7 PM | Defence sector needs disruptive technologies. | 1 February, 2019

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Context: Globally the face of defence modernization is changing at a disruptive speed, a development which India should not ignore for long.

India’s approach to defence preparedness is probably not guided by a national policy but is a result of ad hoc reaction. Decision making in defence sectorlacks purposive action and is more or less a response to actions and initiatives of other countries. In short, defence against external aggression, defeat of armed internal challenges, and maintaining stability in the immediate neighbourhood of South Asia have been India’s defence priorities since Independence.But the face of defence preparedness is changing around the world which poses ‘futuristic’ and new age challenges to national security, such as:

  • Military thinking across the world is increasingly moving away from traditional heavy-duty military hardware to high-tech innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, satellite jammers, advanced cyber capabilities and spectrum denial and high-energy lasers.
  • Development of an isolated nuclear arsenal by any country is insufficient, as once accuracies get better, real time tracking and surveillance make major strides, a single disabling strike against strategic arsenal using new technological solutions would make conventional nuclear arsenal useless.
  • It was believed that naval power is the most survivable part as it is hidden in deep ocean but potential ability of deep-sea drones to detect armed nuclear submarines casts doubt on the effectiveness of naval submarines.
  • With US withdrawing from Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty(INF), the proliferation of new age disruptive nuclear missiles becomes more imminent.
  • Digital and cyber enabled military systems have become more vulnerable to covert cyber-attacks creating confusion and little time for assessment.
  • Transformational changes in Chinese defence preparedness:
    • China has taken a lead in the field of emerging military technologies such as quantum computing, 3D printing, hypersonic missiles and AI.
    • Chinese army, which was the dominant unit of the PLA, now accounts for less than 50% of the total number of PLA troops, and the navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support force(for cyberwarfare) now together make up rest 50% military.
    • China in 2018 demonstrated its capability to destroy a target in space using a long-range missile interceptor and is the only country after US to achieve this.
  • The growing nexus on military and nuclear matters between our potential adversaries (China and Pakistan) suggests that, unlike in the past, India may face a ‘two-front threat’ the next time round.

Indian Army is the third largest army in the world in terms of the sheer number of personnel but its capacity to undertake military operations optimally in the multi-domain, technology-dominated battlefield of the future is questionable. Indian military (army, navy and air force) is equipped and trained to fight wars of the past.

Indian government’s efforts at modernization of military:

  • Last year the government decided to set up three new agencies — the Defence Cyber Agency, the Defence Space Agency and the Special Operations Division — in order to address the new age challenges to national security.
  • As per reports, the Space Command will be headed by the Air Force, the Army will head the Special Operations Command, and the Navy will be given the responsibility of the Cyber Command.

But the creation of three agencies has limited chances of success due to following challenges:

  • Lack of joint command:Naresh Chandra Task Force and the Chiefs of Staff Committee suggested three separate joint commands for cyber, space and special operations domains but the three proposed agencies will be headed by individual forces which will diminish tri-service synergy of these agencies.
  • Limited powers:The effectiveness of three recommendatory agencies will be weak as the higher defence decision-making in the country is still civil services-dominated.
  • Delay in operation: Although Chiefs of Staff Committee in 2012 recommended the formation of three separate joint commands for cyber, space and special operations but it was only in 2018 that a decision was taken which has yet not been implemented.
  • Lack of financial support:Although India is among top five countries in defence spending but around 67% funds are spent on salaries, and rest on acquisitions and minimal in defence research.
  • State control on research: In India research is mainly directed and dictated by the state whereas in countries like the US it is led by the industry and followed by the academia, federal government and nonprofit organisations.
    • US government seeds innovation with investment in basic research and provides tax and policy incentives. However, which futuristic technologies to invest in are determined by the markets.

Steps that could be taken by the government:

  • Joint commands: Instead of separate chiefs manning these forces individually the three agencies should be staffed with representatives from all three forces as recommended by various committees.
  • Separate sub-committee under DPC:
    • The Defence Planning Committee, a permanent body created in 2018, chaired by NSA and comprising three chiefs and secretaries of government,has a broad mandate including the preparation of drafts of the national security strategy and strategic defence review.
    • For identification of the changes needed to maintain strategic defence autonomy in evolving global disruptive advancements, DPC may constitute a separate sub-committee.
  • Directed research: Following ‘innovation driven development’strategy i.e. military research should be directed at innovations in Ai, quantum science, unmanned systems and directed energy weapons (high-energy lasers, high-power microwave (HPM) weapons etc.)
  • Absorption of foreign technologies: China’s sudden advancement in military technologies relies heavily on technology and knowledge transfer from other countries and research is directed at converting them into localized output through “introduction, digestion, assimilation, and re-innovation”.

India is not a member of any traditional military alliance and thus has to maintain an independent military capability as a critical need to retain its strategic autonomy while protecting its unity and integrity against possible threats.


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