IMPERATIVES FOR TECHNOLOGICAL SOVEREIGNTY FOR A CREDIBLE INDIAN DEFENCE ECOSYSTEM

As is now well accepted, conflicts are fast moving away from being played out in the form of contact warfare to non-contact warfare which includes cyberwarfare, economic warfare, resource war (water, energy etc), social warfare and other such mechanisms of inflicting debilitating loss to adversaries.

In recent times, one has seen one nation state waging “war” against anindividual (as in the case of Wikileaks) by prohibiting Internet payment gateways that were operating under the nation state’s sovereignty, to deny payments/ contributions sent to this individual. Such a move squeezed out the individual’s financial supply, thereby crippling his ability to continue with his activities that were deemed anti-national. Given the fact that most payment mechanisms, especially the Internet and credit/debit card payment gateways are virtually under the control of one single nation state, the same techniques could be used against nations that are perceived to be hostile against the said nation state. Similar examples exist for the other kinds of warfare, highlighted in the previous paragraph.

This article focusses especially on the aspect of what is popularly referred to as cyber warfare, but which may not be necessarily played out solely in the cyber space. A good example, which is also a watershed moment for global cyber warfare, was the cyber-bombing of the nuclear centrifuges of Iran at Natanz, reportedly on around 2010 CE. The “weapon”, a “worm” in the cyber attack parlance, actually was delivered in an offline manner, purportedly traveling through mechanisms such as pen drives, to access the control systems of the Iranian nuclear centrifuges, apparently making the centrifuges to spin faster into selfdestruction, decidedly significantly degrading Iran’s nuclear capability. The control systems of the Iranian nuclear centrifuges were clearly not connected to the Internet, which is why the worm attack cannot technically be called a “cyber attack”.

It is worth observing how the worm, named as Stuxnet, spread. The worm targeted machines having Microsoft operation system. From there, it targeted Siemens Step7 software, which is also based on Windows operating system and is used for controlling industrial control systems, including nuclear centrifuges. Finally, it attacked the PLC’s (Programmable Logic Controllers) that control the behaviour of the machines, in this case the machines being the nuclear centrifuges (ref. http://spectrum. ieee.org/ telecom/security/the-real-story-ofstuxnet).

One would tend to deduce from the above and from the available information from the public domain, that it required multiple nation states, and corporations under their sovereignty, to work together to be able to create such a sophisticated cyber weapon. Also, clearly, the attack was conceived and led by one country that had ‘Technological Sovereignty’ontechnologies owned and created by companies that are operating under the regulatory jurisprudence of other countries. So the lead country need not themselves own the technologies. The lead country merely needs to have ‘Technological Sovereignty’to be able to launch such an audacious attack.Point to note is that the Stuxnet worm is only 500 KB in size and is not widely available to be modified and used for other kinds of attacks.

It is thus clear that Technological Sovereignty is an imperative for achieving a credible defence or even offence setup in a fast emerging scenario where more and more of warfare will be non-contact in nature. An obvious question that this throws up is, where does a nation get the “weapons” and the defence systems for this new kind of warfare? Many of the key technologies for fighting noncontact warfare will not be available in the global “arms” market, and even if they are available, they could be compromised. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to check whether the high technology being provided to Indian armed forces is compromised or not. As an example, a “worm” for cyberwarfare, if at all available in the global “arms” market, will be impossible to check to see if it can potentially damage Indian assets once they are unleashed in cyberspace.

The issue is not just about cyber warfare, but about the whole range of smart technologies, including radars, missile control systems etc. The time tested military strategy of infiltrating adversary command and control structure has morphed into using cyber warfare to infiltrate the adversary’s “intelligent” command and control systems. That is, wherever equipment uses software based intelligence to manage, that intelligence can be compromised by cyber weapons such as worms, viruses and other kinds of malware.

More importantly, imagine the impact on the economy in general, and the defence logistics in particular, if the “.in” Top Level Domain (TLD) is deleted from the Internet root servers. Such a move would cripple the economy and severely restrict the ability of the Indian defence forces to respond to a strategic situation.It would be worthwhile to mention at this stage that India has minimal control, if not no control, over the root servers. In other words, India has no technological sovereignty over the theatre where cyber warfare gets played out.Thus an obvious way forward for India as a nation is to build the ecosystem of technological sovereignty which will strengthen its capability envelope in cyber warfare.

Thiscapability is not restricted to developing a regiment of cyber warriors. It is a uni-dimensional view of the new warfare. It involves a larger play in the key areas of the global technological value chains. That positioning will be the key to having the tools for protecting India’s interests from a strategic perspective. This would pave the way for India to be able to exercise a reasonable level of technological sovereignty. If suchtechnological sovereignty is achieved, it would also have spin off effects on the Indian economy and could significantly contribute to India becoming a leading global economy.

Technology is also something which is zealously protected by each nation so that it can continue to retain its technological and strategic defence edge. The level of technology available has a direct impact on the capabilities of a countries’ armed forces and Indian armed forces are no exception to that. India would find it increasingly difficult to respond to future warfare due to limited availability of the cyber weapons. It is important to note that these weapons are asymmetrical in nature, and smaller nations too can inflict unacceptable and disproportionate damage to a larger and stronger opponent. In that manner, even a high school kid, can inflict unacceptable and disproportionate damage to a nation, using these weapons. The scenario, wherein the adversary is not a matured nation whose foreign policies can be tracked and analysed, but a rogue terrorist group can well be imagined. So how does India get Technological Sovereignty?

A series of annual seminars have been held to discuss this question, under the banner of National Conclave on Technological Sovereignty. In each of the seminars held, progressive knowledge has been gained and way forward discussed and key recommendations accordingly worked out. The seminars have helped formulate implementable institutional mechanisms and have contributed in maturing the thought process for strengthening of the defence procurement process. It is now the right time to formulate the potential process for implementing the said mechanisms, which can be put forth to the government and other stake holders to take the nation forward to the path of achieving technological sovereignty.

India still imports about 70 percent of its defence requirements and is now the largest importer of defence equipment in the world. Imports are primarily in technology intensive fields like avionics, high end metallurgy, ICT based systems etc. Efforts to reduce imports have stuttered and tangible results of our polices to be self-reliant are not forthcoming. Problems remain in organisation structures, policies, lack of defence industrial base etc. Selfreliance, in addition to decreasing our import bill, substantially increases the strategic defence capability of the nation in the new evolving warfare tactics. A well organised defence industrial base with supporting organisation structure will enable India to do ‘Technology Management’ as per our needs and to meet our strategic objectives.To achieve the above in a time bound manner, we need to aggressively work towards establishing an institutional structure and a vibrant defence industrial base.One of the probable institutional structures proposed in these deliberations is asunder :-.

The proposed institutional setup encompasses the spirit of achieving technological sovereignty for the country. The autonomous body, along with expertise from the private sector, should facilitate creation of technologies and conceptualise future warfare scenarios for the Indian military and identify technologies that are required to be acquired or developed, based upon an agreed upon roadmap. It could be incubated under a larger initiative that I would refer to as “National Technology Sovereignty Mission”.

The National Technology Sovereignty Mission will have to utilise‘Technology Management’ as an important facet of its functioning. Technology continues to be seen in a piecemeal manner. To fully exploit the potential of technology and to ensure that one continues to remain technologically superior, ‘Technology Management’ is the way forward which will result in efficient utilisation of scarce funding and resources for getting biggest bang for one’s bucks. Defence technologies being capital intensive, would involve large financial investments with no ‘assured orders’ and a No Commitment No Cost’ (NCNC) approach to trials, which may lead to sunk costs in such projects.The defence procurement procedure and structures therefore must ensure a level playing field between industry, DPSUs and foreign vendors. Procurement processes that are adopted by technologically advanced nations, such as the USA, need to be studied and relevant elements may need to be incorporated into the Indian defence procurement process.

India has a limited state of the art technology defence industrial base. There is an urgent need to fast track the establishment of an industrial base which can support the Armed Forces by providing them cutting edge technologies. Ideas which can be implemented are as above:-

• Economic Zones. On the lines of Special Economic Zones, we need to have Defence Economic Zones with the primary idea of incentivisingindustry to establish such production and manufacturing which are based on research and produce the latest technology systems for the military, in consultation with the armed forces. Having a booming defence industrial base will have spinoff effects on the country’s economy as also increase the country’s GDP.

• Incentivising Research and Development. Defence technology research involves high risks, significant incubation time and high cost infrastructure requirements. To give adequate incentives to genuine ideas and enhance defence technologies proliferation it is essential to evolve a structure akin to DARPA of USA to promote research by academia, industry and think-tanks.

• It is also important to evolve a defence manufacturing policy that promotes larger private sector involvement in high-technology based defence requirements. It may be a good idea to have defence manufacturing policy at the state level also so that states can provide the necessary impetus to defence manufacturing dovetailing into their existing industrial policies. Such a defence manufacturing policy would also contribute significantly to job creation at the state level.

In conclusion, it is urgent and imperative to arrive at workable recommendations based on issues discussed in this paper, and all the more important to convert them into reality in order to ensure that the Indian Military continues to be a fighting force to reckon with. Since the nature of warfare is rapidly changing, it is absolutely critical that the above proposed institutional framework for collaboration between the Indian military, Indian industry, non-Indian vendors, funding bodies, academia and think tanks is brought into existence as soon as possible.In the meantime, it is important to rationalise the procurement process in order to strengthen the Indian defence industry and to ensure that the Indian defence industry invests for the long-term into the technologies that are required by the Indian military.

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