UK's super carrier Queen Elizabeth is one of the most advanced battle vessels in the world

by General Sir Richard Barrons

As well as transforming its Armed Forces to be fit for the Digital Age, India must also establish greater resilience in its daily national life to new forms of intrusion and also build the capability to campaign effectively in the ‘hybrid zone’ as much as the military arena. This is the same dilemma faced by the UK, and provides clear impetus for greater cooperation in finding the winning formulae to beat it.

The collision between Russia and the West over Ukraine is the latest and most vivid episode of a new, dynamic and global geopolitical chapter in which India will play a pivotal role. There are now very significant defence and security challenges to be met, but these also bring fresh opportunities for immense industrial and defence cooperation between the UK and India.

Many of the accepted norms about global defence and security are rapidly eroding, replaced by a far more challenging and dangerous environment. In a closely connected world, the rise of China, the assertiveness of Russia, and the present struggle of western liberal democracies to stand up for their interests all affect how India manages its own security and prosperity. These tensions are being considerably amplified by the growing concurrent perils of the global crises in population growth, climate change, and all the disruption of the Digital Age. India is rising to prominence on the world stage at potentially the most difficult period in the history of mankind.

India will inevitably be a major player in how a new equilibrium in the world order is now established. This involves managing the causes and effects of complex issues, such as mass migration and the galloping competition for scarce resources. It will also certainly involve successfully making fundamental changes in how states confront and conflict, because the Digital Age will transform how we fight just as it is transforming how we live, work and play. This is something India and the UK can beat better together.

Like all states, India will have to construct the modern armed forces it needs through striking a difficult balance of political, economic, social and military factors. Unlike most states, however, India has the scale and rapidly evolving sophistication of military and industrial capability to be at the forefront of how this new capability (equipment, people and ways of operating) is designed, built and operated. At stake is not only India’s future defence and security, but also the potential for major industrial success, export growth and influence.

This is not an argument for abandoning the armed forces that exist today, they still have an important role to play in meeting today’s challenges—particularly where territory is at stake. But today’s military capabilities will become increasingly obsolescent as Digital Age technology provides different weapons and methods. For example, the long-range precision missile is making traditional military platforms like ships, tanks and aircraft increasingly vulnerable, just as the machine-gun defeated cavalry. We are all embarked on a process of change with no prizes for coming second.

Furthermore, the more that India becomes reliant on digital technology to sustain its daily life the greater its vulnerabilities to disruption of its associated critical infrastructure. In fact, as the costs of fighting remains so high, the temptation to employ other levers of power short of military action grows. The so-called “hybrid” or “sub-threshold” confrontation in which politics, diplomacy, trade, information, culture, cyber-attack, social media manipulation and much else are fused to a common, often malign, purpose is now a daily feature of relations between states. So as well as transforming its Armed Forces to be fit for the Digital Age, India must also establish greater resilience in its daily national life to new forms of intrusion and also build the capability to campaign effectively in the “hybrid zone” as much as the military arena. This is exactly the same dilemma faced by the UK, and provides clear impetus for greater cooperation in finding the winning formulae to beat it.

In facing this complex defence challenge, India will retain the great advantage of mass as well as intellectual power. Though some states may try, it is very unlikely to be affordable to buy all the highly exquisite equipment that technology may offer in enough numbers to overcome swarms of large numbers of lower technology yet still modern solutions. We are beginning to see this in the way that cheap drones destroy very sophisticated tanks and attack installations. India is well placed to defeat most opponents in the “economics of war” by harnessing its ability to field large forces with sophisticated, yet affordable modern equipment and then judiciously applying the higher technologies to maximum punitive effect. This is how India covers all the points of threat it sees.

India has the major strategic advantage of a very high calibre technical base, able to develop the most modern technologies and apply them to deterrence and conflict. This means that India’s developing prowess in data, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, cyber war, materials, robotics, and automation etc can be at the heart of globally effective military capability. Tomorrow’s winning Armed Forces will be built on a backbone of information, and operate a dynamic mix of manned, unmanned and autonomous equipment. India is potentially capable of setting the pace in how this transformation occurs and fielding solutions in large numbers.

India has no choice but to pursue this path to transformation if it is to match its potential opponents as they embark aggressively on a parallel course. This is a competition. But in taking this hard road India can also use its defence imperatives as a stimulus to its science and technology base and its manufacturing industry more widely. This means building capability that not only meets the needs of the Indian Armed Forces but also those of many others around the world, including in the West. Interoperability by design means collective security works better, but it also means exports are easier.

The United Kingdom is taking the same journey. The UK has enviable research and development capability and some very sophisticated manufacturing, but it will never have the cost base or scale that India possesses. So there is now the opportunity for highly satisfactory mutual collaboration that supports the security and prosperity interests of both countries. This will span not just the obvious candidates of aerospace, space, shipbuilding and information technology, but also vital supporting activity in logistics, infrastructure, and synthetic training and operating environments. Establishing cooperation in this way will not only promote sharing but also defray costs, increase resilience in supply chains and develop the potential for greater operational and industrial interoperability. Now is the time to talk.

General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE is Co-Chairman of Universal Defence & Security Solutions Ltd based in London