India is trying to incorporate AI into its defence capabilities in an attempt to compete with China and deter Pakistan, but this approach has its risks. AI, quantum tech and US-India cooperation could push Pakistan to expand its deterrence, and new tech could make pre-emptive strikes more appealing

by Zohaib Altaf (Pok based Journalist)

India and the United States are launching a series of ambitious technological initiatives. Both countries are strengthening their partnerships in space and emerging technologies through these initiatives.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval met in Washington to discuss quantum technology, artificial intelligence, 5G technology and semiconductors. They also developed a mechanism for joint weapon production.

The Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology is the latest move by the US to counter China in emerging technologies. However, this collaboration is going to have a long-lasting impact on the strategic stability of the Global South.

On the one hand, it will help India maintain strategic stability with China; on the other, with Pakistan, these initiatives increase the risk of accidents and miscalculations between two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Quantum technology is at an early stage of development, but it can have far-reaching consequences for defence. Quantum computers could potentially make current encryption useless, while quantum sensors could disrupt an army’s second-strike capability. In 2021, the Indian Army announced the establishment of a quantum laboratory at the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering to develop secure communication.

Artificial intelligence is another area where India and the US can cooperate on a technology that has the potential to reshape strategic stability in the region. AI is a dual-use technology which could benefit India but whose application in the military domain could have great impact.

AI can help militaries do a better job at what they are already doing. In a kinetic warfare system, automated network platforms can help attack enemy positions through quick, coordinated manoeuvring and firepower. AI can also increase support systems in intelligence, logistics and force posture, though the incorporation of AI poses many risks and challenges.

India has been making efforts to work AI into its military capabilities. The Indian defence establishment now has the Defence Artificial Intelligence Council to provide the necessary guidance on AI matters. According to an article in The Sunday Guardian, various arms of the Ministry of Defence are using or are in the final stages of using 75 AI-based technologies.

These technologies include storm drones, drone feed analysis, seeker monitoring and analysis systems, Mandarin translators, a motion and object detection system and a vehicle tracking system.

In July last year, a government press release declared some of the areas in which it was developing AI-based weapons. They include autonomous uncrewed robotic systems, blockchain-based automation systems, command, control and communication and lethal autonomous weapon systems.

Earlier last year, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said 25 defence-specific AI products would be developed by 2024. Individual services are also building their AI-based projects. For example, the Indian Navy is working on 30 AI-based systems and establishing an AI centre of excellence with a modern AI lab and big data analysis.

Meanwhile, the government announced last August the finalisation of an AI road map, a part of which will include AI being tested for uncrewed aircraft and vehicles.

Collaborating with the US will help India compete with China, which is well ahead of India in terms of emerging technologies. However, it would increase strategic instability in South Asia – particularly towards Pakistan, which would be driven to take steps to maintain stability through deterrence. This could raise the risk of nuclear accidents.

Adopting AI is an essential part of reducing decision-making time in early warning systems. The temptation to make pre-emptive strikes could increase as a result, and this is a serious concern because India is increasing its nuclear counterforce options. Quantum sensors could also increase the risk of pre-emptive strikes since their ability to detect submarines and other underground structures makes second strikes more difficult.

Remember that both US and Soviet early warning systems mistakenly reported nuclear launches during the Cold War. AI can be trained using simulated data, but the consequences of getting things wrong while dealing with nuclear weapons is much more severe than in other domains. Incorporating AI and other emerging technologies could increase the risk of nuclear miscalculation.