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A renewed focus on emerging technologies

Contact Counsellor

A renewed focus on emerging technologies

  • Emerging technologies, an euphemism for capabilities that rely on a combination of cyber technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), unmanned systems, is in vogue among most militaries.

Emerging technologies for Indian armed forces:

  • Recently, the Chief of the Army Staff said that the Army had identified 45 niche technologies in the field of military applications.
  • Similarly, under ‘UDAAN’, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is using AI, cyber and virtual reality to address its operational, logistical, and training needs.
  • The Navy, too, says that it is moving forward with emerging technologies, which includes an Integrated Unmanned Roadmap

A long way to go

  • For these initiatives to be successful, the military must be cognisant that technology is not a silver bullet and should not be imagined as a ‘plug and play’- readily adjusted to existing practices.
  • Instead, it needs to be accompanied by organisational and doctrinal changes and a willingness to share data with the civilian environment.
  • To some, emerging technologies is just the latest fad. Indeed, most accounts of the Russia-Ukraine war attest to the old fashioned dominance of the artillery, manoeuvre warfare, and infantry tactics.
  • But emerging technologies represent a dilemma that militaries have faced since time immemorial
  • Effectively integrating emerging technologies requires the military to work more closely with civilians than ever before.
  • To be fair, the Indian military’s focus on these emerging technologies is not new.
  • India’s first drone platforms were inducted in the late 1990s by the Army followed by more procurements in the 2000s by the IAF and Navy.
  • Military leaders have recognised the cyber threat for some time, pointing to issues such as ‘information warfare’.
  • Through its indigenous space programme, India has launched communication satellites to improve its military communications capabilities.

Way forward: Change in approach

  • First, jointness, defined as interoperability between the three services, remains problematic. Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has an explicit mandate to create joint theatre commands (JTCs).
  • While the strategic community waits for such a development, the need for interoperability is essential especially among the host of emerging technologies.
  • Second, there is a need to revisit existing human resources practices in armed forces.
  • For the most part, the Indian military prioritises generalisation over specialisation.
  • The services should therefore give extended tenures and create promotion pathways for officers intellectually inclined towards this domain.
  • Third, both civilian defence organisations and the military needs to be more open with sharing data, especially to fully realise the promise of AI.
  • Traditionally, secrecy concerns have stymied data availability. However, one can create a structure with adequate safeguards, which allows civilians to work alongside the military to overcome such concerns.
  • Fully realising the potential of emerging technologies requires altering existing organisations and approaches.

Conclusion

  • The current efforts in defence reforms in India has put the military on the road to perhaps its biggest transformation yet.
  • Realising the promise of this vision would require greater willingness to engage with the talent that resides outside existing defence organisations.

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