Considering data and intelligence has become the lifeline of the modern military, the world is on the cusp of rethinking the current battlefield technologies. This is what we are going to witness at the ongoing 11th edition of India’s biennial mega defence exhibition — DefExpo 2020 in Uttar Pradesh capital, Lucknow.
This year, the number of participating companies, both domestic and foreign, has reached 1,000 as compared to 702 companies in the previous DefExpo held in Chennai in 2018. One of the biggest highlights of the event is the digital transformation theme for defence technologies along with AI and autonomous weapons, which were the centre of everyone’s attention.
Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, ubiquitous sensors, are at the forefront of the military’s digital transformation. The objective of DefExpo is to culminate the most advanced technologies in the defence sector under one place, giving a myriad of opportunities for the government, private companies, and startups.
During the inauguration speech at the 11th edition of DefExpo, PM Modi said that he had set a target of $5 billion worth of military exports in the coming five years and has invited global defence majors to establish manufacturing hubs across India. Modi further spoke on the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) and said that the nation would develop at least 25 products related to AI in the defence field in the next five years.
According to the PM, the nation with its strength in IT and software development stands poised to bolster the digital transformation trend and to work with world leaders in cutting edge military technologies. India has the fifth-largest defence budget in the world with 42.2 billion and contributes to 3.7% to the global military expenditure. Overall defence expenditure in India has increased from 6.4 billion in 2013-14 to 11.4 billion in 2018-19. At the same time, the govt has to spend 130 billion for fleet modernisation in the next 5-7 years across all armed services.
The government is also focusing on establishing a long-term strategic partnership between the Indian private sector and global OEMs through a competitive process to acquire technology transfers and set up domestic manufacturing infrastructure and supply chains. This also includes setting up of defence innovation hubs across the country to develop an ecosystem that will foster innovation and technology development in the aerospace and defence sector by engaging industries including MSMEs, startups, individual innovators, R&D institutes, and academia.
AI-Based Defence Technology Deals With South Korea
A number of Memorandum of Undertaking (MoUs) are to be settled during the Expo, resulting in creating new business and technology collaborations. Def Minister Rajnath Singh said India and South Korea might be signing new deals during the DefExpo 2020, emphasising the importance of AI and its military applications.
According to reports, Hanwha Defence, a major South Korean company, is planning to bag 2.5 billion in defence deals. Rajnath Singh also met with South Korea’s defence minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in New Delhi earlier. According to Singh, the defence corridors present an excellent opportunity for South Korean industries to establish their manufacturing units. Korea Defence Industry Association, Korea Aerospace Industries, and Hanwha are participating in the event.
But, South Korean companies won’t be the only ones competing for attention from the Armed Forces. Multiple companies, which are a part of Fortune 500, such as Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Lockheed Martin, and Thale, are also displaying artificial intelligence-based drone and UAV solutions. These solutions can be utilised for crowd monitoring, object detection and tracking, and flagging alerts for military actions.
At DefExpo 2020, we can see AI applications in autonomous vehicles, including fighter aircraft, autonomous robots, drones, ground vehicles, advancing military cyber operations, and systems for landmine detection. According to the e-brochure, 492 applications have been received for an open challenge for startups and has around 350k visitors over three days.
India Based Organisations Also Showcase Their AI Capabilities At DefExpo
Many Indian organisations are also taking part in the DefExpo, showcasing domestically-developed AI prowess to keep the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the government of India’s thrust towards adopting and deploying AI technology into defence systems and processes.
Bengaluru-based defence public sector company BEML also plans to introduce an artificial intelligence-based mobile for healthcare diagnosis at the DefExpo 2020. A senior official told the media that the company would launch the innovative system in sync with the DefExpo’s theme — ‘Digital Transformation’, where AI-based system will be addressing the medical needs of the armed forces and armoured crew in protected vehicles like a Medium Bullet Proof Vehicle (MBPV). Apart from this, BEML has also manufactured truck-mounted excavators, high-capacity engines for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), autonomous ground vehicles (tracked and wheeled), mounted gun systems in association with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), and infrared signature suppression systems for the Navy.
The Goa Shipyard (GSL), another defence public sector organisation, is also undergoing a modernisation of its yard to implement cutting edge technologies in shipbuilding. The company has now developed two artificial intelligence projects which the company is planning to showcase at the DefExpo 2020. The high-level cognitive process used in its shipbuilding products are Condition Monitoring System (CMS) for shipboard equipment that has been developed in partnership with Infosys; and Face Recognition and Geo-Fencing Security System that were developed in collaboration VLPL, Vizag.
According to GSL, the above developed AI solutions can be deployed in Indian defence and coastal police services for advanced AI-powered condition monitoring of shipboard equipment, security, and predictive surveillance. The company said that CMS solution would reduce unplanned downtime of ship engines and will assist in making critical decision making.
Another company from India L&T will showcase its innovative digital solutions for defence leveraging technologies like IIoT, I4.0, AI/ML & AR/VR that according to L&T play a crucial role in modern national security and next-generation warfare. L&T also stated that its technologies would enable defence forces with real-time monitoring and simulation to improve asset availability and performance, which in turn will minimise operating costs and extend the lifespan of critical assets.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain and startup ecosystem. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org