Armed drones in Indian military: Can machines understand the rules of war?

Source– The post is based on the article “Armed drones in Indian military: Can machines understand the rules of war?” published in The Indian Express on 7th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Security

Relevance– Issues with induction of modern technology for military use

News– The article explains the issues related to AI-enabled warfighting approaches. It also explains the increasing use of drones and underwater combat drones. It also explains issues related to underwater combat drones.

What shows the increasing emphasis on drones by Indian armed forces?

Indian Army is inducting swarm drones into its mechanized forces.

The Indian Navy has been on a mission to expand surveillance in India’s near-seas. It has leased MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from the US. It has also released an unclassified version of its “unmanned roadmap” for the induction of remote autonomous platforms, including undersea vehicles. A key driver for the enterprise is underwater domain awareness.

India navy is also planning to procure a fleet of armed “Predator” drones from the United States.

Why is the Indian navy planning to induct underwater drone combat systems?

After the conflict in Ladakh in June 2020, there is a growing sense among Indian experts and military planners that China’s undersea presence in the Indian Ocean is increasing.

There were recent reports of the sighting of Chinese drones in the waters off Indonesian islands. It suggests that the PLA Navy has been studying the operating environment of the Indian Ocean.

There has been a rise in the deployment of Chinese research and survey vessels in the waters around India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Indian decision-makers are acknowledging the warfighting abilities of underwater autonomous platforms powered by artificial intelligence. They are recognizing the likely impact of disruptive technologies on the maritime domain.

AI powered by deep learning, data analytics, and cloud computing will alter the maritime battlefront.

What are issues with AI-enabled warfighting systems?

AI technology is more complicated than many imagine. There is an ethical paradox connected with artificially intelligent combat systems. AI compromises the control, safety, and accountability of weapon systems.

It also enhances the risk of shared liability between networked systems. It happens particularly when weapon algorithms are sourced from abroad, and the satellite and link systems are not under the control of the user.

AI is characterized by a predisposition to certain kinds of data. Biases in the collection of data, data analysis, and the selection of probabilistic outcomes impact rational decision-making. It is undermining confidence in automated combat solutions. AI-automated weapon systems are inconsistent with the laws of war.

Using nascent technologies without comprehensive testing puts both military personnel and civilians at risk. A system of targeting human beings based on probabilistic assessments by computers, is problematic because the computer does not have access to all relevant data to make an informed decision. It is difficult to decide accountability in case of erroneous use of force, as blame can’t be pinned on a machine.

There is no easy way of incorporating AI-enabled warfighting approaches into doctrine. Many technologies are in a nascent stage of development, and there is little clarity about how effective AI could be in combat.

Military doctrine is premised on a traditional understanding of conflict. There are rules and codes and ethical standards for warfare. “Proportionality” in force deployment is critical.

What are issues faced by the Indian navy for the use of AI powered technology and underwater combat systems?

For the Indian Navy, capacity limitation restricts the development of AI. A large gap exists in the development of critical technologies such as system engineering, airborne and underwater sensors, and weapon systems.

The legal issues related to underwater combat drones are complex. It is not yet clear if unmanned maritime systems enjoy the status of “ships” under the UN convention of the laws of the sea.


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