By Lieutenant-General PR Shankar (retired)
Xi Jinping speaks of “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” to “establish a community of common destiny”. Simply put, he is seeking superpower status. To achieve this, China is undergoing unprecedented military expansion and preparing to fight unrestricted “multi-domain wars”. These wars will go beyond the “tangible” domains of air, land and sea and will extend to the “intangible” domains of the economy, diplomacy, energy, space, nuclear power. and the electromagnetic spectrum. China is betting big on disruptive technologies such as AI, advanced robotics, quantum computing, hypersonic systems, new materials and renewable energies to establish military dominance through “computerization” and of “intelligentization”. Comparatively, India’s progress in military science and technology appears to be lagging behind in scale, pace, consistency and content. Does India have the means to challenge and deter China in the changing multi-domain environment and to be a regional power in its own right? If it can be done, the Pakistani angle is automatically taken into account.
At the outset, military science and technology is not a unitary subject. Any weapon system is an amalgamation of several sciences and technologies. For example, a modern missile, aircraft or spacecraft has high-end technologies related to materials, electronics, sensors, structures, design, propulsion, control, guidance, navigation, communication, warheads, etc. Each of them is in turn an integration of basic applied sciences. Moreover, no country is self-sufficient in all technologies. All aim to integrate disparate technologies into a weapon system. It is also important to understand that the best technology is the one that is combat effective and not necessarily the advanced or sophisticated variety. Additionally, the battlefield in our context consists of the high Himalayan altitudes and the Indian Ocean region dotted with Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Overall, India’s military geography is a technological drag but imposes its own special requirements. Significantly, the Indian armed forces are experienced and well versed in the demands of the battlefield for military technology. They can blend the two together to form a formidable and effective force. The question is whether the Indian armed forces have the technology and the means to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. The answer is yes. This has been proven time and time again. However, if the question is whether they have adequate technology in the evolving multi-domain environment that is suitable for rising power, the answer is not yet. This aspect needs to be dilated.
India has comprehensive indigenous know-how in the space and nuclear fields. India’s strong programs have been developed since independence despite numerous sanctions. India has also developed complementary rocket and missile technologies locally, through the Integrated Missile Development Program launched in the 1980s. For a long time these capabilities were in different silos but are now linked synergistically. The recent ASAT capability demonstration, the Indian Navy’s Maritime Awareness Initiative and the Agni 5 tests, with its enormous reach, are just a few examples of India’s strategic military science and technology prowess working in harmony.
Energy is a key part of the battlefield. It is also a major national requirement in energy deficit India. Until recently, research into alternative energy technologies has lagged behind. However, that is about to change. The Air Independent Propulsion system developed locally for the submarine program is based on fuel cell technology. Its adaptation to high altitudes as well as investment in renewable energies will make a significant and positive contribution to our livelihood and endurance on the battlefield. In addition, ISRO has made progress in the research of space energy, in particular through fusion technology. India can be a powerhouse in energy through an integrated approach.
India has the ‘end to end’ know-how and capacity to design, develop and produce / build most conventional systems. This capacity is due to the sustained efforts of the last decade. The Indian Navy is leading the way with the ability to design and build warships. We have already built stealth frigates (INS Kolkata series) and are building submarines (normal and nuclear) and aircraft carriers locally. The artillery modernization program has been successful and includes the design and development / refurbishment of guns, missiles, rockets and ammunition. We have now started to produce fighter jets (Tejas) and helicopters (Dhruv) locally. Military bridging equipment is almost entirely native. However, there are many more technologies to master in order to achieve strategic autonomy.
The Brahmos missile system with a Mach 3 capacity is one step away from being hypersonic. IIT Madras recently developed the indigenous Shakti processor which will revolutionize and secure all military-grade computer systems and networks. A recent report indicated that the Chinese were protesting against Indian cyber activity. Our massive telecommunications networks provide the foil anchor for military networking. All these examples show that India has adequate scientific and technological means for disruptive technologies. This knowledge must be maximized. India has the human resource capacity to develop high end technologies. India is to launch dual-use mission mode programs on AI, cyber, quantum technology, advanced materials, advanced computing, semiconductor technology and hypersonic technology for deployable systems. This is the challenge ahead
India’s scientific, political-military, bureaucratic and scientific defense establishment has not been able to come together. We lacked vision and investment. This inherited problem has made India heavily dependent on the importation of arms. The reduction of arms imports, export orientation and self-sufficiency have just started to take root under the Atmanirbharta program. Capacity building and investment in technology is an increasingly slow process in democratic India. Our scientific potential is beyond doubt. How India has developed effective vaccines, on a large scale, in the midst of a pandemic, from scratch, should put aside all doubts. We need to transfer this ethic and model of successful work into the defense establishment to ensure that our forces have the technology and weapon systems necessary to do their jobs effectively. In this effort, our leading technical institutions, scientific establishments and private industry should be mobilized to develop the technology required for the forces. Last but not least, a five trillion dollar economy will need more security / protection than it does today. This will require a greater degree of funding and commitment. There are hard sites on the road.
(Lt Gen PR Shankar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM is a retired Artillery General Manager. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department at IIT Madras. He writes extensively on Defense and Strategic Affairs @ www.gunnersshot .com. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).