How Army is taking technological leap

From gradual upgrades during the past three decades, the last two-three years have seen a radical transformation

How Army is taking technological leap

A drone being exhibited during the Army Day Parade, 2021. Photo courtesy: MoD

Ajay Banerjee

Robotic surveillance platforms, 5G communications, air defence systems backed by augmented reality, real-time application of artificial intelligence in border areas, quantum computing labs that are building complex algorithms to prevent the enemy from hacking into encrypted data, automated drone detection systems and unmanned combat units for tank formations.

This is not the wish list of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, but is the reality of new technologies which are finding their way into the arsenal of the 1.1-million-strong Indian Army. The force has taken a technological leap to sharpen its war-fighting edge.

Customised requirements

  • In the past two months, the Northern Command and Eastern Command have had two major technology symposiums with industry.
  • The idea is to identify unique and customised operational requirements. At the ‘North-Tech’ symposium in May, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi said his command was looking at artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, fire power, security solutions and disruptive technologies.
  • The ‘East-Tech’ conducted last week was tasked to identify cutting-edge technologies needed for solving operational challenges in the eastern theatre. The focus is on ‘battlefield transparency’, communication systems, information systems, electronic warfare, nano-technology, unmanned warfare, chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear (CBRN) Defence.

MoD task force recommendations

  • On July 11, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will inaugurate the first-ever Artificial Intelligence in Defence (AIDef) symposium and exhibition of AI-enabled solutions. Headed by N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, the MoD-appointed task force recommended the following:
  • Integrating and embedding AI strategy with defence strategy.
  • Establishment of a high-level Defence AI Council (DAIC) and a Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA).
  • Creation of a framework to work with industry.
  • Organising AI training courses for all defence personnel.
  • Defence Budget with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore to be provided each year for next 5 years to support AI activities.

In the past three decades, gradual upgrades were carried out in weaponry, tanks, helicopters, bullet-proofing, night sights, thermal imagers, artillery guns, assault rifles, etc. What has been undertaken in the past two-three years is a radical transformation. Sample this: the artificial intelligence (AI) centre at the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE), Mhow, has over 140 deployments in forward areas with the active support of industry, deep-tech start-ups and academia.

The 749-km-long Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and also the 3,448-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China are now embedded with world-class surveillance systems that provide live feed to commanders. AI is enabling remote target detection as well as classification of targets — man or machine, armed or unarmed. All AI-oriented machines are tuned for interpretation, change and anomaly detection, and even intrusions at the LAC and the LoC, besides reading drone footage. These projects are part of the 12 AI domains identified by the National Task Force of Technology.

New technologies Imperative

Rapid evolution of AI, robotics, quantum technologies has initiated an unprecedented sense of urgency for infusing new-age technologies. Addition to Army’s Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), weapon systems, command and control, training and logistics is an immediate imperative. —Lt Gen Subrata Saha (retd), Ex-member of national security advisory board

The niche domain

The Army, with support from the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), established the Quantum Lab in 2021 to transform the current system of cryptography — algorithms used to code data and voice for secure transmission. Among several usages, secure transmission is the key to battle as all major equipments use radio waves to communicate.

As quantum computing advances, it is expected to break into existing encryption methods, hence the next step is ‘cryptography after quantum’ — that is, algorithms capable of protecting sensitive information from the enemy’s quantum computers.

Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the US released a technology roadmap on how to protect data and systems as quantum computing technology advances.

Series of tech additions

The Army’s arc of technology is vast, right from the cutting-edge quantum computing to 5G communications to the basic surveillance quadcopter that can operate in the Himalayas to provide real-time information in a 10-20 km radius.

Lt Gen Sanjay Kulkarni (retd), former Director General of Infantry, says, “The collusive hybrid threat is a reality. India has to build deterrence while continuing to build our conventional capabilities.”

Last month, the MCTE announced an MoU in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M), to have a 5G test-bed for Army’s operational use, especially along the borders.

The force is getting 550 units of augmented reality (AR) based head mounted display (HMD) for Rs 135 crore. The HMD is to be used by the crew of the ground-based air defence systems tasked to bring down incoming enemy missiles, copters and drones. The AR will display target data from new generation radars under all-weather conditions.

To fight terrorists hiding in residential areas, the Army is to arm the Rashtriya Rifles with 185 ‘robotics surveillance platforms’ which can provide real-time intelligence inputs and also lob grenades, all the while being remotely operated from 200 metres. This means, in future, the robotic platform will in some cases make the initial breach into terrorist positions.

For the tank and mechanised formations, the Army is looking at 750 autonomous combat vehicles (ACVs) and has ordered a feasibility study for two variants. One variant will do surveillance for transfer of real-time images and videos to control stations with a range of 10 km. Its logistics version needs to carry 1,000 kg of load — fuel and ammunition, and both need to be battery-operated for silence. New back-pack carried secure ‘software defined radios’ with a range of 300 km are also on the list.

Using drones as offensive

A ‘swarm of drones’ displayed during Army Day in January last year are among the R&D efforts. The Army is looking at 200 such drones to create swarms of 50 each, especially in the high Himalayas where India is handicapped by the terrain of rough and high peaks.

Each drone in a swarm is independent and autonomous, having the capability to carry out individual as well as collective tasks. A group of drones will provide an aerial offensive enabling ‘beyond line of sight’ attack capability and avoiding risk to own troops.

As the world struggles to come up with viable drone detection and interdiction systems, the Army has ordered a feasibility study and is looking at 48 such systems, each to detect small aerial targets up to 10 kms away. It will further provide options of either ‘killing’ the intruder or disabling it electronically by compromising its radio frequency and GPS at a distance of 5 km.

Political resolve

In March this year, Prime Minister Modi, while addressing a ‘post-budget webinar on technology-enabled development’, listed how the budget has allocations for ‘artificial intelligence, geospatial systems, drones, semi-conductors, space technology and 5G, etc’.

In June this year, as protests against the new military recruitment scheme Agnipath grew, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval argued for more technology, saying, “War is undergoing a great change. We are going towards contactless wars, and also war against the invisible enemy. Technology is taking over at a rapid pace. If we have to prepare for tomorrow, then we have to change.”

Lt Gen Kulkarni adds, “We need the nation’s comprehensive power to counter it. The threat is real, the earlier we build our capacities, the better it is.”

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