by Maj Gen PK Chakravorty (Retd)

Combat capabilities of armed forces are today getting more and more defined by the ability to absorb technology and apply such products to create an environment where their kinetic means enjoy an advantage. Artificial Intelligence applications have an enlarging role in the battlefield, both for operational and logistics functions. The article outlines its possible usage and identifies measures required to be instituted to enhance the application of AI in our armed forces.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has impacted the world with numerous applications which are affecting numerous spheres allowing openings in various fields of the scientific environment. There are many definitions, a simple one is, “AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. The term also may be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with a human mind such as learning and problem-solving.”

A few areas where current research in AI has brought new products are smartphones, unmanned aerial systems (commonly referred to as Drones), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), unmanned ships, under water vehicles, audio printing, usage of robots in restaurants, hotels, schools, gas stations and the armed forces. The remote of the television screen is also an AI device that is universally used by all viewers.

Current Perspective

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has a specialised laboratory, Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) with about 150 scientists which focus on AI Robotics, Control Systems, Command Control Communications and Intelligence (C3I), Networking and Communications Secrecy. They have produced a family of robots for surveillance and reconnaissance applications. The robot has been named RoboSen a mobile robot for reconnaissance and surveillance. Further, a miniaturised man-portable UGV for low-intensity conflicts, a wall climbing flapping-wing robot and a walking robot with four and six legs for logistics support. They have also developed robots with cognitive capabilities which can play Chess and inspect the serviceability of components. Further, intelligent wheelchairs have been developed for physically challenged persons. CAIR has also developed a NetWork Traffic Analysis (NETRA) which can monitor internet traffic. This device can intercept keywords such as bomb blast, kill and other designated words in real-time.

AI has also been focused upon by the Union Government and in this context, a report was submitted by N Chandrasekaran, Chairman Tata Sons, in 2018 to the Ministry of Defence. Based on the recommendations of a Task Force, the Department of Defence Production issued a Government Order on 8 February 2019 that listed the following:

Defence AI Council (DAIC) was constituted with Defence Minister as Chairman. It included the three Service Chiefs, the Secretary of Defence; Defence Production; DRDO, Financial Adviser Defence Services, National Cyber Security Coordinator and eminent representatives from industry and academia. The Council would meet twice a year to provide strategic direction towards AI-driven transformation in defence, provide guidance in addressing issues related to data sharing; enable strategic partnership with industry, decide acquisitions of technology; review ethical, safe and privacy assured usage of AI in defence. Further, evolve policies in partnership with government institution and industries

A Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA) will also be established with Secretary Defence Production as the Chairman. The other members will be from the Service Headquarters, Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff, Defence Public Sector units, DRDO, industry and academia

Each Service Headquarters has been directed to earmark Rs 100 crores for AI-specific application development for the next five years

The Indian Navy has taken the lead and has divided AI usage into short, medium and long term goals for implementation

The Indian Army during Army Day in 2021 demonstrated a Swarm Attack by drones on multiple targets. Further efforts are being made to directly translate spoken Mandarin to English

In a recent webinar held at Vivekananda International Foundation, the Chief of Defence Staff spoke of the usage of AI for predictive maintenance of equipment in the Indian Army

China And AI

China is investing heavily in AI with an aggressive push in the military domain. It exports armed autonomous platforms to numerous countries mainly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. China has been experimenting and developing UGVs, UAVs, AI-enabled satellites, UUVs and unmanned ground warfare platforms. They have converted T-59 tanks into unmanned platforms. They are using their UUVs in the South China Sea.

China has moved AI into new domains of space warfare and information warfare using a plethora of devices. They have developed satellites with AI, having the capability to destroy satellites and other missiles in outer space. China has left no stone unturned to fine-tune its missiles to attain ‘Fire and Forget’ capabilities as also if the need arises, change targets in flight. The country is making great strides in the employment of UAV Swarms. They have often demonstrated more than 1000 drones moving in a synchronised manner to undertake a variety of tasks. It is amazing to watch the enthusiasm with which China is going ahead with this aspect and in all probability is assisting Pakistan to attain this capability.

There is no doubt that no country in the world is focusing on AI as much as China. In terms of finance, China spends nine times higher than India on AI. It has seven times more manpower than India in the AI domain. Further, its robot density surpassed the world average in 2017 and 2018. The focus is gradually being upgraded to the cognitive domain for the usage of AI in Command Control Communications Computers Information Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4 I2SR). China is using AI in the cyber domain and undertaking numerous cyber developments in ‘Offensive and Defensive Operations’.

As one can assess in terms of military applications of AI currently, China is only second to the United States. A comparative estimate of ratios of end-user industrial robots in various countries reflects that China has 154 end-user robots vis-à-vis 55 in Japan, 40 of the USA and 4 in India. The day is not far when combat robots will be participating in logistics and thereafter in operations. We have to traverse a long way to stand up to China’s challenge.

Way Ahead

Albert Einstein had stated, “Imagination is more important than Knowledge”. The Indian Navy and Indian Air Force are focusing on UUVs, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. The Indian Army must focus on a few issues which are as elucidated:

Image interpretation for target identification and classification
System for diagnosis and maintenance of sophisticated weapon systems
Analysis of trajectory of missiles
Use of robots for anti-Improved Explosive Device and firing of weapons
Logistics applications particularly in High Altitude Terrain

In the current grey zone warfare scenario, where troops are operating in small teams, it would be important to apply AI as listed below:

Gathering of real-time intelligence by use of satellites and UAS
Devices to detect sensors, mines and booby traps
Use of loitering munitions which can be used for surveillance and target engagement
Gradually move into the field of combat robots, who can act as buddies and thereafter with the greater improvement of cognitive abilities be able to act as pathfinders, navigators and possibly undertake kinetic strikes

The moot point is how do we achieve it? We need a Task Force which operates directly with the Chief of Defence Staff and DRDO in conjunction with the Private Sector who would help us to achieve our targets.


AI would be intensively used in future conflicts. China is straining every sinew to applying AI in defence to become a world power. It’s likely to assist Pakistan in improving its AI capability. Comparatively, our armed forces are in a nascent stage in terms of AI technology application is concerned. We need to accelerate and the only way to do it is through a link up with the private sector. There are no other options but shifting gears and enhancing the pace to match China and Pakistan in the battle space.