Digitalisation of Armed Forces

Sub Title : Digitalisation is an imperative to improve operational readiness and combat efficiency

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 6 Jan/Feb 2020

Author : Brig P Binuraj (Retd)

Page No. : 19

Category : Military Technology

: January 28, 2020

Digitalisation is an imperative to improve operational readiness and combat efficiency. Military and commercial organisations in the defence sector, will therefore have to keep pace with the digital curve and put in place optimal  solutions, which  provide the Indian Armed Forces with the requisite capacity in the field. This calls for a concerted and focussed effort by all stake holders

“The rise of digital platforms is empowering the military, enabling better continuity of operations and bringing armed forces to a new level of combat readiness,”  –Alix Leboulanger


In the dynamic world where we are living today, speed is of essence and transformation is the key to success. Digital technologies have a profound impact on every spectrum of our lives and consequently the current era is rightly referred to as the “digital age”. The process of digitalisation started some five decades back with the advent of computing technologies and digital electronics. Digitalisation is essentially a tool of transformation which extends beyond our lifestyle to the way we transact, interact and conduct operations or businesses.

Today’s emerging strategic environment and operational challenges necessitate the country to develop more responsive and mobile forces while maintaining the lethality intact to fight and win our nation’s wars. The commitment to creating a digitalised force elicits some key questions about how the Military will make the transition from an analog force in the face of rapidly changing technology while maintaining the capability to meet key strategic and operational challenges. As network-centric warfare gains centre stage, the armed forces are shifting power away from an industrial-age focus on mass toward access and flow of information as an essential element of combat power. The business world has capitalized on new opportunities which emerged from digital communications, including dramatic information-sharing within established networks with real-time collaboration. The defence forces seek to infuse these same qualities in their units in order to conduct rapid, decisive operations at the operational and tactical levels by using digital “information technologies to acquire, exchange, and employ timely information throughout the battlespace.”

What is Digitalisation?

Digitalisation implies that digital technologies such as Cloud Computing, Big Data, Data Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and Blockchain are gradually leveraged as change enablers. The deployment of digital technologies improves legacy processes and enhances operation and mission efficiencies, which, in turn, enable faster decision making and better situational awareness. The application of digital technologies into traditional physical applications, such as manufacturing, operations, human resources and product life cycle management enables digital transformation. Digital technologies are perceived as key enablers to adapt to changes, facilitating more efficient operations, and increased outputs.

Digitalisation in Defence

The evolution of modern technologies in the fields of communications, remote sensors, computers, data analytics and networking has transformed the fundamentals of the modern-day battlefield environment and the way wars are fought. Digitalisation provides real time battle picture, better command and control besides orchestration of fire from widely disbursed weapon platforms with high degree of precision. Integrated Joint Operations are the norm of today’s war fighting and with technical interoperability appropriately built in, the digitised battlefield sets the stage for operational interoperability and flexibility in the employment of combat elements. It is now possible to exercise command and control laterally as against the present vertical chain. Digital technologies enable commanders to speed up decision making and react to developing situations rapidly. It provides for flexibility in the employment of troops besides common formats and platforms for rapid processing of data.

The basic requirement of battlefield digitalisation is the formulation of the architecture of the C4I system which will be designed based on a well-defined military strategy, integrated operational doctrine of the joint force and the force structure that is to be applied in battle. Complete digitisation cannot be achieved overnight. The system will evolve and mature over a period of time. It will provide accurate and real-time combat support information to Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Theater Commanders, Task Force Commanders and other commanders at various levels as needed. The Service Chiefs and the heads of support services such as Supplies, Transportation, Ordnance Stores, Equipment and Ammunition and  Repair and Maintenance facilities etc. will also be utilising the facility.

A robust and a secure communication infrastructure that provides for end-to-end information transfer, is a mandatory requirement for creating a digitised battlefield environment. The network architecture should facilitate  integration of all available communication assets of all three services and agencies besides military and commercial satellite communications, hired communication services, mobile and other deployable networks etc. The whole spectrum of the battle space needs to be covered with appropriate sensors to meet the information requirements of the users. It includes thermal, infrared, sound and electromagnetic sensors, aerial photography, digital satellite, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAV) etc. Miniaturised sensors and their processors with adequate redundancy can be installed in various platforms such as spacecraft, UAVs, aircrafts, land vehicles, ships, and personal battlefield systems. The diversity and number of sensors combined with multiple sources of information creates fusion of information, an essential dimension of situational awareness and information warfare.

The entire EM spectrum holds the key to future wars at the operational level as it is the new dimension in which wars will be fought. Cyber is a part of the EM spectrum. Cyber is no longer an isolated individual space but is to be combined with EM which is used for surveillance, electronic warfare and high energy beams. CEMA (Cyber- Electromagnetic Activities) assumes tremendous significance in integrated and digitalized environments.

Network Centric Warfare (NCW)

With  the advent of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), the three terminologies, and their enabling features in prosecution of warfare in the modern era has generated considerable interest among the global military fraternity. Thus, the terms ‘information operations’, ‘digitisation’ and ‘net-centric warfare’ have become part of routine glossary of military terminologies under the overall ambit of Information Warfare (IW). NCW is being implemented in a progressive and phased manner. The first step in this direction is the conceptualisation and development of network centric systems. Various network centric systems were developed and  delivered or are  in the process of development called Tac C3I (Tactical Computer, Command, Control and Intelligence) systems, for example, ACCCS, CIDSS, BSS, ADC&RS, EW-Samyukta etc. The next stage is the Net Centric Operations (NCO), that is, the Integration of System of Systems. For this integration, technologies are under development to integrate heterogeneous Tac C3I Systems, which is a major challenge. ‘Net-centric warfare’ enhances manifold the capabilities of surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition and analysis, best engagement of weapons and equipment, exchange of intelligence, passage of instructions and PSDA. It imparts the ability to marshal and commit various battle groups and its elements in as advantageous manner as the prevailing tactical situation might permit under the overall sobriquet of IW.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI), has made  giant strides in scientific and technological innovation across varying fields. It can be aptly dubbed as the Industrial Revolution 4.0.  With capability to bring significant transformations in the way civilian activities and military operations are conducted, AI challenges the notion that attaining military superiority is conceivable only to a few countries like the US, China and Russia, who maintain large armed forces. Being a dual-use technology, AI may have interesting implications on the distribution of military power in the future. The possibility of AI-ushered advancements has opened the scope of an arms race where the conventional military capabilities will matter much less as time progresses. In this scenario, India can’t remain a spectator and has to enter the AI race in defence sooner rather than later. In January 2019, then Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat said that India will be too late if the armed forces do not embrace AI soon enough.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had constituted a task force for Strategic Implementation of Artificial Intelligence for National Security and Defence in February 2018, which submitted its report in June 18. The MoD went ahead with the recommendations by providing an institutional framework for policy implementation, issuing guidelines to the defence organisations, and laying out a vision for capacity-building. In February 2019, the ministry established a high-level Defence AI Council (DAIC) under the chairmanship of Minister of Defence assigned with the task of providing strategic direction towards the adoption of AI in defence. The DAIC will guide the partnership between the government and industry and also review the recommendations concerning the acquisition of technology and startups. It also envisions the formation of a Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA) as the central executive body. The tasks range from the knowledge management in the form of data collection, patents etc to acclimatising the personnel on-duty through internships, training programmes and sabbaticals. Each Service Headquarter (SHQ) will be provided with a window of   Rs 100 crores for AI specific application developments from the Defence Budget. The task force recognised AI as a ‘force multiplier’ and emphasised that all the defence organisations lay down their strategies of AI appropriation.

Robotics is another avenue to exploit AI. The Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has also developed autonomous technology-based products. It has focused on net-centric communication systems for tactical command control.

Niti Aayog had identified many key challenges in adoption of AI in general in India. There are many challenges that AI brings up in the military sector.

  • Firstly, policymakers must have a sound understanding of the objectives that AI seeks to achieve in the strategic context of India to disseminate artificial intelligence in defence. What kind of AI do we want? Do we require fully autonomous drones to engage with the adversary aircraft in a dogfight or deploy autonomous patrolling vehicles at the borders for getting the job done? How much autonomy should be given to the machines on the battlefield? A clear vision of the AI programme is necessary for a middle-income country like India that cannot afford to invest heavily in this sector. There is a trade-off between spending on national security and public welfare. Indian R & D programmes lack the luxury of budget and resources which developed countries have where failures are not much of concern.
  • Secondly, the lack of critical infrastructure is one of the biggest impediments in the prospects of AI in India for both civilian and military uses. As AI runs complex algorithms on loads of data, it is essential to have robust hardware and enabling data banks within the country.
  • Thirdly, the role of the private sector will be pivotal in making AI accessible and efficient. As AI demands high-skills and capital, innovations need an ecosystem supporting the free flow of both money and skills.

Defence Industry and Procurement

Digitisation in defence sector basically is the application of the advanced digital technologies for developing new innovative and cost-effective products and services, improvising the existing products by way of using connectivity and sensors, and creating advanced manufacturing processes. Amongst the nine elements – the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), autonomous robotics, bio data analytics and augmented reality solutions for land, sea and air- are the topmost technology solutions that the defence firms worldwide have started making use of.

In India, however, digital transformation in the defence sector still has a long way to go. The defence sector doesn’t even touch half of the total level of digitalisation in India which stands at 27%. One of the main reasons for India  lagging behind in implementing digitalisation is the fact that the Indian Defence sector is dominated by the DRDO, Ordnance Factories and the DPSUs who have not been able to keep pace with changing technologies. Further, pace of technological change and lack of technology know-how (through Transfer of Technology (ToT) are two of the major factors that have acted as major obstacles for Indian defence industry to move on the path of digitalisation. As defence companies shift from digital strategy to digital operations, they will need to attend to certain challenges and concerns as well like developing cross-functional digital teams and building confidence/trust and sharing in digital technologies. Till date, numerous stakeholders lack trust in sharing data. There is a need to evolve a collaborative model. Better ToT absorption will also facilitate digitalization to a great extent.

Procurement. It’s no longer the case that a system will spend 10 years in development and testing and 30 years in operations before being decommissioned and replaced. The traditional long and complex defence procurement process has often resulted in troops waiting for months or years for critical capabilities and software updates. This is because the procurement of new software has been typically based on the same procurement process for hardware—but this is changing. With software increasingly becoming an integral part of a military force’s equipment—from wearable tech in the field to flight control software—the ability to take advantage of software updates to improve capability is critical to maintaining the relevance of new equipment acquisitions. Military forces are realising that their procurement and sustainment processes must adapt. This is because modern digital solutions are having a real impact on the physical operations. This is equally valid in how militaries manage the complexity within their own organisations. In terms of optimisation and enabling asset and mission readiness, enterprise software is no longer being seen as a necessary evil, but a real strategic enabler. Growth opportunities that OEMs should tap into for future successes include:

  • Providing turnkey solutions with a mix of digital technologies where the security layer is already built in, enabling swift deployment.
  • Embracing new outsourcing business models.
  • Establishing new partnerships and co-creation agreements.
  • Continuing to invest in traditional combat platforms.


The scenario for the Indian Defence Forces is rich in information age capabilities, but short in its military wherewithal. The Indian Army reflects that state. Our commanders are enthused by the vast prospects offered by IW, and the staff is keen to harness the resultant advantages in combat and logistic force-multiplication. Even then, and after nearly two decades of concerted efforts, the Army’s ability in operating under networked conditions remains stymied – may be a formation or two can field that capability for short durations, nothing more. Adoption is further hampered by high security standards, data sovereignty and ownership concerns, siloes and disparate sources of data from legacy platforms. It calls for a deep understanding and concerted efforts with a clear vision to transform the Indian Defence Forces into a Digitalised Force judiciously exploiting the emerging and disruptive technologies.