, proliferation of information technology in the Army including taking on the role of 'facilitator' for implementing the Army IT plan, development of MCTE as a centre of excellence in the fields of information technology and information warfare, planning for introduction of internet and related ISDN services in the Army, computer telephony integration (CTI) for better service to subscribers, Establishment of an Information Technology Institute of Calcutta, full fieding of plan AREN and finalisation of Tactical Communication System - 2000, for tactical communication in the new millennium, expansion of the existing ASCON networks to include all commands and areas in the east and finalisation of plans for future expansion, introduction of new technologies such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switching for exchanges, introduction of state-of-the-art satellite communication systems in the valley and the North-East, including GMPCS, VSAT and Mobile Satellite Systems, introduction of new communication projects such as the UHF project, MODCOM - 102 (for improvement of communications in Siachen), Integrated Communication Network (ICN), and replacement of existing microwave links of ASCON with optical fibre cable (OFC), effective and real time communication for the counter-insurgency grids in the Valley and the North-East, strategic alliance with the DoT for joint communication projects in remote areas in the Valley and engineering of fall back communication to face any unforeseen contingencies and to ensure that no system failure occured due to the Y2K problem.



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