Technology is all pervasive in the lives of soldiers today. Technology is utilized to provide the soldier a force multiplier in his combat role, in multiple situations. American soldiers in Afghanistan, work in concert with satellites, UAVs and guided missiles. What would have happened if American forces landed in Sri Lanka, with the minimum technology support, like the IPKF had when it landed there in 1987? Therefore, one needs to assess how technology has transformed the role and functions of, not only of the soldier, but all those in uniform who serve to protect the nation’s security.
Technology provides the individual soldier his needs in terms of communications, survivability, firepower, and the like. Technology also helps in the larger combat zone, connecting one soldier to the other, providing logistic and fire support and so on. If one were to view the US combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are several potential reasons for India to re-look its strategies. Futuristic US requirements visualize them looking at robots doing the fighting instead of humans. True, this will cut down the risk of wasting lives, but as Iraq has demonstrated, at the end of the day, particularly in counter-insurgency operations, the human mind is still what makes the difference. In addition, too much technology assisted information does not help the soldier, it only adds to the fog of war.
In the Indian case, the history of technology inputs to make the soldier more combat efficient has been mired in delays in weapons and systems acquisitions. While our research labs produce material of use, there is little manufacturer-user interface, making it difficult to introduce new systems as soon as they are available in the lab or soon thereafter.
Technology did not really reach the Indian soldier for a long time after independence in 1947, till the early 1970s. Whether in terms of providing better communications, firepower or other technological inputs the situation did not change much. It was only in the 1990s, with the US easing up a little on weapons exports that the soldier got systems like Weapon Locating Radar and EW systems. Meanwhile, the Indian Army put into place their indigenously developed internal communication system. Therefore, it is not as though we were completely dependent on foreign suppliers for our technology needs. But the time gap between identification of suitable technology for the forces and its actual acquisition and induction remained and still remains till date.
Similarly, in the case of India’s paramilitary forces, which are mainly geared for internal security duties, the challenge is to acquire technology for their varied tasks and operating environment. For instance, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police has a specific operational area to look after. Technology acquisition has to be based on the terrain in which the force is operating and on the basis of the requirement of the foot soldier who lives in that region. In this sense, each force that is tasked with a certain aspect of internal security would need technology up gradation on this basis. Just as there is a Perspective Plan for the Indian Army for 2017, India needs a Perspective Plan for the security forces that will force multiply their capabilities and capacities.
In the case of the armed forces, netcentricity is a given, without which the battle will be lost, even before it begins. This will ensure connectivity amongst soldiers and enhance the use of smart weapons technology. In addition, it is proposed that Space-based Information, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities (ISR) will be introduced as well as UAVs, helicopters and particularly night-fighting capabilities. It is assessed that national security is going to require a concerted effort to get everyone on board.
Change does not have to be technology driven, but has to start simple, from things like uniforms. Battle clothing for the three services and PMF have to be combat survivable in their respective operating conditions and therefore, should be capable of carrying items for individual support and need.
The evolution of technology acquisition in the Indian system, have been dictated more by politics, than by necessity. This means that the soldier engages in combat from a position of disadvantage. For instance, if snipers did not have night-vision devices then the entire purpose of training soldiers to perform such a task is wasted. Similarly, technology in the sphere of cyber warfare is very useful and sections of our defence establishment are extremely competent at it. The moot point is how to integrate this capability with strategic battlefield capacities, obtaining at present and for the future.
The challenge before India is to evolve with the times and in tune with the changing threat scenario. Technology acquisition unfortunately follows the reverse route. What we need to do is to take into account requirements based on net assessment of threats to the soldier, individually and the armed forces in general. Technologies for the future will be driven by your requirements today. If we can define the parameters now, then it makes sense.
It makes sense to prepare for mountain warfare now. History shows that this has been the frontier since 1962 and yet we are still focusing on technology acquisitions, with an eye on Pakistan. The idea of creating a Mountain Strike Corps has emerged from this thought process, but its 2013 announcement suggests that it will take another 5-7 years for things to actually be placed on the ground. The Kargil conflict in 1999 is illustrative of the challenges of mountain warfare and yet it has taken us more than a decade to move forward! Every aspect of that conflict, from aerial surveillance systems to possession of light weight artillery guns with built in locating radars, reminds us of the need to think ahead.
One must take into account that technology moves ahead very fast and therefore anticipating the future is very important. One methodology could be a ‘system of systems’ approach. That way scarce resources can be optimally utilized to acquire technology configured to deal with ‘network-centric warfare.’ Another approach could be threat and systems approach. Realism warns us that India cannot leap-frog to a higher defence technology trajectory. It is going to take time and moving from a low technology base to a higher level requires a lot of hard work, in indigenous R&D, manufacturing, capacity building and learning to make the best of technology acquired from abroad. This will require balancing immediate requirements with long-term needs is the need of the hour. Such a paradigm shift will need unstinting political support backed by advice from professionals who can provide clarity on acquisitions in the given scenario and not aim at the stars, when funding is always a problem.
Nations all over the world are attempting to bridge the gap between the present and the future in combat systems. Technology plays a crucial role in their plans. The idea is to integrate human capacities with technology. That should be the aim for India too. The issue is how to adapt such technology to the Indian genius. If we can bridge that gap then the Indian soldier/para-military man will be able make his mark in the battlefield of future.
The author is an eminent security