By Brig Narender Kumar
Matthew Symonds argues that “War is still a contest of wills, but technology and geopolitical competition are changing its character”. In the 19th century, it was considered that the army that can mobilize fast and fire artillery guns would win decisive wars. Mobility changed the way wars were fought because military commanders could manoeuvre their forces to an advantageous position to surprise the enemy. In the 20th century, the focus was on attrition through superior firepower to achieve a decisive victory. Conventionally wars were fought on land and sea but in the 20th-century air was also added as another dimension. However, technology has made it possible to fight wars in multiple domains from physical to cyber and cognitive domain. Today the battlespace has extended to land, air, sea, cyber, space and cognitive domain. This amalgamation of the domains is clearly visible in the conflict in Syria where it has visibly become multi-domain but also hybrid in character.
Future wars will be multi-domain and will be fought by kinetic and none kinetic means. The focus is on stealth, precision-guided engagement, artificial intelligence (AI), all-weather real-time surveillance, space-based strategic communications, laser weapons, drones and autonomous weapons systems. It is a foregone conclusion that no country will give the new generation weapon systems for obvious reasons because no nation in a highly competitive environment would like to hand over the technological edge. Thus the only option available for a nation like India is to develop indigenous niche technology to maintain a technological edge over adversaries. It may not be possible to develop all technologies simultaneously, however, there is a need to focus on a few technologies that are considered vital and essential.
India must focus on the development of critical technologies to fight future wars where the state of the art systems are unlikely to be given by the US, Israel and Russia. Some of the technologies that are utmost essential are Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomous weapon systems, drones (surveillance and armed), strategic communication and software and hardware to support cyberwar. Why I have given importance to the above technologies is because disruption by adversaries can lead to a catastrophic impact during peace and war.
AI is not a weapon system but an enabler and cannot be ignored. It is an essential component to dominate multi-domain war through machine intelligence. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on September 4, 2017, that, "Whichever country leads the way in Artificial Intelligence research, will be the ruler of the world in the 21st Century." AI is not a technology that should be procured from other countries because there are chances of the system being compromised at some point in time.
Second most important aspect is strategic communication. It must be robust, in-built redundancy and ability to function without disruption even during a nuclear war. Strategic communication is the most vital aspect of warfighting because multi-domain integrated wars can only be fought effectively in a synergized manner if strategic communication is operational. Surprise and speed can be achieved by uninterrupted communication. If such a vital component of warfighting is procured even from a friendly foreign country, there are chances of such a capability being compromised at some point in time. Strategic communication is an essential component of ballistic missile defence (BMD), nuclear command and inter-services operational communication. Thus India must focus on the development of this strategic asset indigenously.
Autonomous Weapons and Drones
This technology is acquiring phenomenal significance. This technology will revolutionaries the warfighting. Autonomous weapon systems and drones will add lethality and surveillance capabilities to give greater transparency of enemy actions during the war and even during the preparatory period. Drones can be used for surveillance, electronic warfare and delivery of weapon systems.
There is no foolproof defence as of now against drone swarm attack or autonomous weapon system for physical destruction or disruption in its communication and command system. Drones and autonomous weapon systems are potent warfighting machines for offensive and defensive operations.
At the same time, there is a necessity to develop a defence against such attacks to detect, neutralize and take control of the hostile drones/ autonomous systems before they reach the target. This would require three different systems. First radars for early detection, second is electronic capabilities to jam or disrupt command signals during the flight and third is the use of weapon system to destroy the drones. The biggest challenge is that every drone cannot be destroyed by weapon system even if identified, thus a combination of systems would be required for physical destruction to incapacitation of the drones by active and passive means.
Laser technology is assuming significance to deal with missiles, aircraft, enemy land systems, radars, and even maritime resources. Laser is vital for detection, designation, guidance and destruction. There is a need to develop laser technology for a wide range of military purposes. More significant is the laser weapon system that can complement guns and missiles. However, it would also require detection, surveillance and finally locking on to the hostile offensive missiles, aircraft and land warfare systems (tanks, artillery guns and also radar/ communication systems) for designation and destruction.
Cyber war is acquiring huge proportion and it remains invisible. It is an everyday war that impacts individuals, governance, services, business and military operations. It would require software and hardware that India must focus urgently. India has talent and skills for software development but hardware is of utmost importance for offensive and defensive capabilities.
Stealth technology is another significant field that requires focus. Stealth is not only essential for aircraft but even to camouflage land systems, ships and combat soldiers to defeat radars, night visions and imaging by remote sensing or thermal imaging.
There is a need to incentivize the development of key technologies so that it meets twin objectives of modernization of military to fight future wars and also to attain self-sufficiency in niche technological sphere. The most important aspect is that whatever technology India develops domestically, it will be free from sabotage, disruption and manipulation by other countries. The initial cost may be more but the ultimate benefits will be far greater than the cost of development.
The options to incentivize the trade for R&D is either by giving aid for scientific development or by giving definite order for procurement of the developed models if the basic parameters are met by the developed products. I have not included major military hardware, such as aircraft and land warfare systems because most of them can be produced under license and upgradation can take place based on the requirements.
Author is Distinguished Fellow, Centre For Strategic Studies and Simulation, United Service Institution of India.