Need for Focusing on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is a transformative technology that has tremendous applications in the social, economic and military fields. The advances in AI provide impetus to India to make AI a critical element of India's National Security Strategy.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has numerous futuristic applications for the Indian Armed Forces. In an article on Live Mint of 20 May 2018, the subject was covered, where in it was reported that an ambitious defence project was being considered by the Ministry of Defence Secretary Defence Production Mr. Ajay Kumar said the Government had decided to introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Armed Forces as future warfare would be dependent on this field for enhancing operational preparedness. This would include equipping them with unmanned tanks, vessels, aerial vehicles and robotic weaponry. It is undoubtedly the next generation of warfare which would be automated and minimum visual contact. It is important that these applications be introduced to match other countries which are investing huge resources for development in this field.

China has been pouring billions of dollars into AI research and machine learning. It has unveiled an ambitious plan to make the country the AI innovation centre of the World by 2030. United States (US), Britain, France and the European Union are also investing significantly in AI. Unmanned drones are being employed by the US in North West Pakistan and Afghanistan. India too is employing drones and in accordance with the task force recommendations would witness a framework to include the three services, DRDO, public and private sector to undertake extensive applications of AI resulting in enhancement of our future operational preparedness.

Future warfare would be dependent on AI field for enhancing operational preparedness.

The task force headed by Tata Sons Chairman submitted its report to the Raksha Mantri on 30 June 2018. The recommendations are being analysed at the Ministry of Defence and would be implemented in due course.

AI-Essential aspects

Basically AI is a transformative technology that has tremendous applications in the social, economic and military fields. It can revolutionise the way human beings live, work, learn, discover and communicate. Research in this field would increase our economic prosperity, improve educational opportunities, quality of life, and enhance our national security thereby upgrading our Comprehensive National Power. Undoubtedly the smart phone of today enables calculation, communication, photography, net banking, timekeeper, organiser, music system, receiver for radio and television broad casts as also passing messages to intelligent systems. We are already using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Unmanned Petrol Pumps, Driverless cars, unmanned sea vehicles, audio typing machines, robots undertaking industrial activities and complex issues like surgery in hospitals. This is a field which needs to be looked at seriously to ensure that we are able to upgrade our ability to undertake difficult tasks.

Strategy for DRDO and Industry

It would be pertinent to understand the National Artificial Intelligence, Research and Development Strategic Plan of the United States as worked out in October 2016, to know a method to tackle this subject. It all began almost 62 years ago they discussed seminal ideas on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. They imagined a world in which machines use language, form abstractions, concepts, solve the kinds of problems now reserved for humans and improve themselves. This historic meeting set the stage for decades of United States Government research in Artificial Intelligence, including advances in perception, automated reasoning, planning, cognitive systems, machine learning, natural language, processing, robotics and related fields. Currently these research advances have resulted in new sectors of economy, mapping technologies, voice assisted smart phones, hand writing recognition for mail delivery, financial trading, surveillance, target acquisition, smart planes, ships, vehicles, ammunition, smart logistics, spam filtering, language translation, robots performing numerous industrial, medical and military tasks.

There is no doubt that seminal research being done would be translated to suitable applications for the Indian Armed Forces, however need to understand the   sense of urgency in the emerging environment.

The entire process has received impetus in large part by adoption of statistical and probabilistic methods, the availability of large amount and increased computer processing power. In the last ten years, the subfield of machine learning; this has enabled computers to learn from experience. Recently great attention has been paid to the importance of statistical approaches such as deep learning; advances have also been made in other areas such as perception, natural language processing, formal logics. Knowledge representations, robotics, control theory, cognitive system architectures, search and optimisation techniques and numerous other applications.

It is interesting to note the US Government strategic plan for research. Details are as mentioned below:-

  • To make long term investments in AI research. This is to prioritise investments in the next generation of AI that will drive discovery and insight thereby enabling the US to remain a world leader in AI.
  • To develop effective methods for human AI collaboration. This would ensure that instead of replacing humans, most systems will collaborate with humans to achieve optimal performance. Research is needed to create effective interaction between human and AI systems.
  • To understand, and address the ethical, legal and societal implications of AI. Research is directed with AI systems to ensure that they comply with these aspects.
  • Ensure that these systems are safe and secure. Further these systems must be dependable and reliable
  • To develop shared public datasets and environments for AI testing and training resources.
  • Undertake measurement and evaluation of AI technologies through standards and benchmarks as also test beds and community engagement that guide and evaluate progress.
  • Create a strong AI work force of experts.

The obvious question to ask is what the Strategy for DRDO and Industry with regard to AI in India. The advances in AI provide impetus to India to make AI a critical element of India's National Security Strategy. The current challenges faced by India are that the application to date have been driven largely by the private sector and primarily focused on consumer goods. The emergent scale and implications of the technology make it imperative for policymakers in Government to take notice. Currently AI has been looked at both by the private sector and educational institutions. Infosys recently announced its decision to support AI research efforts at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi apart from its commitment to open-source AI research efforts led by Space X founder and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk under the Open AI project. With Arya. AI and just a small number of AI startups beginning to make their mark domestically. It is pertinent to note that Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) have largely carried out publicly funded research in AI. However, this research has been limited and lags behind United States and Europe. AI research in India has been primarily focused on societal needs. Most of the research has been applied towards machine translation, natural language and text speech related applications. DRDO in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence needs to work out a strategy. The report by Chairman Tata Sons needs to be processed and carefully implemented.

Focused Approach

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft has spoken immensely about Artificial Intelligence.  In his understanding, this is an important area and would not be a killer of human jobs. Needless to say the Army needs Artificial Intelligence. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have a laboratory specifically dedicated to AI known as Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR). The laboratory with about 150 qualified scientists focuses on the following areas:-

  • AI, Robotics and Control Systems.
  • Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence Systems.
  • Communication and Networking.
  • Communication Secrecy.

The Laboratory has been concentrating on AI and Communications. It   is pertinent to note that CAIR has already developed robots for non-destructive testing of composite parts of Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas). Apart from these the following projects are under development:-

  • AI techniques for Net Centric Operations. (AINCO). This is a suite of technologies for creation of knowledge base, semantic information reception and handling, interference reasoning and event correlation.
  • Development of a family of robots for surveillance and reconnaissance applications. These comprise RoboSen- a mobile robot system targeted at patrolling, reconnaissance and surveillance. It is capable of autonomous navigation in semi structured environments with obstacle avoidance capability and continuous video feedback. The next is a miniaturised man portable Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) for low intensity conflicts and surveillance in urban scenario. Further they are developing a wall climbing and flapping wing robot as also a walking robot with four and six legs for logistics support.
  • It is interesting to note that CAIR has developed a Chess playing Robot as also robots for inspection of components and an intelligent wheel chair for physically challenged persons.
  • CAIR has also developed Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) which can monitor internet traffic. It can analyse voice traffic passing through software such as Skype, Google Talk and intercept messages with key words attack, bomb, blast, kill and other words in real time. A practical tool for intelligence.

There is no doubt that seminal research being done at CAIR would be translated to suitable applications for the Indian Armed Forces. Viewing the strategy of AI for the United States, the field could have numerous applications. These would depend on the level of technology which we can have to make computers and machines analyse and think like soldier and the officer in the Armed Forces. At the level of planning, they can provide multiple options for a plan at the strategic, operational and tactical level. In terms of equipment the UAV exists in the Armed Forces and soon Unmanned (UGV) and unmanned water vehicles would be developed. The robot can perform numerous functions from a sentry to a surgeon in the battle field. Gradually difficult operations like mining, demining, launching of assault bridges, flying across water obstacles and parachute dropped robots with tasks along with Special Forces will be undertaken. Apart from this field logistics will be handled purely by robots.

Currently the Indian Army is closely working with CAIR on its project dealing with Multi Agent Robotics Framework (MARF). The type of Robots includes the Snake, the legged Robot, the Wall Climber and the UGV. Apart from these the Services need to jointly focus on the following

  • Image interpretation for target identification and classification. AI techniques could automate the extraction of low level map features from imagery.
  • Systems for diagnosis and maintenance of sophisticated weapon systems.
  • Missile target range and trajectory analysis for evaluation of kill zones and launch time and simulation to assist in qualifying missile performance in various environments.
  • Enhanced use of robots for anti-Improvised Explosive Device, extraction of personnel, firing of guns and other applications.

The entire process would result in modernisation of various functions thereby enhancing operational efficiency.

Way Ahead   

The Chinese are developing all aspects of AI to enable them to use robotics and autonomous technologies to undertake Swarm attacks by UAVs. They are also contemplating Robots capturing objectives as also holding ground and guarding installations. Further they would be having their Guns, Rockets and Missiles fully Autonomous with a high degree of intelligence interpretation to shoot down enemy aircraft and missiles. The Chinese may share the same with Pakistan and it is a matter of time that our Western adversaries also develop capabilities gradually in this field.

It is of interest to note that the Russian Ministry of Defence in January 2018 reported that its forces in Syria were attacked by a swarm of homemade drones in a coordinated attack at the Khmeimim air base at Tartus in Syria.  The attack was during dusk and the Russian Air Defence had spotted 13 unidentified small size air targets at a significant distance from the military base. It was observed that 10 were approaching the airbase and three the naval facilities. Six of the drones were intercepted by electronic warfare units. Three exploded on contact with the ground and three were made to land outside the base. The remaining seven were eliminated by the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missiles. It is not known who launched these missiles as the same has been denied by all parties. The attack states that the age of drone swarms has arrived and it is an issue that has to be comprehended by all countries.

This event indicates that the Ministry of Defence, DRDO and the three services must address the issue with alacrity and speed. This can be achieved if the Armed Forces press the DRDO and the private sector to look at Artificial Intelligence with a sense of urgency. CAIR by itself would find it difficult and needs the assistance of private sector to ensure that development in this field is expedited. For Artificial Intelligence to produce decisive results there is a need to have a state of the art sensors based on quantum communications. This would ensure that the robots and the autonomous vehicles are controlled with precision and speed.

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