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Will AI remain the leading technology in the defence sector in 2023?

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

In the wake of the recently ended war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Central Asia, artificial intelligence (AI) has begun to predominate the conversation among military strategists. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones used by Azerbaijan dominated the conventional ground forces of Armenia during the 44-day conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, inflicting crippling losses. The definition and control of the battlespace by inexpensive yet deadly drones while undermining mechanised forces shows a change in conventional warfare that has broad repercussions. India simply cannot afford to disregard these.

In a nutshell, this conflict showed how quickly Azerbaijan adopted drone technology into its armed forces, modified its operational strategy on the ground, and modified its ideas for attacking mechanised and other conventional land forces. One of the many lessons that can be learned is the cost-effective use of drones as loitering weapons for success with a much lower cost of war (the losses suffered by Azerbaijan were estimated to be one-sixth of those suffered by Armenia). 185 tanks, of which 115 were destroyed, including 52 T72 A tanks, 45 armoured vehicles, 44 infantry vehicles, 147 towed artillery guns, 19 self-propelled artillery guns, 72 multi-barrel rocket launchers, and 12 radars were estimated to have been lost by Armenia during the conflict.

Drone use has highlighted the effectiveness of precision-guided munitions delivered via tactical aviation, but it has also highlighted the weaknesses of more complex (and more expensive) conventional weapon systems and platforms. The role of AI as a "hot" technology poses challenges that call for quicker decisions based on a fusion of human and battlefield intelligence that propel autonomous systems to carry out missions as technology pushes the boundaries of warfare. Weaponry will soon be driven by technology that enables imagery, sensors, precision, and lethality to work together.

The use of AI in defence represents a disruption with broad ramifications. It will have an impact on military concepts, both tactical and strategic, and organizationally, forcing rigid military hierarchies to adapt to the demands of quick responses in the air and on land by redefining their tactical and strategic command and control and decision-making processes. As AI offers more resource-efficient options at lower costs, it will have an impact on budgeting and resource allocation. What are the imperatives for India as the Ministry of Defence moves forward with its military reforms via a Chief of Defence Staff, tri-Service commands, theaterization at the tactical level, and modernization of forces via the Make in India/Atmanirbhar initiative?



According to IBM Global's AI Adoption Index Report, the adoption rate of AI worldwide increased steadily and is now at 35%, up four points from 2021. According to the study, 42% of businesses said they are investigating AI, and 35% of businesses said they are using AI in their operations. By 2028, the market for artificial intelligence in the military is expected to be worth USD 13.71 billion and could expand at a CAGR of 10.8% over that period.

although they offer an intriguing case study, the use of battlefield drones is not the only area in which AI is being applied in the defence industry. The USA has long employed armed and surveillance drones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The military has used both High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) and Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) types of UAVs successfully. India has a wide range of robotics for ground operations and surveillance UAVs in its arsenal of AI-related defence technologies. It is made in the United States and has UAV technology that was developed locally by DRDO. Its fleet also includes the Israeli Heron and Harop II in addition to UAVs made by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), like Rustalthough

High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) and Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) types of UAVs

A project of the DDP called Innovation for Defence Excellence (IDeX) aims to close the gap between the Services and the private sector. A "challenge" system that identifies a problem and then seeks an original solution has been developed. It needs to scale its work beyond the current limitations as it has so far primarily worked with academia and start-ups with limited success. Robotics, machine learning, and data analysis are just a few applications of AI; it must be understood as a capability. It should be viewed as a disruptive technology that will alter how the aerospace and defence industries transform. Additionally, the way that the defence industry and private sector currently interact.

India has 30,000 AI professionals and a revenue base estimated to be around USD 180 million, so OEMs have no excuse not to offer technology-based solutions of the kind Turkey has been able to create.

The purchase of the Predator class of UAVs is also imminent thanks to the numerous foundational agreements with the USA that have already been put in place. The new DAP also allows for leasing of military hardware, giving users more choices. The defence aerospace industry faces a challenge in responding. The development of sensors, image resolution and recognition, laser targeting technologies, and their acquisition, as well as their integration with intelligence-based decision-making systems, are necessary for the contactless military capability.

An entire ecosystem around these technologies will need to be constructed, starting with the raw materials for silicon-based sensors and electronics as well as new, "stealth" materials. To support rapid induction, shorter and simulator-based training cycles will be necessary. It will be necessary to adopt an aggressive defence manufacturing strategy with a focus on these crucial domain areas.

Defence PSUs like Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) and Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd. (HAL) would not be able to complete these tasks on their own. It will be essential to collaborate with the private sector. To make sure of this, the DDP and DRDO will need to take the initiative. The multi-mission UAV (Tapas-BH) has been tested by DRDO for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, but it also has the ability to carry payloads for electro-optic and synthetic aperture radar (SO & SAR).

A MALE who can be used to supplement the current UAV fleet is Tapas-BH. AULWs, which use 10kW of power, are also being developed as anti-UAV weapon systems. The DRDO's Rustom II is being developed as a domestic alternative to the US Predator.

The current UAV fleet : Tapas-BH

Priority must be given to implementing an aggressive AI partnership programme with the private sector and acquiring technology from nations like Israel. It would be crucial to develop ground control platforms and radar/electronic signature seeking weapons. To encourage OEMs to be forthcoming, a technology infusion strategy must be vigorously pursued with the necessary IPR protection safeguards. A crucial lesson in this regard can be learned from Turkey's collaboration with Canada on the Bayraktar drones, which have a payload of 55 kg.

The USA needs to be convinced to push OEMs toward cooperation as a "strategic partner." In order to transfer military technology under the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) system, India was elevated to a Strategic Trade Authorization (Tier I) status.

Military electronics, laser, imaging, and guidance systems, as well as air-launched small UAV systems with intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance payloads, had been identified as areas of future industry collaboration under the Defence Technology & Trade Initiative (DTTI), which had made progress on the eve of the 2+2 Dialogue in Washington, DC, in December 2019. We must cooperate with them to advance the relationship beyond purchases and intelligence sharing to actual technology transfers for manufacture in India in light of the upcoming change in US administration in January 2021.

There are additional options. The Prime Minister stated from the Red Fort's ramparts in August 2018 that non-combatant-driven AI capabilities could open up new avenues for women to serve in the armed forces. The Army has only made a cautious start in this area. It may make it possible for women to be inducted into combat roles outside of actual theatres of conflict, such as those requiring technical know-how in image interpretation, drone operation, and surveillance monitoring.

Without a doubt, other applications of AI in the battlefield will be encouraged by the drones' success in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. In land-based conflicts, non-combatant manned armoured vehicles that can be deployed and fired from a distance may also become a reality. The USA committed a USD 4 billion budget in 2020, with USD 1.6 billion set aside for 222 AI-related R&D projects, and had already stated its intention to have one-third of its operational ground combat vehicles unmanned by 2015. China introduced its "New Generation AI Development Plan" in 2017, with a 2020 target date and a 2030 completion date.

Comparatively, India's defence AI strategy would seem inexperienced and call for greater concentration. In June 2018, the Niti Aayog published a Discussion Paper on a "National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence" that is notably devoid of any mention of applications in the field of defence. This is likely a result of the Ministry of Defense's separate February 2018 commissioning of a Task Force on AI in Defense. In June 2018, the committee from Tata Sons led by N Chandrashekharan turned in its final report. However, the majority of its attention was directed toward the defence industry, and among its recommendations were dual-use technologies and the use of the challenge system to identify military issues that could use creative solutions. Even though there has already been some progress in this direction, much more needs to be done.

Basic applications of robotics include the production of robots with wheels, snakes, legs, and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), as well as the use of robotics in manufacturing environments. There is a requirement for exponential scaling up.

Reallocating limited financial resources will be a crucial requirement for implementing AI in defence. Long-term acquisition plans will need to be appropriately revised to account for capabilities such as drones and loitering munitions and drone swarms that deliver lethal munitions with greater precision and at a significantly lower cost. While investments in R&D related to AI will need to be stepped up, necessitating higher budgetary support, including but not limited to DRDO labs such as the Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (CAIR) alone.

For such weapon systems, a suitable defence strategy will also be a necessity. Instead of reverting to the familiar demands for more resources, there will be a need to reallocate and rebuild strategies, which will necessitate cooperation between the Services. The disruptive effects of AI on the defence industry will also affect purchases made by nations like the USA and Russia, even to the point of inter-service reallocation. To advance the Make in India strategy, it is necessary to focus on smart munitions and to push for technology transfer. Offsets' most recent amendments must be proactive in this direction.

While contract negotiations for purchases for which offsets are mandated are with the Director General (Acquisitions) under the Department of Defence, at the moment offset implementation, which is far below expectation, is with DDP. To ensure efficient monitoring, it would make more sense for the implementation to also fall under the DG (Acqn).

In order to give these efforts a sharper, time-bound focus on technologies that will deliver combat capabilities and recommend a roadmap to achieve it, by acquisition, import, or leasing, it is urgent to appoint a Task Force that will concentrate on the likely challenges in the immediate neighbourhood from potential adversaries like Pakistan and China.

Anka-S UAVs

This ought to open the door for strategic responses and wargaming in various theatres. Most likely, these exercises would have started. Most military observers of the conflict have noted how quickly Turkey's defence aerospace industry developed the Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S UAVs (done by two different OEMs). Another lesson for those who aspire to be like the Azerbaijani defence forces is the speed at which they trained with and strategically reoriented around these drones before deploying them. From India's perspective, Pakistan's growing closeness to Turkey should be of concern, especially in light of the deterioration of its relations with Saudi Arabia and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).

Bayraktar TB2

Recent US pressure had prevented Turkey from selling attack helicopters to Pakistan; however, with US-Turkey relations frozen over Syria, it is questionable whether the USA still has leverage should Pakistan try to buy Turkish drones. In operation Radd al Fasad, Pakistan used locally developed UCAVs in the FATA and KPK. In 2017, Project AZM, which aims to create UAVs with more adaptable capabilities, was also announced.

Perhaps the Task Force within the Ministry of Defence will allow the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), the DDP, and the DRDO to coordinate their efforts. While establishing a future road map, it must concentrate on the near-term deliverables that will aid in bringing together R&D, manufacturing, and operational needs.

To ensure the integration of AI, the Task Force should also demand a review of current organisational frameworks and make recommendations for new ones. It's possible that the Joint Intelligence Committee will only use AI inputs and outputs to feed data into a response structure. In this setup, it is necessary to combine human and technical intelligence through appropriate restructuring, which does not always require new hirings, laborious budget approvals, and budget support. This can be accomplished with the help of the available resources, as evidenced by the establishment of the three tri-Service Agencies in 2019.

Therefore, the challenge is not just technological; the introduction of AI-based operational and combat capabilities necessitates clarity in the chain of command and control, role optimization, and budgetary reallocation.

Old armies and old ideas cannot win modern wars. To achieve this, the Armed Forces must put aside their historical differences. The push from the highest echelons of government was largely responsible for the Chief of Defence Staff's creation. After the Kargil war, it took more than 20 years for the Army to hire a DG (Strategy) or Stratcom. The Andaman & Nicobar Command, the only Tri-Services Command, has experienced numerous intra-services problems.

In addition to opposition to the creation of new tri-Service commands, there has also been strong opposition to the establishment of tri-Service agencies, three of which were only established as a result of the National Security Advisor overseeing their establishment and the Defence Secretary putting pressure on them. Now that a CDS is in place, one hopes that the Services will quickly achieve and own the goals of AI integration. Without it, AI's potential to increase strategic and tactical force would remain a pipe dream.

LET US DISCUSS, What are the potential dangers of integrating AI?

Although the advantages of incorporating artificial intelligence in the military and security sector have been discussed, there may also be drawbacks. In an environment where AI is widely used, maintaining one's privacy can be difficult. Strategic risks include the potential to escalate a conflict that is already underway because we have the means and technology to do so.

Furthermore, we cannot deny that if a system can be programmed to protect people, animals, and the environment as a whole, it can also be used intentionally to cause destruction. The system will never be able to determine whether the shot was necessary or pointless, resulting in the loss of life and valuable natural resources because there is a small chance of error. Biased decisions may also be a result of the programming.

A system's effectiveness depends heavily on the quality of the data it is fed, as an AI algorithm is only as good as the information it is fed. The development of fair and impartial AI can also benefit from thorough and early model testing.

However, AI is the future of contemporary warfare.

Any country's defence establishment needs to use data and contemporary AI-enabled hardware to stay current. In a world where militaries are already engaged in technological wars, they are unable to function without scalability solutions.

Only an integrated solution can bring all these different assets together and make sense of the overall situation given the sheer number of assets involved — people, vehicles, equipment, and technology.

These are just a few examples of how AI will change contemporary military systems. The capabilities of this technology are very broad. It undoubtedly holds the key to a nation's future security and defence.


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