Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to cause disruptive changes not only in our society but also in the military. In this context, the Indian Defence Forces need to make a concerted effort to introduce AI based systems in to the defence especially in the area of Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber, Interoperability, Intelligence Surveillance and Space (C5I2S2R). I have expanded the existing acronym C4SIR (Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence and Reconnaissance) to C5I2S2R by adding the domains of Cyberspace, Internet of Things and Space, as these are the domains in which nations will have to build capabilities, if they wish to emerge as a significant power. India, too, needs to develop capabilities in these domains if it has to be a power to reckon with in the region, besides being able to deter its main adversary, China. If we build capabilities for China, Pakistan will be automatically taken care of. The recent initiative by Government of India to get the SAARC countries to come together in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and the response there of by the participating nations except Pakistan is laudable, but the response will be even more emphatic if we build capacities in C5I2S2R. However, to emerge as a significant player in this endeavour we need to focus on building indigenous expertise in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing as these two areas will become the base upon which we can enhance our C5I2S2R threshold.
Emerging Trend in Defence Planning and AI
Why we need to build our capabilities in the field of AI can be answered by looking at the trajectory of evolution of warfare. It would not be out of place to state that AI is the engine of the 21st Century industrial revolution in the world. I am hazarding a wild guess by stating that it may also be leveraged to find preventive solutions to spread of pandemics such as COVID-19, SARS, H1N1, etc. So how are the armed forces looking at the fourth Industrial revolution? I will dilate on the issue by highlighting the changing trends in the defence preparedness.
First as a concept we are looking at a reduction in human resource to perform any function and exploiting technology instead.
Second trend is to make systems compact and lighter again with a view to simplify logistics and make human effort more responsive and agile.
The third trend is to network the systems so as to enable faster and more informed decision-making and consequently faster response on the target be it weapon system, command and control network or radar control and reporting system.
The fourth trend relates to delivery of impact on the target end or destination by increasing in methods of projecting power or energy.
The fifth trend under focus is enhancement of capabilities in cyber and EW. The raising of the Cyber Agency is a step in the right direction but it needs to be expanded and exploited as part of all our war planning in the future then only we will be able to respond to our adversaries.
We must realize that AI will give us better data processing and synthesis capability and thus make the decision-making process safer and faster. Without it Data will overwhelm the DM (Decision Maker). Another area which is making war fighting a challenge is Internet of Things which is making it harder to hide military activities that are based on cyber platforms.
How do we build our military capabilities in the field of AI and Quantum Computing? In my view all-round collaboration is the only way ahead especially post the COVID-19 crisis. Today, India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, COVID-19 notwithstanding, as it is my firm belief that if any country emerges with minimum damages to its economy, it will be India. Many global partners will be ready to become a part of its growth journey. It has everything which is needed as a catalyst to become successful. Indian ecosystem is flooded with great talent and emotive ideas, however it needs the right channel and guidance to reach its goal. The three main stakeholders in this are the government, private industry and academia. The stakeholders have to work together to lead India on the path that all expect us to travel. Although there have been Industry and Academia collaborations in the past and it continues in the present, too, the success stories from this collaboration are very few. Now that the start-up ecosystem is growing fast especially under the 'Make-II', the needs of this ecosystem will act as the catalyst in synergising the collaboration. IIT Chennai recently showcased its effort in developing niche defence technology which will prove a good model for others to emulate. I am also given to understand that IIT Kanpur is investing in areas of Aerospace and Cyber Space. We need to encourage such endeavours and only then will we achieve path-breaking results in the field of C5I2S2R capabilities related to defence.
In the end, the dish being prepared by the Academia and Industry will come out to be delicious with the start-up tadka/garnish. Let’s not forget, our country has huge potential in becoming one of the largest manufacturing hubs in the world. Through the initiatives like Make in India 2.0 and Startup India a concerted effort is being made by the government to promote the development of indigenous production capability. However, this aim is possible only by building robust structures and adequate funding for enhancing our research and development capability, which can be realised only through sustained efforts and greater industry-academia collaboration. Defence sector’s total global defence export business is estimated to the tune of dollar 1.5 trillion. Therefore, it is an opportunity for indigenous private industry and start-ups to participate in defence production with Industry 4.0 parameters.
The writer is a retired senior military officer with national and international exposure. He has operational and policy formulation experience in the Army, and has headed large combat formations and training establishments.