Crucial Understandings of India’s AI Militarization Landscape – A Comparative Perspective from China


Today, the militarization of Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) is in full swing and leading military powers are making large investments in emerging technologies. Recently, in India, the Minister of Defense created a multi-stakeholder task force for the strategic implementation of Artificial Intelligence in defense. Multiple other projects have also been initiated in furtherance of the objective. This blogpost aims to study the two contrasting AI Integration approaches of India and China.

Fundamentally, this post will delve into the shifts in approaches as regards regular defence procurements and the current changed stances of both countries vis-à-vis AI Militarization. Subsequently, the article also tries to put forth certain recommendations for the nascent Indian AI-Militarization Roadmap.

Need for AI in military

As the world is moving towards AI-driven warfare, India is also taking steps to strengthen armed forces by recognizing the potential benefit of AI in transforming national security. While fully automated weapons systems are yet to reach operational sophistication, semi-automated weapons systems (essentially robotics) are currently functional. The scope of AI in the military is changing from mere robotics to complex data systems that enable precision deployment of such robotics as well as decision making systems for the military. In this post, the authors will generally consider virtually all kinds of AI-technologies available for military application.

In comparison to the conventional systems, military systems equipped with AI are capable of handling a large amount of data more efficiently, also making a very strong and potent application of decision-making systems. They can also help with peacemaking efforts by more effectively communicating the motivations of military actors (i.e. warring parties) through speech and natural language processing.

Moreover, AI increases the situational awareness capabilities, thereby increasing the chances of detecting objects and activities in all domains of warfare. AI allows the tracking of targets with higher accuracy because of which weapons can be used from a greater distance against moving targets. Further, AI can be tweaked to cater for unmanned surveillance to collect sensory data and other information in real-time by scouting battlefield and conflict zones. It could also be used to process and interpret information through its image-recognition algorithms.

The importance of time in militarized conflicts is indubitable. AI is time effective as the machines empowered by AI are likely to respond much faster than humans and thus, they reduce the time needed for force deployment. Additionally, human resources can be utilized in more important tasks as robotic weaponry may not require unnecessary human control such as remote piloting of individual miniature rovers and drones.

Ground Covered by the Indian Defense Machinery

The Indian Armed Forces had been utilizing the capabilities of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (‘UAV’) in the territorial waters for reconnaissance and threat detection purposes. Active surveillance had also been achieved on such devices and has been put into operation. The Defence Research and Development Organization (‘DRDO’) has achieved crucial successes via its specialized Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (“CAIR”). It has successfully tested unmanned aerial reconnaissance-surveillance drones (Rustom Range) and Daksh, a robot which can be remotely controlled to handle explosives defusal. CAIR has been instrumental in the development of the Multi Agent Robotics Framework (MARF), utilized to create a battalion of robots that can both function individually as well as team units and can provide support to armed forces via human interaction to the extent of deployment. Robotics available to the military can coordinate in an automated manner with this technology. Lakshya, an unmanned drone vehicle utilized for pilotless targeting was also developed by DRDO. It is India’s first indigenous drone which is armed and ready for induction with a precision point of 20 meters.

In terms of planning support and ancillary operations related to defence, the DRDO has identified a 4 pronged application base of AI for risk-terrain analysis. The same is useful in decision-making processes regarding the various terrains and topographies of a different landscapes. Additionally, border infiltration patterns have been analysed and plotted to determine via algorithms, the subsequent possibilities of infiltration and the time and location of the same. This is particularly important considering the vast stretches of porous borders on either side of the country. This feat was achieved due to a joint effort with a private entity called Crone Systems. Another private entity called Innefu Labs has been working with the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force to monitor social media content so as to ascertain problematic agitations and prepare for appropriate personnel deployment in relevant regions. Interestingly, Innefu Labs has also been employed to handle similar projects on a larger scale by coagulating data points obtained from defence agencies and intelligence units to prevent flare-ups within and outside. Their system, contracted by the central government, is known as Prophecy.

Within the terms of cyber defences, Indian Institute of Technology, Patna has been partnering up with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (“CDAC”) for the creation and development of tools and interfaces in the domain of cyber forensics. These tools will have the capability to be utilized by law enforcement and other relevant agencies, in essence, by the larger ambit of the government to handle specific tasks of security and cyber risk assessments.

India vs China – A Comparative Study in AI Integration Methodologies

While the developed nations of the world have made substantial advances in terms of AI Integration in their military and defence prowess, it is a patent problem for developing economies like ours. More pressing problems of hunger and poverty along with ground-level governmental requirements of upliftment of living standards in all spheres take precedence. The AI-generated GDP stimulus for the advanced economies of the world can allow them to render obsolete the labour intensive structures of the developing economies. In case of AI in military force, playing catch up is not enough for lesser developed economies as the compounding effects of AI in whatever domain it is utilized provides humongous advances to the country already ahead in research and developments of the same.

The USA via both federal entities like Pentagon and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”) as well as academic institutions has been ploughing in funds and research to handle AI advancements. One of the crucial objectives that the Pentagon has been tasked with is to enable assistance of private business conglomerates in the Silicon Valley to take up such research outputs and work for the benefits of the country simultaneously. While Russia is not that economically sound on AI integration terms, it can boast of working on its AI-based military city module, ERA, which shall cater to the needs of the country in this technological landscape. Israel has its Iron Dome Missile Defense Systems and has been fast on its Carmel program to allow for rapid deployment battalions with an array of AI-based vehicles and sensory technologies on the front lines. Israel’s Harpy drone has almost passed the stage of full autonomy, though it still needs to be launched for the ground troops.

Any comparisons made therefore between the above economies and India would not be a fruitful analysis owing to disproportionate bases and differences. Thus, to analyse the fundamental nature of the Indian AI Integration processes, the same can be compared to the methodologies opted by China.

In a seminal work analyzing the defence procurement patterns of India, Cohen talks about how the Nehruvian ideals of restraint have led to what is called an “arming without aiming approach”. However, in terms of AI integration in the military, the opposite has been observed with regards to India and China. While India has been very calculative and painstakingly slow in such measures over the years, (with only the recent governments taking up the bill via DRDO & NITI Aayog), China, which had been strategic up to the last millennium has now gone on to adopt this approach of arming without aiming especially in terms of AI.

While China is ahead in terms of induction and operationalization of these technologies, this is owing to early learning and development of the essential policies of the Chinese state going back as far as a 2002 Chinese Defence White Paper which concluded the evolution of warfare to an informationized model. India, however, has much land to cover in this regard.

The issue with India currently is the creation of an AI Ecosystem. India has seen a spate of funding in recent years, with Indian Government also making substantial earmarking of funds. However, this has only been on such technologies that have an application in the civil sphere, that growth has not translated to any consequential learnings in the military sphere. CAIR has been the fundamental precipice upon which India’s AI programme has evolved with only side quests being taken up by IITs or IISc, which again were civilian engagement technologies as contrasted to intensive military-based research. DRDO’s sensitive handling of CAIR, however, has rendered much of this as an opaque and closed-door process.

India has been categorically dependent on Russia and Israel for traditional defence equipment and technology and has had only minimal success in establishing indigenous technologies for defence despite having had technological knowledge transfer with such states. China on the other hand has viewed dependence on foreign defence equipment as a handicap and therefore now has turned into a top exporter.

The recent developments in India have begun to show results; various ministries involved have taken active efforts in coagulating and bringing together both state and non-state stakeholders along with multiple foreign entities for discussion and development. The International Centre for Transformative Intelligence (ICTAI) is one such initiative which aims to conduct advanced research to incubate AI-led solutions in three important areas i.e. healthcare, agriculture and smart mobility. The aforementioned involvements including the efforts taken by Niti Aayog and other entities will help in creating robust dialogue and development with foreign companies plying in from the Silicon Valley as well. Thus, such collaborations may finally help India capitalize on its software and computing industry prowess.

China, on the other hand, is no longer a study in moderation. The central issue with China is now an expansion of the AI ecosystem that has already been established. Over the past years, China has been providing grassroot support and multi-stakeholder access to AI platform growth which has resulted in it moving away from traditional Research and Development models. The same has been visible owing to its “Made in China 2025” campaign (launched far back in 2015) as well as the “Internet Plus” Artificial Intelligence Three Year Action Implementation Plan which was announced in 2016. Even so, within a year of this announcement comes the “AI 2.0” announcement by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST). These ambitions have enjoyed support from the Chinese statesmen since the beginning, a shift which has just been observed in the Indian landscape regarding technology. The two hallmark programs that have been spearheading the AI integration are the “New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” and the “Made in China 2025”. China has pushed in humongous capital in handling its AI Ambitions which are magnificent to look at. It has surmised that it shall target an AI-related gross output of over $1.5 Trillion by 2030.

All these initiatives had already laid a vibrant AI growth industry within China and it has now started bearing fruit in the terms of a multi-stakeholder industry with state-of-the-art research in the country. This has also translated in AI being utilized in the military sphere as an obvious consequence. Even in 2017 when the Chinese MoST had convened high level meetings for the New Generation AI Development Plan Promotion office, the most vivid of military endeavour was the creation of Central Military-Civil Fusion Commission (“CMC”). This is a direct expression of the Chinese Plans of AI militarization, a concrete step already 3 years in advancement.

While India has been busy with roadmaps, China has been laying out extensive guidelines of Academia and Industry collaboration and involvement to extensively take up government-backed AI-based projects via its “Three Year Action Plan for Promoting Development of a New Generation Artificial Intelligence Industry”.

All these policy initiatives by China have created a culture in China where AI is a commonplace aspiration and whole cities have started integrating technological and security advancements with AI-based systems. There is reasonable overall industry competition which shall work for the benefit of the Chinese state in assimilation. A scenario which is a few years in the offing for India at the current pace. A crucial observation here is that this AI landscape and ecosystem being created by China is fundamentally interlinked via a Military-Civil Fusion, a column of Chinese AI strategy that enables it to directly import civilian private learning and advancements made into the military domain, thereby creating a robust overall mechanism; a learning not available to the Indian context owing to the opaque approach of DRDO as highlighted above.

A categorical understanding here, therefore, is while Chinese aspirations tend to make it a second to none in terms of AI-based military infrastructure, India (if it is able to effectuate its plans) has reserved for itself the goal to be the Third World’s AI Garage. Hence, India’s aiming without arming and not the other way round.

Concluding Suggestions

The AI discernment into the Indian Army is diminutive as compared to the other developed or developing nations. The rise in the development of AI, and its application in the military, is accompanied by competition amongst the states. It is high time that India make use of AI to optimize its functioning in the battlefield and improve its operational preparedness.

To begin with, the Indian government should focus on making a proper AI strategy document, clearly articulating the vision, mission, and objectives for long term goals. New doctrines should be made on the usage of AI taking into consideration the changes in war strategies and proper training should be provided to the Armed Forces personnel on the working of AI and supporting fields as many of them have yet not been exposed to this new technology.

Further, as data is said to be the backbone of AI ventures, a well thought out and right storage framework is the need of the hour. It goes without saying that large investments are being made by various countries in the field of AI to gain an upper hand in warfare. India too needs to focus on proper funding in the department of R&D and equal attention should be given to the elements of AI.

The focus of ‘AI in defence’ should be centered more on achieving military modernization rather than power and domination. It is obvious that there is no “golden bullet” solution. Newer technical ideas must be combined with older ideas to form a powerful armamentarium.

(This article has been authored by Nitisha Agrawal and Achyut Tewari. The authors are students of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur)

Cite As: Nitisha Agrawal, Achyut Tewari, ‘Crucial Understandings of India’s AI Militarization Landscape – A Comparative Perspective from China’ (The Contemporary Law Forum, 30th October, 2020) <insert link> date of access. 

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