Adoption of Niche Technology: Need of the Hour

New technologies will determine how future warfare are fought and won. Need of the hour is the identification and development of niche technologies which should not only be need -based but affordable as well.

The strategic nature of threats has highlighted the importance of technology in intensifying offensive and defensive capabilities. The Armed Forces world over need to modernize expeditiously if they have to be prepared to take on the security challenges of the future. Armed Forces that are better equipped with higher technologies have always and will continue to have an upper hand.

The technology sector, at present, is undergoing a significant transformation with substantial disruptive innovation which in turn is driving rapid obsoletion providing momentous opportunity for further growth. This has significant implications for a developing nation like India which is still on the path of developing a robust Defence Industrial base (DIB). The Armed Forces are showing strong eagerness and wants to participate in knowledge sharing which in turn will help organizations to develop on-demand critical technologies. The need of the hour, now, is to revisit basics and realign the structures in line with emerging realities. In order to implement this, we must understand the needs of defence forces and what technologies they want. Fundamental to understanding those needs is an understanding of the strategic environment, existing now as also in the future, in which Armed Forces operate/will operate in future. Thus, niche technologies need to be identified and also should be need-based and affordable coupled with done in consultation with stakeholders. Accordingly, it is also important to effectively manage new technologies by identifying their strategic/tactical efficacy and function in existing defence spectrum and the possible contributions they could make towards improvising overall defence competence.

Further, India should access core/niche technologies available with all centre of excellence available in India like DRSO, CSIR, BARC, ISRO and private sector and see how these can be collectively used to develop core technologies for national security. For development of niche technologies, the country may adopt the US based Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) model for development of state-of-the-art emerging technologies for use by the Indian Defence Services. Basically, DARPA operates under the Department of Defense and is a pioneer in deploying emerging technologies in defence architecture of United States. This implies that India will require a flexible research apparatus in order to focus on enhancing its capabilities for technology absorption not only in the laboratories but also in production of systems. Furthermore, the Government should support development of high technologies and should provide the necessary policy framework and incentives, including direct funding to select companies, start-ups and research institutions. Certain initiatives like IDeX, Technology Development Fund (TDF), and Defence India Start-Up Challenges are good measures from the Government's end which need to keep this momentum.

Push For New High Technology Aspects
Warfare has already undergone rapid changes and it needs no emphasis, that technology is accelerating disruption, redefining the market and stimulating innovation. Future wars will be a non-contact war; hence focus should be now on development of high technology areas - Cyberspace, Laser, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Nanotechnology - which in turn will make India gain the technological edge. These are discussed briefly in the subsequent paragraphs.

The cyberspace is the most famous changing technology. The cyber technology has blurred previously well understood boundaries, exposed vulnerabilities and created new threats and industry. The political objectives can be attained without the loss of lives, at minimal capital costs and with the battle-space anywhere inside cyberspace. Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, unmanned e-spacecraft and weapons of “outer space, hypersonic missiles or aircraft” etc are few other technologies that will be developed in coming years.

Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots and is finding its way in defence sector. Coming years could see use of robotic platforms to high explosive chemical, radiological, biological devices for attacking defended targets.

Major applications of biotechnology extending for their utility in defence mainly fall into categories like sensors, electronics and computing, materials, logistics and therapeutics.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a field of intense interest and high expectations within the defence technology. AI basically refers to carrying out tasks that can be performed by humans through a computer or digitally-controlled robots facilitating military decisions, minimising human causalities and enhancing the combat potential of force.

Nanotechnology broadly refers to techniques that produce or measure features less than 100 nanometres in size. Several technologies converge with nanotechnology, the most important being miniaturization of semiconductor and the science and technology of building devices such as electronic circuits from single atoms and molecules.

Directed Energy Weapons
Envisioned as revolutionary, Directed energy weapons, consist of weapon systems based on millimetre waves, high power microwaves, lasers, and electromagnetic pulses. The main advantage of lasers is that there is no flight time between the shot and the target since the beam basically travels at the speed of light. It could be a powerful defensive tool against missiles.

Dual Use Technologies
Dual-use civilian technologies, especially information technology, high resolution imagery and global positioning systems as pieces of technology will empower state and non-state actors with new disruptive and destructive capability. The growing dependence on information technology (IT), with its tremendous advances and growth in recent years, has compelled nations to look into the subject of information warfare with greater urgency and scrutiny.

The Way Forward
Technology has no doubt reduced the traditional reliance on numbers, mass and endurance while increasing the capacity for rapid and precise application of very large amounts of force, for a comparatively short time. Rather, technological superiority is increasingly going to be the decisive factor in future battles as it always offers militaries an advantage. Keeping this in mind, while there are plans to build future technologies under the 'Make in India' initiative, it is unclear if an outright indigenization approach to technology will be effective. The problem is DRDO domination in design and development, DPSU and OFB in production and non involvement of Users. Besides even though foreign defence companies are willing to collaborate with Indian manufacturers, they are reluctant to transfer cutting-edge technologies which act a major obstruction. Another problematic area is the negligible capacity of Indian firms to acquire and absorb foreign technology. Following recommended approach for technology identification and development can be adopted to overcome hurdles which comprise of:
• A detailed scrutiny of present and emerging technologies and related threats in discussion with the Users/Stakeholders should be carried out. Further, it is necessary to dwell into technologies that are needed with timelines for their development to support the analysis. Some of these technologies, however, would have to be developed with higher precedence to meet the immediate security requirements of the three Defence Forces.
• Create/award dedicated 'projects' for the development of each technology, its transformation from engineering into production, integration and upgradation. Like previously, these projects need not be awarded to Government owned sector/DRDO via 'nomination basis” but to a consortium of companies/institutions in a Public Private Participation (PPP) model.
• Timelines for implementation of each phase must be clearly specified with provision for penalty in case of not meeting the deadline coupled with providing incentives if it is achieved before the deadline within the budget and innovations.
• Attractive provisions and incentives for start-ups and involvement of Medium and Small Scale Enterprise (MSME).

Lastly, it is important to underline here that there is not only the need to correctly identify the future orientation and equipment needs of the Armed Forces, but it is also important to find a way forward to build capacity and speed up the procurement process, while addressing the problems which invariably come in the way.

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