Silicon Soldiers: The New Frontier of Modern Warfare with AI

In the evolving landscape of warfare, it’s important to understand the changes as we move from old-fashioned to more modern methods. Traditional military ideas used to think that when facing four options, enemies would always pick a fifth. But now, things are different. Enemies have more choices than before. This shift is what we call “New Wars,” showing how conflicts have changed because of things like globalisation, more guns around, and weaker governments. This complex situation means we’re moving away from old ways of fighting to newer, less expected methods.

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) in warfare, we’re seeing big changes. The places where wars happen are changing. We’re not just fighting in regular places anymore; we’re fighting in new, unexpected places. Even though fewer people are getting hurt, the damage is still more than we expect. Advanced technologies like AI, robots, computers, and space stuff are making it easier to fight in more places. This makes it harder for countries to defend themselves, especially from groups that aren’t part of any government.

AI is not just for smart tasks like making poems anymore. Computers have been used in wars since the 1940s. In World War II, computers helped us decode secret messages and make important decisions. Nowadays, computers are even better. They can help us with lots of things, like figuring out where to aim weapons and planning battles.

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 showed that smarter technology could help armies a lot. Computers made it easier for them to move around, talk to each other, gather information, and train better. As technology gets better, it brings new challenges. For example, there might be robots controlled by AI that can hurt people. There’s also the risk of cyber-attacks, like making fake videos and spreading lies.

As AI becomes more common in wars, we have to think about what’s right and fair. Even though AI isn’t the main thing in wars right now, it’s still used for things like spreading lies and analysing data. We need to keep an eye on how different countries use these technologies. The use of AI like “the Gospel” shows that countries are getting better at finding targets. But it also shows that there are hard problems when it comes to using AI in wars.

Recent intelligence reports from media sources reveal that Israel has implemented an AI platform named “the Gospel.” This platform, often referred to as a “mass assassination factory,” streamlines target identification by prioritising quantity over quality, reportedly identifying a remarkable 100 targets per day during the 2021 conflict with Hamas. Despite Israel’s assertion of its right to self-defence, concerns persist regarding the potential collateral impact on civilian populations. As the prevalence of AI tools continues to rise in warfare, there is heightened scrutiny on the ethical and humanitarian implications. Essentially, the deployment of “the Gospel” represents a significant advancement in Israel’s targeting capabilities, yet it also underscores the intricate challenges posed by AI in military operations.

Despite the abundance of publicly available information on AI-driven modern warfare, it appears that we have not reached a stage where fully autonomous systems can select targets independently and operate in swarms. Nevertheless, progress toward this goal is ongoing g, with new systems, tactics, and procedures being tested worldwide on a daily basis. AI warfare encompasses three primary components: simulation, target identification, and robotics, all of which are interconnected by a shared element—software coding.

India’s journey towards AI

General Manoj Pande of the Indian Army has officially designated 2023 as the year of information transfer, marking a strategic focus on the exchange and dissemination of crucial knowledge within the military framework. Furthermore, he has underscored 2024 as the year of technological absorption and self-reliance, highlighting the imperative for India to harness its existing knowledge and capabilities effectively.

Pande asserts that India possesses the requisite technological prowess and expertise necessary for achieving self-reliance in the fields of AI and technology. He emphasises the critical need for comprehensive utilisation of these capabilities to ensure efficient absorption of advanced technologies into the military infrastructure.

Experts in the field acknowledge the significant strides made by India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in pursuing self-reliance in AI and technology, especially when compared to the progress achieved in 2012. Notable advancements and robust growth in the defence manufacturing sector serve as tangible indicators of India’s proactive approach to reducing dependency on imports for diverse capability development requirements. This strategic shift aligns closely with the Indian Army’s vision for future readiness, emphasising indigenous innovation and technological self-sufficiency as key pillars of national defence strategy.

The government has taken various steps to enhance indigenous capabilities, including simplifying licensing processes to encourage greater involvement of the private sector, establishing defence corridors to facilitate policy implementation and create a favourable market for domestic defence manufacturers, allocating dedicated budgets for research and development, providing incentives for technology transfer, granting financial autonomy, and corporatizing ordnance factories.

To maximise resource and technology utilisation, several initiatives have been launched, such as setting up centres of excellence in technical institutes for areas like 5G, AI, and Quantum Laboratories, in collaboration with institutions like IIT Madras. Leveraging indigenous space assets, particularly in satellite communication networks, has been prioritised. Additionally, a new FDI policy in the space sector has been approved, liberalising investment thresholds and encouraging private industry participation in satellite development and launch systems. Regional technology hubs in Pune and Bangalore aim to bridge the gap between the defence industry, startups, MSMEs, and academia, while Indian army cells have been established in prestigious institutes like IIT Delhi and IIT Kanpur, with plans for expansion to other top-tier institutions.

There is also a strong focus on partnership and production initiatives, including conducting trials, providing testing and certification assistance, offering in-service equipment for research and development, facilitating exports through granting NOCs, and promoting the defence industry in friendly foreign nations through military diplomacy and exercises. Significant investments have been made in research processes and advanced manufacturing technologies, leading to the production of cutting-edge military hardware by approximately 350 industry players. It is projected that around 230 contracts will be fulfilled by 2025, with 45 niche technologies identified for military applications. Currently, 120 indigenous projects are underway to develop and integrate these niche technologies. Over the past two financial years, a balance has been maintained in the inventory between vintage, current, and state-of-the-art equipment. By 2030, there are plans to significantly increase the ratio of state-of-the-art equipment through focused capability development efforts.

Fostering Global Collaboration and Sustaining Alliances

The rapid advancement of warfare alongside the development of AI has raised global concerns about the emergence of an uncontrollable and potent force. As AI progresses, it stands poised to fundamentally reshape various aspects of human existence. This transformative potential evokes a blend of fascination and apprehension, as our understanding of AI’s capabilities remains incomplete. Essentially, we are constructing complex systems without fully comprehending the underlying science, leaving us vulnerable to exploitation of human vulnerabilities. The challenge of discerning reality from fabrication looms large amidst AI’s swift evolution.

In addressing AI warfare, insights gleaned from historical and contemporary conflicts worldwide suggest that solutions must stem from two primary sources: self-reliance and enhanced international cooperation. It is critical to recognize that a nation’s security cannot solely rely on others or external assistance. We must strive for self-sufficiency in meeting our defence requirements, including the procurement and maintenance of armaments, and prioritise autonomy in critical technologies to safeguard our nation’s interests.

Global cooperation is paramount for success in AI warfare, given the complexity and resource demands of AI research. Progress in AI innovation hinges on access to extensive high-quality data, significant computing power, specialised expertise, and skilled personnel. Cross-border collaboration and partnerships can streamline this process and prevent unnecessary duplication of investments, potentially leading to subpar AI outcomes.

Countries have already begun employing AI and drones to target military assets, personnel, and even unarmed civilians, necessitating the establishment of regulatory frameworks and standards. Effective collaboration between international AI experts and governments is crucial in developing comprehensive policies to address these challenges and ensure responsible usage.

Partnership and production initiatives allow companies developing AI solutions to share expertise with friendly foreign nations, often through military exercises conducted for diplomatic purposes. Government cooperation in granting necessary permissions for such initiatives further enhances collaboration.

Given the significant risks associated with unchecked AI usage, particularly in areas like data sharing and cybersecurity, no nation can navigate the AI landscape independently. Collaboration among like-minded nations is imperative to effectively address these challenges and ensure responsible AI application in tackling global defence issues such as the proliferation of autonomous weapons systems.

Enhanced collaboration would be beneficial across various critical areas when addressing AI solutions in diverse sectors. These areas include regulatory policies, standardisation efforts, and joint research and development initiatives.

Cooperation on regulatory policies

The rapid acceleration of AI technology development necessitates immediate action to avoid worsening potential consequences. Presently, regulatory frameworks for AI are inadequate and incomplete. Proactive and focused international collaboration can aid in aligning AI policies and regulations.

Cooperation on AI standards

There are numerous factors to contemplate, such as ensuring the coherence of AI systems developed by diverse nations for seamless collaboration, deterring arms races in AI technology through the promotion of transparency, trust, and predictability among nations, and establishing accountability via clear rules and obligations for the development, deployment, and utilisation in warfare. In essence, international collaboration on AI standards in warfare is essential for fostering stability, security, and responsible application within the global community.

Cooperation on joint research and development

Engaging in international joint research and development endeavours for AI in warfare is imperative to combine resources, exchange expertise, and stimulate innovation in confronting shared obstacles. Through collaboration, nations can expedite technological progress, guarantee the interoperability of AI systems, and advocate for the responsible and ethical deployment in military endeavours. Furthermore, joint initiatives foster trust and transparency among nations, mitigating the likelihood of misunderstandings or conflicts arising from disparities in AI capabilities.

Pioneering India’s AI Journey: Readiness and Potential

Artificial intelligence epitomises a double-edged sword in the realm of international relations: while it offers promising advancements across various sectors, its potential for misuse raises grave concerns. A prime example is the development of autonomous weapons integrated with AI capabilities, now deployed in combat settings for offensive purposes. This reality transcends the realm of speculation, emphasising the pressing need to prevent widespread misuse. India emerges as a pivotal actor poised to make significant contributions in addressing these challenges.

With an expanding economy, strategic geographical location, and dynamic foreign policy under current leadership, India has garnered global recognition. Despite its non-alignment with major military alliances, India maintains strategic and military ties with influential nations, positioning itself advantageously as a potential leader in AI-powered defence within the international arena.

To solidify its position in AI warfare, India capitalises on several geopolitical advantages:

  • Abundant Talent Pool: Endowed with a vast talent pool in engineering and computer science, India serves as a hub for AI research and development in defence, providing fertile ground for testing AI-driven defence systems.
  • Emphasis on Innovation: Initiatives such as “AI in Defense,” “Make in India,” and “Buy IDDM” underscore India’s commitment to nurturing indigenous AI solutions. Supported by strategic measures like establishing centres of excellence in technical institutes and fostering regional technology hubs in cities like Pune and Bangalore, India underscores its dedication to fostering innovation in AI technology.
  • International Collaboration: India’s tradition of non-alignment facilitates partnerships with a diverse array of countries for AI development. This collaborative approach facilitates the exchange of knowledge, resources, and best practices in AI warfare, thereby fostering global cooperation and interoperability in AI technology.

In summary, India’s concerted efforts to leverage its geopolitical advantages, coupled with its commitment to innovation and international collaboration in AI technology, position it as a key player in shaping the future of AI-powered defence within the realm of international relations.

[Image by Sujin Soman from Pixabay]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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