Can “restrained” Artificial intelligence act as Indian army’s mercenary?

Aura–India’s unmanned combat air vehicle. Pic credit: Livefist

Any nation that leads in Artificial intelligence, will be the ruler of the world”—Vladimir Putin

Since time immemorial mercenaries were used to wage wars on foreign lands by Kings. Mercenaries were so effective that a King from Hungary, in the 15th century, had a standing mercenary army. It is a pragmatic strategy to deploy a trained manpower in prolonged high-casualty war zone, that is highly motivated, effective, and keeps the cost of the war and mission low. Behemoth countries like America and Russia have now decided to adopt autonomous weapon system (AWS) that work on artificial intelligence (AI), to spearhead their aggressive policy abroad. By now 12 countries around the world use 130 military autonomous weapon systems. AI is the mercenary of 21st century!!!

India has so far been reticent in relying on artificial intelligence due to the trepidation of losing control over the game play of events. Advent of technology has helped change India’s perception. India has now recognized AI as a force multiplier, which also reduces army personnel’s active engagement in warzones and lowers the mortality rate. Induction of AWS will be the dawn of a new epoch for Indian Army. 

In the month of September 2019, Indian Army’s Sapta Shakti (south-western) command had organized an exhibition — ‘Sapta Shakti’ Wartech, with the intention to create synergy between Indian defence industry and Indian defence forces, vis-e-vis Artificial intelligence.  After the exhibition, Army commander of Jaipur based Sapta Shakti command—Lt Gen Alok Kler, revealed that in next few years Indian Army will induct AI technology for “constructive and destructive” purposes. The word constructive AI technology can be deduced as non-lethal and restrained version of AI. Often, AI based systems function with great speed which is hard for humans to comprehend. So the functioning of AI systems are intentionally slowed so that human interference is possible. This is called restrained AI. Unrestrained AI has the capability to detect, target, engage and neutralise enemy combatants on its own.

India treads the AI path

In February 2018, Ministry of Defence (MoD) constituted a multi-stakeholder task force for strategic implementation of Artificial intelligence.The task force nimble footedly decided to allocate Rs 100 crores to each service headquarters (SHQ) for AI specific development. By February 2019, a high-level Defence AI Council (DAIC) under the chairmanship of Defence minister was formed. It’s being mooted by the authorities to form a Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA) too.

Indian Army will be using AI on myriads of platforms, such as:

  1. Mechanized formations: To bolster Indian Army’s capabilities, in next 2-3 years, mechanized formations along India’s border, which it shares with Pakistan and China, will get Al-enabled tanks and armoured vehicles. This will help enhance their lethal accuracy and ground combat capabilities.  
  2. Night vision devices : Indian soldiers will get a AI-based night vision device which will be helmet-mounted, and attached to a wristband. The device will produce vibrations if it detects movement in the soldier’s vicinity. Soldiers patrolling on the border will benefit most with such devices. Those serving at Ladakh and North-eastern border of India, might also get live-translators which will help to translate Mandarin to different Indian languages
  3. Predictive AI for Intelligence corps: In all probabilities Indian Army’s Intelligence corps is already using AI technology for predicting terrorist attacks and tracking terrorists. For such predictive analysis, AI systems depends on ‘big data analysis’ to interpret and identify terrorists by distinguishing what is distinct in the activity of a specific terrorist-subgroup. It is also used to filter the content on social media platforms. The Nagrota attack, they say, was predicted by AI system.
  4. Intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR):   American Army’s Project Maven is an example of how ISR can be utilized to identify terrorists from video footage obtained from drones. ISR can be used in unmanned entities like submarines, ships, vehicles and drones. The centre of artificial intelligence and robotics (CAIR) in the Defence research and development organisation (DRDO) has developed several probes for surveillance and reconnaissance, like snake robots, hexa-bots, and sentries based on autonomous technology. DRDO is also working on a classified project—AURA, which is an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). It will be capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision guided munitions.

Blind spots

Reliance on Artificial technology and machine learning will require our defence forces to depend on the highly skilled professionals in the field, from private sector. Ergo, Indian defence forces will have to build an ecosystem where innovation and funding do not run dry. Also, India will have to seek autonomy when it comes data collection and interpretation, as reliance on remote servers outside its borders could come at the cost of security compromise.

 India being a late entrant into the field of artificial technology, will have to leverage on the existing systems which already use AI in subtle ways. This will help India bridge the gap between itself and countries like China which invest substantial capital in innovation, vis-e-vis artificial technology. China has already proved to the world that it is now ready to flex its AI pecs, with the display of unmanned combat drones and submarines during its national day, on 1st oct 2019.

India will also have to prepare itself against terrorists who in the near future will use AI against Indian soldiers. Many skeptics hold a false notion that AI will not be used by terrorists as it will not be cost effective to them. An attack by ISIS in 2017 was an eye-opener to many, as to how swiftly terrorists adapt themselves to changing technological milieu. In the city of Mosul, ISIS had used consumer-drones which hurled grenades on Iraqi forces to push them back. What are the chances Pakistan will employ such drones against India? Very high!

Immediate deployment of AI in Red corridor and Kashmir—a possibility

On May 1st 2019, a 30Kg IED blast by CPI(Maoists) killed 15 commandos of a Quick reaction team, in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. The first quarter of this year saw surge in IED (improvised explosive device) explosions along the red corridor and Kashmir. Causalities by IED explosion can be whittled down if Indian forces use AI to its advantage. Certain private sector companies have now innovated drones which can jam signals emanating from remote controls and GPS devices. Since most of the IED attacks are carried out using remote controlled devices, these drones will render such devices ineffective. This being a cost-effective way of detecting IEDs and circumventing them, Indian defence forces can induct it pronto.

Whilst it is true that AI is the future of defence forces around the world, it comes with a caveat that the AI can lower the threshold of war. An erroneous decision by an autonomous weapon system can lead to accidental war. It is for this reason Indian Army is treading AI’s path cautiously. For India, an avant-garde approach to AI will help in its optimum utilization.

Article by Levina


  1. Nicely written, very informative. Keep it up and Levin’s well done, as always.

  2. Very well written article, the base gives a clear insight into tje thorough research work done. Excellent work. Waiting for more such informative article.

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