The need for responsive forces has been highlighted by the recent earthquake in Indonesia, where thousands are feared dead and military efforts are helping with rescue efforts. Other events in which the military plays a timely key role include civilian uprisings, ongoing border disputes, coastal surveillance and counter-terrorist activities.

In most cases, military in the region are committed to the idea of network-centric operations, and their advancement in all areas of operation and response. Thailand is one such case.

With the sixth Network Centric Operations (NCO) Asia event taking place on 10-11 November 2009, the technologies, strategies and requirements of such an ethos has come to the fore again. The event brings together lead speakers from the Asian NCO arena, one of which is Royal Thai Army Colonel and deputy director of the communication technology division directorate of operations Paniwat Subrungruang.

Subrungruang's key role is to ensure Thailand's armed forces missions, which in his view are some of the most wide ranging in the world, accommodate all military missions. "We are putting forward a vision that we would have a ubiquitous network to support all types of operations, for all of our troops, at all time," Subrungruang said.

Here, Subrungruang tells us why NCO is important to the Thai Army, which also works internationally with peace-keeping forces and military observers supporting various UN missions, and why the military is now looking to make advancements to systems currently already in place.

Penny Jones: Would you say that Thailand has any unique needs and scenarios in regards to network-centric operations?

“Every country has its own unique needs and scenarios regarding network-centric operations.”

Paniwat Subrungruang: I think that every country has its own unique needs and scenarios regarding network-centric operations being used to support armed forces missions. For Thailand, our unique needs and scenarios would stem from the diverse mission types that the Thai armed forces undertake. Our missions, in my opinion, are just about as wide ranging as they come. The main missions include protecting and preserving the monarchy, national defence, country development, internal security, maintenance of internal order, and public disaster relief. Thailand's NCO is required to accommodate all requirements that may arise from these missions.

NCO in Thailand provides the means to convey relevant information to the right people at the right time so that right decisions can be made and then conveyed back again. I can only give some general examples and tell you that NCO is used in some of our missions such as border defence and maintenance of internal law and order.

PJ: Who gets involved with NCO in Thailand?

PS: For the service layer, the Directorate of Signal handles the technical aspect. For the user layer, we have units in the field reporting on the situation and receiving orders, the general staff directorates gather relevant information to provide courses of action for the commander to make decisions.

PJ: What are Thailand's short and long-term needs in relation to NCO?

PS: For short term, we just need to make sure that all of our soldiers see the real benefits of NCO – not seeing it as a nuisance that obstructs their operations – and to get them to have proper training to operate in such environment. As for long-term needs, we are putting forward a vision that we would have a ubiquitous network to support all types of operations, for all of our troops, at all time.

NCO meets most of the purposes. But we would like to improve upon the overall bandwidth, which is currently is still not sufficient to support all of the applications at some point in time, especially during the 'rush hours' of network traffic. We also would like to have more diverse and modern sensors out in the field.

PJ: Does NCO make the army more agile and better at decision making? If so, can you offer some examples of how?

PS: It does. The commanders and staff get a much better picture of the operation area which leads to quicker and better decision making processes. A more agile army, as you said, is the final product.

PJ: What are some of the most practical solutions for NCO you have seen in recent years?

PS: The trend of adapting and using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products and services in armed forces has proven an effective and economical way to do NCO, especially during this trying time of economic recession.

PJ: Does Thailand use customised NCO solutions?

PS: Yes, mixed with some COTS products and services. Thailand's NCO is used by the MIS system, which serves the armed forces' day-to-day operations, and in the C4I system, which is used for combat and critical missions.

“The need
for responsive forces was highlighted
by the September 2009 earthquake in Indonesia.”

PJ: The development of Nato's high-bandwidth satellite constellations has meant nations outside of the organisation can develop C41 systems. You mentioned that Thailand will be developing its own mobile C41 system. How will this work for the military? And what needs will this meet?

PS: We are developing our own C4I system, but not using satellite as the only media. Satellites can be useful in some situations but given our mission requirements, which are certainly very much different from those of Nato countries, we will primarily use it as a stopgap measure.

PJ: Have you had any setbacks in the programme?

PS: We were facing delays because of the unique requirements stated earlier, such that the contracted vendor had a somewhat tough time. But thankfully, that is behind us now and we should be able to get to the rollout process shortly.

PJ: What COTS equipment will you be using to do this?

PS: Mostly basic equipment such as PCs, laptops and some networking equipment.

The sixth-annual Network Centric Operations Asia event takes place in Singapore on 10-11 November, at the Amra Sanctuary Resort Hotel.