Future Tech

Shoring up Indian Army’s indigenous capability to develop futuristic technologies

Atul Chandra

The Indian Army is increasing induction of cutting-edge technologies for various purposes as part of its modernisation plans. This has been necessitated by the sea change taking place in warfare due to the emergence of new domains and disruptive technologies, compelling the Indian Army to reorganize and re-structure to fight future wars.

Former COAS General MM Naravane at the Army’s Quantum Laboratory in MHOW

The army top brass is now seized of the need to induct emerging and disruptive technologies, if the manpower intensive service is to transform itself to meet future security challenges. The army is already investing heavily into Artificial Intelligence (AI), Autonomous Weapon Systems, Quantum Technologies, Robotics, Cloud Computing and Algorithm Warfare in order to achieve convergence between its war fighting philosophies and military attributes of these technologies.

The army is now participating in a wide array of technology initiatives in coordination with start-ups, MSMEs, Private Sector, Academia, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs). In December 2020, the army along with support from the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM), conducted an outreach webinar for start-ups in emerging technologies. 89 start-ups pitched their proposals focused on the field of Drones, Counter Drones, Robotics, Autonomous Systems, AI, Quantum computing, Block chain technology, 3D printing, Nanotechnology and Medical applications. The webinars organised by the Army Design Bureau (ADB) resulted in 13 proposals being short listed for assessment of their viability and applicability for military use.


Looking Ahead

To study the whole gamut of issues on the implications of AI on national security and defence needs, a multi-stakeholder Task Force on Strategic Implementation of AI for National Security and Defence was constituted in February 2018. The task force has representation from government, defence services, academia, industry professionals, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs), National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and start-ups.

In January 2019, the ministry of defence (MoD) announced that the Task Force had outlined the way forward for adoption of AI in defence sector including future roadmap on how to integrate and embed AI strategy with core defence strategy. The MoD also stated that the DPSUs and ordnance factories have been assigned a roadmap for developing AI enabled products. AI based tools would aid the Indian armed forces in areas such as decision support, sensor data analysis, predictive maintenance, situational awareness, accurate data extraction, security etc.

The Indian Army is making steady and significant strides in the field of emerging technology domains. The army, with support from the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) has recently established the Quantum Lab at Military College of Telecommunication Engineering, Mhow (MP) MCTE to spearhead research and training in this key developing field. Gen MM Naravane, the Chief of Army Staff was briefed on the facility during his recent visit to Mhow.

In December 2021, the army announced the establishment of a Quantum Laboratory at Mhow, alongside an existing Artificial Intelligence (AI) Centre at the same institution. According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), ‘training on cyber warfare is being imparted through a state of art cyber range, and cyber security labs.’ Research undertaken by Indian Army in the field of Quantum Technology will help it leapfrog into next generation communication and transform the current system of cryptography in the armed forces to Post Quantum Cryptography (PQC). Key thrust areas are Quantum Key Distribution, Quantum Communication, Quantum Computing and Post Quantum Cryptography. Ideation for the army’s involvement in Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations took place at a seminar on Electromagnetic Spectrum and National Security organised in October 2020, following which the army’s technology institutions received an impetus to invest in AI, Quantum and Cyber.


Future Tech at DRDO

Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) is one of the key DRDO laboratories and has excelled in design and development of cutting-edge technologies in the domains of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Command and Control, Networking, Information and Communication Security leading to development of mission critical products for secure Command and Control (C2).

CAIR has developed several C2 systems, Command Control and Communication (C3) Systems and Tactical Command Control Communication and Intelligence (Tac C3I) Systems for various users in the armed forces. Some of these systems include the Artillery Command Control and Communication System (ACCCS), Battlefield Management System (BMS) and Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS). To support these systems with terrain information, CAIR has developed the Indigenous Geographic Information System (INDIGIS).

CAIR received project sanction for INDIGIS in 2007, which was later installed in Indian Army and Indian Navy formations for several years during which user feedback was obtained on its operational utility. According to the DRDO, some of the unique functions developed for INDIGIS between 2012 – 2015 were found very useful by the army and navy during field exercises. The first Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement of INDIGIS technology was taken in 2018 by Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL), Bangalore on a non-exclusive basis.

The Army places emphasis on indigenous advanced defence technologies; future battlefield will witness greater use of unmanned and robotic systems

According to DRDO, BEL has gone on to successfully integrate this technology in 17 existing Indian military systems and exported this technology to the Armenian military as part of Weapons Locating Radar (WLR) system. The INDIGIS technology is also an important part of a geospatial visualisation software being developed by CAIR for ‘Project Dharastra’ of the Defence Geoinformatics Research Establishment (DGRE), Chandigarh. Dharastra is a flagship on-going project of DGRE for study and analysis of geographic data pertaining to strategic locations in the Tibetan regions.

CAIR also initiated a project in January 2019 to develop AI-based solutions for Signal Intelligence to help to enhance intelligence, collation and analysis capabilities for the armed forces. The budget for the programme was Rs73.9 crore. The AI-based tools used in the development of the project will help the defence forces constructively in areas such as decision support, sensor data analysis, predictive maintenance, situational awareness, accurate data extraction, and security. Initial work has also been undertaken on a project named ‘Energy Harvesting Based Infrared Sensor Network for Automated Human Intrusion Detection (EYESIRa)’. With a cost of Rs.1.8 crore, the EYESIRa project is partially based on the principles of IoT.


Robotic Endeavour

Numerous programmes are under-way to deliver robotic devices to the Indian armed forces and most successful and visible of these are robots for scout and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection. The army is also driving the growth of the defence robotics sector in the country by assisting in the development of indigenously built defence robots. The demonstration of drone swarms at the Army Day Parade in January last year was an indicator that the service is fast-tracking the induction of technologies related to offensive drone operations and AI.

Torus Robotics, a Tamil Nadu based start-up is working on UGVs, robotics and indigenous & disruptive power-train technologies. The company entered into an MOU with Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) at Aero India 2021 for development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) based UGVs. Torus has already delivered a fully electric one tonne UGV fitted with a six Degrees of Freedom (DOF) robotic arm for detection, identification and disposal of explosive ordnance and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Another firm Combat Robotics, which is also from Tamil Nadu, has also been selected by the army for development of a smart spherical throwable robot. Development of a prototype that features AI-based vision with a thermal feed and two-way communication is now under-way.

DRDO has been working on robots for military purposes for nearly three decades now. Development of the Daksh remotely operated vehicle began in the early 2000s and deliveries to the army commenced in 2011. Daksh is used to remotely handle Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and can operate continuously on a single charge for three hours. The ROV can be controlled either by fibre optic communication over 100m distance or can be controlled by wireless communication over 500m line of sight. Production of Daksh is undertaken by BEL.

DRDO has also developed the Daksh Mini, which is a battery operated tracked vehicle with a telescopic arm fitted with a manipulator arm offering multiple degrees of freedom. It is capable of extracting suspected objects with telescopic manipulator arm. The Daksh Scout is another variant and is fitted with several cameras mounted on the platform for real time viewing in front, to the rear or on either side. Also developed by DRDO is the Unexploded Ordnance Handling Robot (UXOR) which can handle, diffuse and detect Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) i.e., bombs and missiles up to 1,000 kg remotely from two km under Line of Sight (LOS) conditions. It is powered by an IC engine and has an endurance of six hours. The IAF is said to be in the process of acquiring these systems. BEL has also been working with the Central Research Laboratory (CRL) to design and develop robots since late 2018.





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