Emerging Technologies Shaping The New Horizon

 -By Ravi Srivastava

(This article has also been featured by a National Magazine on 5th June 2023.)

Innovative Edge

The world has chased new capabilities in warfare since the documented history of conflicts. It’s the innovative edge of unexplored technologies and their imaginative employment in the battle field that have surprised many adversaries. Whether it’s gun powder, nuclear, space, stealth and ever evolving drones each have added a new dynamics to the combat. The advent of mobile warfare has suddenly rendered hithertofore popular dug down trench battles almost useless. The current 4th gen warfare hinges on decentralisation with cutting edge technologies as the backbone for advanced militaries. It also serves as the basic fundamentals for modern day combat. Similar is the case with emerging technologies that are mostly in research stages at present. However, they promises to be disruptive in each of their domain when deployed. Domains like Quantum Technology (QT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics or Internet of Things (IoT) all have massive potential and imaginative employments.

World is currently witnessing unfolding of the second quantum revolution. The first one has made imaging, communication, nuclear power, semiconductors and computing familiar terms in the battlefield. While implementation of laser weapons and stealth fighting are still underway. The new domains will likely bring newer capabilities, enhanced effectiveness, higher precision and almost instant response. The future tech as they are called promises to unleash super capabilities enhancing performances of existing systems manifold. They will push present capacities of sensing, communicating and computing much beyond their current performance limits.

In a true sense the second revolution in QT enables even higher control over individual quantum systems. QT is a marvellous interplay between physics and engineering. The possibility to manipulate atoms, ions, electrons, photons and various molecules will open drastically new opportunities. The technique of manipulating trapped ions serve as bedrock for quantum computing. Quantum bits or qubits forms basic unit of information in quantum computing. The unique no-cloning characteristics of these qubits, suggests that quantum information cannot be copied, allow for imaginative applications. Military utilisation would ensure an entirely ultra secure communications backbone. Capabilities such as these makes military significance of such futuristic domains absolutely unparalleled.

Impressive Tech

The evolutionary technologies like QT, AI, IoT or Robotics are all very dynamic in scope and depth. QT being widely recognised as the most impressive development underway in the 21st century. It encompasses Quantum Computing – for handling newer and faster algorithms; Quantum Simulations – making larger and bigger approximations possible; Quantum Cryptoanalysis – enabling breaking of toughest encryptions a reality; Quantum Machine Learning – for super high performance; Quantum Network – for ultra secure & unbreakable communication; Quantum Clocks – which are likely to be 100 times more precise than atomic clocks; Quantum RF Antenna – transforming an antenna into a chip; Quantum Imaging – to detect even out of the line of sight objects. All these possibilities will eventually form part of Quantum Warfare and appears a total fantasy at the moment.

Seamless connectivity will be another key aspect for exploiting real time analytical data available through QT. Internet of Things or IoT will form essential backbone for such a scenario. The unprecedented growth would be fuelled largely by 5G networks which itself is rolling out at exceptional rate. It is estimated that by 2025 IoT would have spread to 21 billion connected devices an increment of more than 440% since 2016.

Military Robotics or use of robots for military application enables reduced risk to soldiers handling dangerous tasks. The bomb disposal, surveillance in hostile environment and autonomous drones are all robotics in operation. US, China and Russia all have been investing heavily in advanced aerial robots capable of surveillance and rescue operations. Integrated with other cutting-edge technologies it will bring them probably much closer to be machine soldiers equipped and connected with AI & IoT.

Take the case of AI which has steadily adapted as an exciting open platform with excellent output. The US DoD had released it’s first AI plan way back in 2019 leading to development of various systems for military use. In a 2022 DoD paper it was highlighted how a 1000 pound live bomb was dropped based on AI generated grid system, which was just one meter off from surveyed grid. The capacity to rapidly piece together terrain dynamics and build up a reliable grid been made a reality now. To analyse and prioritise emerging targets and manage the allocation of resources for strike missions in real time is enthralling. The massive exercise which otherwise would take hours if not days could now be created just at the required instance. The technology can handle voluminous data and has proved extremely effective in decision making. It has the capability to self-regulate, self-control and self-activate in highly demanding combat situations with almost instantaneous response time.

Reduced Conflict Thresholds?

Historically the advent of new technologies and emergence of conflicts have maintained their hand in hand relation. The most striking event being detonation of little boy and fat man on Japan. It was made possible as Americans had just developed nuclear technology by then, which altered the course of a world war. While it cannot be universalised as a theory but most of the global instants suggest it. This especially holds greater veracity if protagonists are already part of a serious conflicts. What the new technology essentially does is shifts the balance of power or at least this is what the impression exists. With a psychological comfort of being a step ahead comes the desire to also prove it in the battlefield. However, it would be fair enough to say a conflict has multitude of ingredients and one single factor can neither unleash or prevent the same. These new technologies have been ushered mostly by advanced nations, already having other greater means of war waging with them. This factor can be a temporary reassurance but not for long. As any new technology for sure brings the competitors to develop it or it’s counter for themselves. This has been the unmistakable trend so far whether it’s nuclear, space, hypersonic missiles or armed drones.

The greater impact of new technologies has been mostly witnessed by secondary conflict zones. They have also traditionally served as testing ground of new weapons systems by mega powers. Americans deployed their Pioneer drones first in the Iraq war. British brought in their Typhoon fighters to Libya for first live combat. Russians tested their swarm-drone technology first against Ukraine during Crimea conflict in 2014. There are umpteen such examples straddled across war history. The problem begins once the technology originator chooses to advance it’s commercial interest simultaneously. The proliferation of such sensitive technologies and the fear of these landing in the hands of fly by night regimes causes great distress. No surprises that armed with such ultra-modern weapons and technologies the psychological urge to ‘now’ teach a lesson is extremely high. Making the conflict thresholds spiralling down with subsequent violent experimentation!

Volatile Geography

Whether it actually will have anticipated impact or not remains a question only time will answer. However, what is undebatable is the disruption it has caused. The technology is already evolving and rolling out in selective manner by developed militaries. They are greatly competing and with complete seriousness at that. On Feb 17th US has taken an initiative for – “responsible use of AI and autonomous weapons by militaries”. It is a clear indication of threat – uncontrolled exploitation these technologies now pose.

For India, being close to an extremely volatile geographical region, contested by super powers, the challenge grows very acute. The assessment suggests, India needs ways to define it’s requirement, development and deployment of emerging technologies for it’s armed forces. Whether India likes it or not but it is faced with technologically advanced adversary and partners. It will be subjected to unrestricted suppression from all possible domains including Quantum warfare. It has to be prepared for adequate response. It’s inability to respond in kinetic and passive realms may have disastrous consequences on National security. The capability to respond majorly depends upon understanding the technology and its integration in national security architecture. This will also be crucial if Indian armed forces have to coordinate with friendly forces many of them would be better adept with emerging technologies. India will find it very difficult in case it needs to leverage new combat resources available with it’s partners.

Uncertain Future

The emerging technologies on the horizon also brings newer challenges on employment ethics, doctrine and regulatory requirements. All of which non-existent at present and unlikely too in the near future. While we have already gained greater capabilities by engineering tweaks in physics and chemistry the biological parts will likely be the next frontier to breach. Especially in the absence of developmental ethics. It will lead to development towards super human with ultra refined capabilities equivalent to what future machines can do. It will be something of a return compliment. If machines can be configured to mimic humans; ultimately humans too would get ‘configured’ to generate machines matching performances. Early research will be probably seen within the century or even in our life time. DNA mapping and gene alteration are already a reality; the resistance to not let science manipulate human biology will be short circuited with greater concern of not going into a stage where threat of ‘machine takeover’ start to appear a reality. While machines continue to learn from humans with killing impact, it leaves a lesson for humans – that it’s time to learn back from machines!

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