New Delhi: The world is standing at the juncture of industrial revolution 4.0, thanks to AI. New innovations and technologies are being developed at a pace that it can completely transform the social, economic and military fields. Globally, we are witnessing huge development in the areas of communication, 5G, cyber security, Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). These technologies become much more important for a nation-state as they have a direct implication on how they defend and manage their internal and external security.
What is AI?
Artificial Intelligence is one such technology through which the defence forces can exponentially increase their effectiveness. In layman terms, AI can be understood as the intelligence demonstrated by machine, which is in complete contrast to the intelligence shown by the humans naturally. AI is an amalgamation of technology and cognitive intelligence for recreation, processing of data to build capability in a machine to emulate human behaviour.
History of AI and its implication
The history of AI is not very old. The research in the field of AI is a phenomenon of the post-war period, when the two remaining super powers the US and Soviet Union were fighting for global hegemony. It was in 1956 in the United States that a formal research on AI kicked off. The US government, understanding the importance of AI in future, had then started funding the project heavily. Interestingly, the project was financially supported not by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which is the agency for the countrys civil space programme, but by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the United States Department of Defence.
DARPA is an agency responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. Clearly, the US military knew the importance of AI in national security and the results are visible. The early use of AI included speech recognition and signal processing and over the years, the US has been using AI for its operations across land, air and sea. Till the end of the 19th century, the field of AI saw basic but major changes and it was largely dominated by the countries who had attained military superiority.
Artificial intelligence has a major implication in global politics and balance of power. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that whoever becomes the leader in this sphere of AI, will become the ruler of the world. Back home in India, during Defence Expo 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also stressed upon the use of new and emerging technologies like AI and Robotics and had said that it held the key to the nations defensive and offensive capabilities in future.
Unmanned systems to dominate future war systems
It is evident that with the recent developments in global politics, war systems in future are expected to be dominated by unmanned systems. We have seen how the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones can conduct operations with utmost precision in Iraq and Afghanistan. The possibility of AI-assisted advancements has paved the way for an arms race where the traditional military approach will take a back seat. In comparison to the conventional technology, military systems loaded with AI are capable of handling and processing volumes of data more effectively. Besides, AI also enhances self-control, self-regulation, and self-actuation of combat systems. AI has such high utility that it can be deployed in almost any military application.
US & China spending heavily on AI
Clearly, AI is an enabler with a multitude of utilities, especially in the defence sector. For instance, in the financial year 2017, the United States invested $7.4 billion on AI, Big Data and cloud computing. Similarly, China has also invested so heavily in AI that experts argue that the country is likely to become world leader in this field by the end of decade. China is also working on the implementation of a new development plan to create $150 billion domestic AI industry by 2030. According to some estimates, the market size of AI in the military is expected to reach $18.82 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 14.75 percent from 2017 to 2015.
Artificial intelligence in Indian Defence sector
The Indian Economy is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and technologies like Artificial Intelligence can certainly act as a catalyst. It is estimated that AI has the potential to add $957 billion or almost 15 percent of Indias current GDP in 2035. However, the Indian defence forces, unfortunately, have been slow in adopting new technologies for a multitude of reasons. With its local defence manufacturing yet to attain its potential, most of the new technologies are either being ignored or imported, resulting in bills worth thousands of crores of rupees. Artificial Intelligence has been greatly ignored by the previous governments, but thankfully, the incumbent government has given due significance to the usage of technology. In February 2018, the Ministry of Defence constituted a multi-stakeholder task force under the chairmanship of N Chandrasekaran, the Chairman of Tata Sons, to study the strategic implications of Artificial Intelligence in national security and defence needs. The task force submitted its report in June the same year. The MoD accepted the recommendations and provided an institutional framework for policy implementation, issued detailed guidelines to defence organisations, including the DPSUs and tri-services, and spelt out a vision for further capacity building.
The setting up of DAIC and DAIPA
Finally, a high-level Defence AI Council (DAIC) was formed by the MoD under the leadership of the Minister of Defence in February 2019. The council was vibrant in the sense that it drew its members from the government, bureaucracy, tri-services, academics, and the private sector. The DAIC was conceived with the aim of providing an umbrella institution where the government and the private industry could come together for the acquisition of technology. It was tasked with providing strategic direction and guidance to enable and effect development of operating framework, policy-level changes and structural support for AI implementation in defence.
Dedicated fund allocation for R&D in AI
The most important development, perhaps, in this area has been the dedicated fund allocation for research and development in AI, since the research projects have often seen severe cash crunch. Each Service Headquarter has been allocated Rs 100 crore per year for AI-specific application development for a period of five years from their respective budgets. Another Rs 100 crore is also to be provided to DAIPA for the next five years for the implementation of recommendations made by AI task force.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that has been at the vanguard of research in the field of defence has also been developing autonomous AI technology-based products under the banner of its Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR). The laboratory has a dedicated team of more than 150 scientists who are working on a project to develop a Multi Agent Robotics Framework (MARF). MARF is aimed at equipping the Indian armed forces with multiple robots that would work as a team in the way a platoon of soldiers work. Notably, the Indian Army has already developed Wheeled Robot with Passive Suspension, Snake Robot, Legged Robot, Wall-Climbing Robot, and Robot Sentry.
Apart from DRDO, other DPSUs are also conducting research and development in the field of AI (see box).
|Sr. no.||Defence public sector undertaking||AI based research/ product|
|1||Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL)||· Terrorist activity analysis in terms of Terrorist Initiated Incidents (TII), Terrorist Committed Atrocities (TCA) and crime analysis as part of Social network analysis
· Proof of concept human face recognition
|2||Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)||· Voice Activated Command System
· Automatic Target Recognition
|3||Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDSL)||· Robotic weld inspection using advanced phase array technique to replace manual radiography
· Design and prototyping of Remotely Operated vehicle
|4||Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd (GRSE)||· Unmanned surface vessel|
|5||BEML Limited||· Sleep/Fatigued Operator alert system on dump trucks
· Autonomous Dozer for snow clearing application
|6||Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL)||· Shipyard conditioning monitoring system|
|7||Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL)||· Unmanned underwater vehicle|
|8||Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL)||· Smart counter measures dispensing system
· Smart assistant for product support (AI enabled 24X7 Chat bot)
|9||Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MIDHANI)||· Development of alloys with online process control and decision making through a sensor-based instrument system|
|10||Ordnance Factory Board||· Drone assisted mine protected vehicle|
It is important to note that the countries which are way ahead of India in terms of adoption of AI have witnessed major innovations in these fields by the private sector. There is no surprise that worlds all leading companies in AI research are Microsoft, Google and IBM, all US companies. The technologies were first developed by these private players and then it was incorporated by the US defence forces.
Challenges in AI in defence sector in India
The first and foremost challenge for policy makers is the lack of comprehensive understanding regarding the objectives that the AI looks to achieve in the strategic context of India to appropriate the technology in defence. We need to have clear answers to questions like how much interference we want from the machine to guard our borders. What kind of service-specific requirement are we seeking to fulfil through the use of AI? India cannot afford to have an ambiguity in its AI objectives given the paucity of resources, unlike the developed Western world that could afford to fail first and fail faster. The nation will have to make a balance between maintaining its defence and feeding its people.
AI is based on complex algorithms with huge data so it is imperative to have a robust hardware and data centres within the country
Another challenge India faces on the AI front is the lack of essential infrastructure in civil and military sector, which is the biggest driving force behind this technology. AI is based on complex algorithms with huge data so it is imperative to have a robust hardware and data centres within the country. It cannot be dependent on a remote server located beyond the borders which may hinder the countrys sovereignty.
Why is India playing catch-up?
Further, the absence of coordination among the services, DRDO and academia is also seen as a major hindrance affecting the growth of AI in the country. Lieutenant General (Dr) Ravindra Singh Panwar (AVSM, SM, VSM), who commanded a wide range of units and formations, including an Armoured Division Communication Regiment and an Electronic Warfare Group, argued, The lack of synergy between services, DRDO and academia is a huge problem which is affecting the growth of AI in the defence forces. Services have to upgrade themselves to be able to absorb the new technology. There is a huge amount of talent, as well as funding, in these three domains. But a right synergetic research and development model does not exist in India. Since the services are responsible for the defence of the country, a push has to come from them.
Although India has constituted a dedicated institution in the defence forces for the development of AI, it should have a clear vision document for research and development programmes in this field
Lt Gen Panwar, who also holds a doctorate in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT-Bombay, added, The United States has a dedicated Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC), which is subordinate to the US Army. In this command, the engineers and researchers, who are mostly civilians, work under the command of the US armed forces. This model allows the country to have core expertise in a particular field. In India, a similar model can be created to have better coordination between all the research organisations and the (defence) services.
Major powers across the world have their vision documents in place for research and development programmes in AI. Although India has constituted a dedicated institution in the defence forces for the development of AI, it should have a clear vision document for research and development programmes in this field. India is a late entrant in the AI race, which could also work as a blessing in disguise as the country could avoid the mistakes committed by other countries in this field.