Expanding Impact of AI:

Sub Title : The role of Artificial Intelligence in shaping India’s future geostrategic landscape

Issues Details : Vol 18 Issue 2 May – Jun 2024

Author : Antara Jha

Page No. : 26

Category : Military Technology

: June 5, 2024


The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of the global geostrategic landscape, carrying profound implications for nations worldwide. Prominent players on the international stage, such as the United States, China, and Russia, are actively engaged in a competitive race to advance the development and integration of AI technologies into their military and national security apparatus. Recognizing the transformative potential of AI across economic, political, and military domains, India faces the imperative to carefully formulate strategic policies that not only capitalize on the benefits of AI but also effectively address and mitigate associated risks. In the military realm,

the incorporation of AI technologies has the capacity to revolutionize warfare tactics, intelligence gathering, and strategic decision-making. The strategic implications of this AI-driven transformation are multifaceted, encompassing

not only military capabilities but also influencing broader geopolitical dynamics. As AI becomes increasingly intertwined with national security, India must navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by this technological shift to safeguard its strategic interests. Moreover, the permeation of AI into economic and political spheres adds layers of complexity to India’s strategic considerations. AI has the potential to reshape industries, enhance productivity, and redefine the global economic order. Simultaneously, the strategic deployment of AI in political arenas can impact governance, information warfare, and diplomatic relations. India, therefore, finds itself at a critical juncture where it must proactively develop and implement policies that harness the benefits of AI in these domains, fostering innovation and competitiveness while safeguarding against potential risks such as cyber threats, job displacement, and ethical concerns. In crafting a nuanced strategic outlook, India must strike a delicate balance between embracing the transformative power of AI and implementing robust safeguards to protect its national interests. Collaborative international efforts, including diplomatic dialogues and partnerships, may also play a crucial role in shaping a global framework for the responsible development and use of AI. Ultimately, India’s approach to AI in the context of its strategic outlook will play a pivotal role in determining its position in the rapidly evolving global order.

AI-Enabled Military Systems:

A key area where AI could revolutionize warfare is through autonomous weapons systems. China aims to seize the advantage here by fusing AI with swarm robotics for unleashing ‘intelligentized’ warfare. In October 2022, China exhibited its Blowfish A3 armed helicopter drone, which features modular AI capabilities for autonomous target identification and engagement. India, too, is developing doctrines for future warfare under its Land Warfare 2025 vision, which will likely feature AI-enabled unmanned combat vehicles, loitering munitions and robotics. In February 2022, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) demonstrated autonomous drones that could collaboratively identify targets and carry out strikes. Russia, Israel and the US have showcased similar capabilities. Russia deployed the Marker reconnaissance drone in Ukraine in 2022, able to autonomously track targets for up to 10 hours. Israel’s Harpy loitering munitions can autonomously detect hostile radars and attack them. The US has tested Crusher robotic weapon systems that use AI for navigation, target acquisition and tracking. For India, AI-powered military systems can provide asymmetric advantages vis-à-vis stronger adversaries like China. Autonomous armed drones can swarm enemy defences in high-risk scenarios, while reducing risks to Indian personnel. In June 2022, India’s SAGARIKA underwater drone successfully tested autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance. AI can enable faster, data-driven decision-making in complex, dynamic battlefield environments through intelligence fusion and predictive analytics. It can aid logistics, cybersecurity, signals analysis and other critical military functions. However, India must ensure robust human oversight over its AI systems given ethical, legal and reliability concerns around fully autonomous weapons.

AI for Border Security and Counterterrorism:

Given porous land and sea frontiers, India faces major border management challenges. AI-based surveillance systems can help. For instance, AI can autonomously analyse data from aerial drones, satellites and ground sensors to detect border incursions in real-time. In 2021, India deployed AI-enabled virtual fences with sensor towers along the India-Bangladesh border to curb infiltration and smuggling. This Pilot Project will now be expanded to the Pakistan border too. AI-based object recognition and tracking can identify potential threats and guide rapid response. Pattern recognition software can identify abnormal or suspicious activity. This can free up overstretched border security resources for rapid, targeted intervention. India is also testing AI-based facial recognition systems at airports and border crossings to catch suspected criminals and terrorists. However, concerns around bias, accuracy and privacy remain. AI also has counterterrorism applications. India could apply AI techniques in scraping the dark web for signs of emerging terror plots and online radicalization. In 2022, Delhi police busted a terror module by tracking and analysing the accused’s social media activity using AI tools. AI-based network analysis can reveal connections between terror modules spread across India and abroad. Predictive analytics on past attack patterns can help identify potential soft targets. However, over-reliance on such tools risks missing new threats. Human intelligence and community policing thus remain equally vital. Predictive analytics can also help identify potential ‘lone wolf’ attackers based on online activity and psychology. However, India must address issues of bias, discrimination and accuracy in deploying such tools. Oversight frameworks to audit algorithms and protect civil liberties are critical.

Geopolitical Competition in AI:

AI leadership has become a major geopolitical competition among major powers. China aims to dominate critical emerging technologies like AI, regarding them as a key strategic advantage to achieve global pre-eminence. In 2017, China outlined plans to become the world leader in AI by 2030. With abundant data, tech companies and state support, China is advancing swiftly. Chinese firms like SenseTime, Cloudwalk and Megvii are making major strides in facial recognition and smart city technologies. They are exporting advanced AI surveillance tech globally, including to authoritarian regimes. India must similarly foster indigenous capabilities in AI and associated fields, while competing technologically with China. Initiatives like National AI Strategy, PM’s Technology Group and private sector growth can help transform India into a global AI power. But India must increase R&D spending and expertise across the AI value chain, including in computing infrastructure, datasets, algorithms, applications and cybersecurity. Partnerships with technologically advanced countries like Japan, Israel and the US will be mutually beneficial. In April 2022, India and Japan signed an agreement to collaborate on 5G, AI and quantum technologies. India could emerge as a neutral regional AI hub. At the same time, India must be cautious of platform-based AI dominance by U.S. Big Tech firms like Google, AWS and Microsoft. Their unchecked influence presents strategic risks. India should build viable indigenous alternatives that safeguard its digital sovereignty in AI and cloud services. The public sector GENESIS platform is a step in this direction.

AI Governance as a Strategic Priority:

Governing AI wisely will be crucial for India to reap its benefits. India has taken early steps by releasing its Responsible AI for All strategy in 2020. However, comprehensive legal frameworks for data protection, privacy and AI ethics are still evolving. Policy blind spots around advanced applications like autonomous weapons must also be addressed. In 2022, India released a draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, which partly addresses privacy concerns in AI systems. But sectoral regulations for healthcare, finance, media etc. need further alignment. In December 2022, NITI Aayog published an AI Ethics framework for India, focusing on principles of inclusion, cultural alignment, transparency and accountability. Internationally, India should help shape global AI norms and standards as a responsible democracy. It can champion ethics-based guidelines at bodies like UNESCO and the G20. However, India must be wary of Chinese and Russian efforts to dilute international oversight over their domestic AI activities. India should coordinate with like-minded democracies to embed democratic values and structures in the global AI order. Alliances like the Quad could collaborate on norms for responsible AI development and use.

Implications for National Security and Foreign Policy:

The proliferation of AI has wide-ranging implications for India’s national security and foreign policy. Militarily, India needs strategies to counter Chinese and Pakistani doctrines of AI-enabled hybrid warfare. This could include cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure and influence operations using deepfakes.  China is advancing AI-based cyber capabilities for disabling command and control systems. In 2020, Chinese state hackers allegedly used AI coding tools for large-scale cyber espionage against India’s power grid and other systems. India needs resilient defences and deterrence capabilities. India also needs strategies to counter AI-augmented capabilities like hypersonic missiles. In November 2022, China conducted a partial orbital test of a hypersonic missile capable of nuclear strikes. India’s defences must integrate AI and space tech innovations. Diplomatically, India should leverage its position as a leading democratic AI power. It can shape global technology standards and norms to align with India’s values and interests. India’s developmental priorities must inform its AI diplomacy. However, exporting India’s AI model will face competition from China’s authoritarian approach. There are also complex nuclear challenges. AI could aid intelligence gathering on adversaries’ nuclear forces, strategies and command structures. But it also compresses decision timelines, raising risks of miscalculation and uncontrolled escalation. India must engage nuclear powers to explore confidence building measures for the AI era. For economic security, India should grow its high-tech manufacturing and IP generation in AI. But it must safeguard against over-reliance on foreign nations for inputs like lithium-ion batteries, chipsets and cloud services. Cultivating alternative supply chains and self-sufficiency is important. Societally, India must manage AI’s disruptive impact and build capacities across sectors and communities. Complex questions around AI transparency, accountability, privacy and job losses must be publicly debated and addressed through foresight. Failing to do so responsibly could undermine social cohesion and India’s developmental goals. The road ahead will have strategic risks and rewards. But if India can astutely leverage AI amidst the emerging great power dynamics, it could decisively tilt the geostrategic balance in its favour. With wise statecraft and public-private collaboration, an AI-empowered India can uphold both its interests and values while shaping a progressive global order.

Prospects and Priorities for India:

To realize India’s AI potential, the government must make significant investments and policy reforms. It should aim to quadruple AI-related patents filed and double AI talent pool by 2025. Tax incentives, funds for research clusters and upskilling programs are needed. India must build capacities across the AI stack – computing hardware, clean datasets, world-class algorithms and applications. It should nurture an AI innovation ecosystem connecting academia, startups and industry. Safety and ethics should be ingrained into AI systems from the design stage. India’s AI advantage lies in inclusive development applications. Priority sectors include healthcare, agriculture, education, smart cities and financial inclusion. In 2022, NITI Aayog identified 122 high-impact AI solutions for India’s growth. For example, AI can optimize crop yields, soil health and supply chains to boost farm productivity and incomes. It can improve access and quality of healthcare and education in remote areas through telemedicine, virtual assistants and personalized learning. AI-based credit scoring can expand financial services for the unbanked. But India must guard against AI divides across income, gender, regions and communities. Enabling policies for data access, digital literacy and entrepreneurship are key to inclusive growth. India should also leverage AI for governance reforms in service delivery, program implementation and regulatory quality. Strategically, India must build capacity for intelligent warfare while responsibly shaping norms as an AI power. It should proactively mitigate risks of AI-enabled threats in domains like hybrid warfare, cybersecurity, missiles and nuclear forces. International partnerships and indigenous capabilities should create a hedge against tech-based coercion. Domestically, India needs stakeholders to balance economic priorities, ethics, individual rights and national security in AI policies. Lawmakers must enact sound legal frameworks even as bureaucrats build expertise. Transparent public debate around AI’s societal impacts can foster trust and participation. Overall, India stands at an AI inflection point. With foresight and responsible leadership, India can harness AI’s transformative power for national prosperity and global good.