Com­ing – Chi­nese ro­bot tanks


In Oc­to­ber 2017, me­dia reports con­firmed the govern­ment seven-point strat­egy as pre­lude to In­dia’s strate­gic plan for us­ing AI (ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence), cov­er­ing is­sues like de­vel­op­ing meth­ods for hu­man ma­chine in­ter­ac­tions, en­sur­ing se­cu­rity of AI sys­tems, cre­at­ing com­pe­tent work­force match­ing AI and R&D needs, ad­dress­ing eth­i­cal, le­gal and so­ci­etal im­pli­ca­tions of AI, mea­sur­ing and eval­u­at­ing AI tech­nolo­gies through stan­dards and bench­marks, and the like. An ex­perts com­mit­tee has also been set up in the Min­istry of Elec­tron­ics and IT to ad­vise the govern­ment on a policy for AI, govern­ment’s main fo­cus is to re­duce cy­ber at­tacks with AI. The main cen­tral policy is to be drawn once the ex­perts com­mit­tee sub­mits its re­port.

Ma­chine in­tel­li­gence-pow­ered plat­forms sure can be­come a strate­gic in­stru­ment of gov­er­nance in In­dia across a wide range of pub­lic ser­vices, from NATGRID to Aadhaar but the de­fence sec­tor needs much more fo­cus. DRDO’s Cen­tre for Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence & Ro­bot­ics (CAIR) has de­vel­oped a range of ro­bots with var­ied ap­pli­ca­tions, and is also de­vel­op­ing: man por­ta­ble un­manned ground ve­hi­cle (UGV) for low in­ten­sity con­flicts and sur­veil­lance in ur­ban sce­nario; wall climb­ing and flap­ping wing ro­bot; walking ro­bot with four and six legs for lo­gis­tics sup­port; Net­work Traf­fic Anal­y­sis (NETRA) which can mon­i­tor in­ter­net traf­fic.

But con­sid­er­ing the pace at which de­vel­op­ments are tak­ing place, par­tic­u­larly in China in com­bin­ing ro­bot­ics and AI, our slow progress in this field is li­able to leave us at huge asym­met­ric dis­ad­van­tage. News about co­op­er­a­tion with Ja­pan on AI is good but look­ing at the abysmal FDI in the de­fence sec­tor and the floun­der­ing ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive be­cause of the rot within Min­istry of De­fence, as pointed out by Dr Sub­has Bhamre, MoS (De­fence) to the Prime Min­is­ter re­cently, the prospects don’t look good.

CCTV (China’s TV chan­nel) re­cently showed video footage of a Type 59 based tank be­ing con­trolled by a sol­dier sit­ting in front of a com­puter ter­mi­nal with a steer­ing wheel. Ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian sources, quot­ing Chi­nese me­dia Sohu, the footage was made in the ‘Un­manned Bat­tle Sys­tems Lab of PLA’. China’s Type 59 is based on the Soviet T-54A tank, bought from Rus­sia in 1950s, and the un­manned ver­sion may be armed with a 100mm or 105mm can­non. For present, this may just be a demon­stra­tive model but with in­te­gra­tion of re­mote tar­get ac­qui­si­tion and re­mote fire con­trol tech­nolo­gies, this would be­come cut­ting edge mil­i­tary weapon plat­form. Given the pace of Chi­nese R&D, such de­vel­op­ment would not be too dis­tant. Sohu also re­ported that un­manned war­ships, drones and bat­tle ve­hi­cles pro­grams are also un­der de­vel­op­ment.

In 2017, China’s State Coun­cil is­sued an ambitious policy blueprint call­ing for the na­tion to be­come “the world’s pri­mary AI in­no­va­tion cen­ter” by 2030, by which time, it fore­cast, the coun­try’s AI in­dus­try could be worth $150 bil­lion. China is in­vest­ing heav­ily in all as­pects of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, from quan­tum com­put­ing to chip de­sign. Mul­ti­ple ini­tia­tives have been launched in­clud­ing China build­ing $2.1 bil­lion AI tech­nol­ogy park in Bei­jing’s western sub­urbs. Com­pare this with Amer­ica’s to­tal spend­ing on un­clas­si­fied AI pro­grams in 2016 of $1.2 bil­lion.

Na­tions are seek­ing to harness AI ad­vances for sur­veil­lance and cen­sor­ship, and for mil­i­tary pur­poses. Ac­cord­ing to Elsa Ka­nia, fel­low at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity in Wash­ing­ton, DC notes in her re­cent study on China’s mil­i­tary AI in­vest­ments, that in fields of AI in China the bound­aries be­tween civil­ian and mil­i­tary re­search and de­vel­op­ment tend to be­come blurred, adding, “The PLA may lever­age AI in unique and per­haps un­ex­pected ways, likely less con­strained by the le­gal and eth­i­cal con­cerns prom­i­nent in US think­ing. China’s mil­i­tary is fund­ing the de­vel­op­ment of new AI-driven ca­pa­bil­i­ties in bat­tle­field de­ci­sion-mak­ing and au­ton­o­mous weaponry.”

In 2014, PLA Ma­jor Gen­eral Xi Hang, head­ing PLA’s Academy of Ar­moured Forces En­gi­neer­ing had said, “Un­manned ground ve­hi­cles will play a very im­por­tant role in fu­ture ground com­bat. Re­al­iz­ing that, we have be­gun to ex­plore how to re­fit our ar­moured ve­hi­cles into un­manned ones.” Robotic sys­tems cou­pled with AI will be live threats on the bat­tle­field sooner than we can think. Not only will China de­ploy such sys­tems along the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol with In­dia, there is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity of th­ese mov­ing into PoK and Pak­istan as PLA de­ploy­ment grows in the re­gion. In ad­di­tion, se­lect tech­nolo­gies will be passed on to Pak­istan and other strate­gic part­ners.

Gor­den G Chang, au­thor of ‘The Com­ing Col­lapse of China’, in his ar­ti­cle ‘The World Should Take China’s War Threats Sse­ri­ously’ pub­lished in Na­tional In­ter­est on March 23, 2018 writes that armed with sec­ond term, Xi Jin­ping is now full of fire and fury, and that when he promised “full uni­fi­ca­tion of the moth­er­land” to the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress on March 20, that is code for an­nex­a­tion of Tai­wan, large por­tions of In­dia, dozens of Ja­panese is­lands, a speck of South Korea, Philip­pine rocks and reefs, and al­most all the waters of the South China Sea. Ob­vi­ously, Gor­don doesn’t im­ply this hap­pen­ing overnight but in sharp con­trast the mood in In­dia ap­pears to be that con­flict is not on the cards at all be­cause of the down­turn of Chi­nese econ­omy and Sino-In­dian trade re­la­tions. China has ex­cel­lent trade re­la­tions with Tai­wan and China also but gives no cre­dence to eco­nomic re­la­tions when it comes to ter­ri­to­rial claims – how­ever il­le­gal. It is for good rea­son that China has en­hanced de­ploy­ments and com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Ti­bet op­po­site In­dia, con­sol­i­da­tion the ‘string of pearls’ and in­vested in sub-con­ven­tional war on In­dia. Any con­flict, how­ever small, would im­pact In­dian econ­omy ad­versely. We need to se­ri­ously pre­pare for con­flict that would likely see use of ro­bot­ics and AI.

Pru­dence de­mands that In­dia should pre­pares for con­flict that would likely com­bine ro­bot­ics and AI; un­manned ground ve­hi­cles, drone swarms, quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tions, cy­ber at­tacks and more.


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