Does India match up to the USA and China in AI-enabled warfare?

India's military spending for 2021 was ranked as the third-highest in the world.
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In 2021, India’s military spending was the third-highest globally, a defence think-tank SIPRI has pointed out. It was up by 0.9% from 2020 and has witnessed a significant 33% jump from almost a decade ago. Inflated defence budgets are a global phenomenon, with world military spendings reaching an all-time high of $2.1 trillion in 2021. USA, China, India, UK and Russia were the five biggest spenders on defence. 

Image: SIPRI

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Back in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin had strongly emphasised on the importance of AI in geopolitical dominance and went on to say that whoever becomes the leader in AI will become the ruler of the world. The dynamics of warfare have changed over the years. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, drones, big data capabilities is what all leading governments are investing in massively, for that’s the stuff future world dominance is made of.

Image: SIPRI

India is heavily invested in AI-based warfare methods

In 2019, ex-Army chief (late) General Bipin Rawat had said that many countries, including some of India’s adversaries, are spending huge money on AI. There is a need for India, too, to incorporate AI and big data into the armed forces. He warned that it will be too late if the country does not start looking into these soon.

India has been taking big leaps in terms of incorporating AI in all divisions of defence – be it Army, Navy or Air Force. In 2018, NITI Aaayog and the ministry of defence had to put forward a roadmap for the application of AI in the armed forces. It studied the level of AI and machine learning integration in India for defence needs and gave recommendations to make India a leader in AI in defence in the areas of aviation, naval, land systems, cyber, nuclear, and biological warfare.

75-newly added AI products

In July, India held its first-ever symposium and exhibition on Artificial Intelligence in Defence (AIDef) in the national capital where defence minister Rajnath Singh revealed 75 newly-developed AI products that have been in the making. The symposium had it all – from AI Platform Automation tools to Autonomous/Unmanned/Robotic Systems, Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance System. 

Navy working on 30 AI-based projects

Recently, Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal, told the media that the Indian Navy is focused on using AI and ML in critical mission areas and is moving forward with 30 AI projects in the areas of language translation, predictive maintenance, decision making, and text mining.

Last year, former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria had said that AI-assisted technologies would be deployed for threat monitoring in the Indian Air Force’s captive networks. The defence is collaborating with industry as well in such domains. Recent reports said that HAL is working on developing “AI-driven multi-role, advanced and long-endurance drones that will be used for invigilation in the areas along the Line of Actual Control”.

USA leads, shelling out big bucks to modernise military

The US is obviously the global leader in AI research with some of the biggest names in tech (involved in cutting-edge AI research) having its roots there. USA’s focus in emerging tech goes decades back. In fact, in 1958, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) came into the picture to carry out research in military and industrial strategies. 

A few years back, DARPA had announced a multi-year investment of over $2 billion on AI research and development in a portfolio of 50 new and existing programmes. It mentioned that the focus would be on “improving the robustness and reliability of AI systems, reducing power, data, and performance inefficiencies as well as bringing out the next generation of AI algorithms and applications.”

In 2018, the Pentagon created a  Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to look over service and defence agency’s AI efforts. In 2019, the US Army said it is investing $72 million in a five-year AI research effort to bring out capabilities that would significantly improve mission effectiveness in the Army by “augmenting soldiers, optimising operations and increasing readiness”.

In terms of hiring for highly specialised roles, this year alone, 

The Department of Defense hired Dr. Craig Martell as the chief digital and artificial intelligence officer (CDAO). He will be responsible for improving the adoption of data, analytics and AI solutions in the battleground, DoD stated.

China stands strong 

One of the monumental documents that speaks of China’s vision in terms of using AI in the future was the New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan. As per the translations available, the document pointed out that by 2030, China’s AI theories, technologies, and applications should achieve world-leading levels. This will make China the leading innovation centre of the world. The report also talked about deepening military-civilian integration development strategy that will help form high efficiency ‘AI military-civilian integration pattern’. The document highlighted the need to build a new generation of AI technology to help in decision-making and military deduction.

 Another document that brings out its AI strategies is the 2019 report titled, ‘China’s National Defense in the New Era’. The report stresses on the fact that “new and high-tech military technologies based on IT are developing rapidly”. It adds that the country has made good progress in this area but also pointed out that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has yet to complete the task of mechanisation, and has to improve its informationization. It has to put more effort to modernise the military with new-age tech to meet security goals of the country.

Image: Observer Research Foundation

Since then, China’s progress in AI deployment in the military has increased leaps and bounds. Author Pravin Sawhney in his book, ‘The Last War: How AI Will Shape India’s Final Showdown With China’ mentions that if there is a war between India and China, the Indian military will be no match for China’s AI-backed war monsters.

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Sreejani Bhattacharyya
I am a technology journalist at AIM. What gets me excited is deep-diving into new-age technologies and analysing how they impact us for the greater good. Reach me at sreejani.bhattacharyya@analyticsindiamag.com

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