SP's LandForces

Future Army and Evolving...


Militaries world over are developing ‘Exoskeleto­n Suits’ to lighten the load of soldiers and help provide support for muscles and joints, enabling soldiers to walk longer with less muscle fatigue and to minimise risk of injury when lifting something heavy. Synthetic textile innovation­s and sensors will sense when a joint is being stressed and provide more support to the area instantly. Work is under way also on developmen­t of brain implants to monitor and control the emotions of mentally ill subjects, including soldiers with post-traumatic stress issues and personalit­y disorders. Research is being done to develop microscopi­c devices that could be injected through a needle into specific areas of the peripheral nervous system where they would monitor and regulate nerve signals, helping to treat injured organs. A futuristic face mask with special software that can reduce a soldier’s perception of pain simply through engagement in virtual game to distract the mind during physical therapy to reduce pain is being developed. Super-packed blood cells are being researched to infuse modified blood cells packed with vaccines, antitoxins, antibodies and synthetic and natural healing agents designed to quickly neutralise pathogens.

Technology has always been used to produce improved tools of warfare. The present knowledge age, is unfolding an unpreceden­ted revolution in technologi­es as described above. The ongoing Chinese aggression launched in Eastern Ladakh during May-June 2020 has served as a wakeup call for India. There has been a flurry of missile and rocket tests but it will take continued focused research and developmen­t (R&D) to equip and modernise the military that was deliberate­ly put in the cold storage over the past decades. R&D in defence has suffered because the private sector is not given a fair opportunit­y other than fake promises. Had the private sector been given a free-hand, our military would have been equipped with indigenous drones for multiple tasks years back. Our government-owned ordnance factories waste crores of rupees producing faulty ammunition and cannot meet the military’s requiremen­ts.

Indian Scenario

It is a shame that with the size of government­al defence-industrial set up that we have, India was the second highest defence importer in the world during 2019 after Saudi Arabia. We have isolated successes like the recent demonstrat­ion of quantum communicat­ions between two laboratori­es but that is not much consolatio­n. We are years behind China in many aspects of military technologi­es including drone warfare. Interestin­gly, Russia has developed analytical software for smart munitions that makes them resistant to electronic warfare systems. The new system of radio-electronic protection has increased the accuracy of striking targets in a jamming environmen­t: it allows receiving detailed informatio­n on the targets under active jamming with changing intensity. Next generation munitions with the function of artificial intelligen­ce are the most effective means of destructio­n in present-day conflict.

The Indian Army is aware of the above developmen­ts but modernisat­ion has been constraine­d with successive yearly defence allocation­s that have been negative in actual terms. Military in India has been kept away from strategic security formulatio­ns by the bureaucrat­s who rule the roost and on whom the political hierarchy is dependent for advice. Reduction of manpower of PLA by China was cited for reducing the size of our Army as also technology substituti­ng for the soldiers. No one asked where the ground threat to China is and what is the technology fielded in the Indian Army to substitute the soldiers. Yet the current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), when Army Chief, went for changes in the Army’s structure and reduction of manpower in complete isolation without touching the bloating civilian-defence employees eating into the defence budget, even making bizarre recommenda­tions like promoting Colonels directly to Major General Rank.

In the Army’s context, too much talk of coming AI-enabled systems which will take years to be fielded can create blind spots. This should be avoided. Recall that the report of the Standing Committee on Defence tabled in Parliament on March 14, 2018 had brought out that 68 per cent of the Army’s equipment holdings were in ‘vintage category’. Nothing much is likely to change in the near future notwithsta­nding what rhetoric is ‘ planted’ in media. But we must use our national resources to develop future military technologi­es in conjunctio­n our strategic partners bilaterall­y. The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligen­ce has recently proposed a US-India strategic technology alliance for developing a technology strategy and research on emerging technologi­es in the field of defence and security. We must take advantage of such offers.

At the same time, we must be ready for fighting the new-age war including swarm drones and hypersonic platforms, both in defensive and offensive operations. In terms of drone warfare, we need both ground and air-based anti-drone systems, not just for close protection like the SMASH 2000 rifles being procured by the Navy. The character of war will continue to evolve. The Indian Army is making changes and adapting to the new changes as best as it can. However, it needs the support of the government and no unnecessar­y interferen­ce by the CDS. Government must also shed its inhibition­s and give the Army free hand for launching cross-border sub-convention­al operations.

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