The Geopolitical Implications of Emerging Military  Technologies for India

Sub Title : Emerging disruptive technologies quickly alter the military balance, thus their geostrategic impact

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2024

Author : Antara Jha

Page No. : 44

Category : Military Technology

: January 27, 2024

This comprehensive overview highlights the intricate interplay between technology, strategy, and geopolitics, emphasizing the importance of a balanced and responsible approach in adopting cutting-edge military capabilities. The need for indigenous innovation, strategic autonomy, and global partnerships reflects a nuanced understanding of India’s evolving role in the international arena. The text effectively navigates through complex subjects, providing valuable insights into the multifaceted challenges and opportunities shaping India’s defence and strategic landscape.

The opening statement highlights the historical evolution of technology’s impact on warfare, emphasizing the continual redefinition of the battlefield from ancient catapults to modern cyberweapons. It sets the stage for the current era, where disruptive military innovations are poised to bring about significant transformations in both warfighting doctrines and geopolitical dynamics. The reference to “early catapults” invokes the image of ancient siege weaponry, illustrating how technology has played a pivotal role in shaping the conduct of war throughout history. This historical perspective helps to underscore the idea that technological advancements have always been integral to the evolution of military strategies and tactics. The phrase “contemporary cyberweapons” brings the narrative into the modern age, highlighting the role of digital technologies in modern warfare. This shift from traditional weaponry to cyberweapons signifies the ongoing technological revolution in the military domain. The statement then emphasizes that the present moment is marked by the readiness of disruptive military innovations to bring about another significant transformation. These innovations include advancements in hypersonic missiles, autonomous drones, AI-enabled intelligentisation (the infusion of artificial intelligence into military systems), quantum sensing, and next-generation computing. The term “multidimensional challenges” suggests that India is confronted with a range of complex issues, possibly including technological catch-up, strategic balancing, and diplomatic considerations.

Autonomous Platforms –The Contentious Rise of “Killer Robots:

Rapid progress in artificial intelligence and robotics has enabled unprecedented autonomy in weapons systems. Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) programmed to identify and attack human targets without manual oversight are particularly alarming. Though no country fields fully autonomous lethal weapons yet, states employ various semi-autonomous defences like Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system with some level of human supervision. As autonomy increases, ethical debates intensify about non-human actors determining life-and-death actions that should involve human judgment given moral gravity. India has actively led global LAWS deliberations including at the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) meetings. It consistently argues against removing human control in use- of-force decisions while pushing for a legally binding global protocol. However, Chinese and Russian stances favour only politically binding transparency measures around LAWS development. Their vagueness leaves space for interpretation and development. LAWS also risk spiralling instability from use by non-state groups. Entities like Lashkar-E-Taiba could employ crude autonomous bombs, challenging domestic counterterror capabilities severely. To mitigate threats, India requires extensive coordination spanning military doctrine, intelligence, law enforcement, border security and more. Development of counter-autonomous weapons systems is also necessary, potentially in collaboration with partners like Israel and others at the frontier of such research. But perhaps most critically, India must leverage its position in international bodies to champion restraint around irresponsible LAWS. India’s advocacy of “human-in-the-loop” weapons is morally aligned with global sentiment.

The Drone Revolution in Military Affairs

The ongoing integration of advanced combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) is triggering a revolutionary transformation in global military power projection. This paradigm shift is particularly evident in the acceleration of innovations in stealth drones, swarming capabilities, and dogfighting platforms, driven by extensive programs in both China and the United States. The heightened sophistication of UCAVs, primarily designed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), marks a significant evolution, enabling precision strikes with an expanded scope and a growing degree of autonomy. Recognizing the strategic importance of staying at the forefront of these advancements, India has embarked on its own UCAV initiative to close existing capability gaps. Recent acquisitions, such as the US-made Sea Guardian drones, exemplify India’s commitment to enhancing maritime domain awareness. This move is particularly crucial in monitoring assertive Chinese naval activities spanning the Indian Ocean to the broader Indo-Pacific region. Looking ahead, the envisaged applications extend beyond maritime surveillance, potentially encompassing wider ISR operations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the militarised border between India and China. However, India faces a significant challenge in the form of China’s notable progress in intelligent drone swarming. This innovative approach provides China with an asymmetric advantage, necessitating urgent mitigation efforts by India. The Zhuhai 2021 airshow showcased China’s formidable 200-plus drone KUAIZHOU-1 system, featuring autonomous decision-making capabilities for coordinated missions. Additionally, the unveiling of the Cloud Shadow system revealed China’s capacity for autonomous coordination in executing complex missions. To effectively compete with this emerging threat, India must advance its capabilities in countering UCAVs. This entails the development of anti-aircraft guns, electromagnetic weapons, directed energy systems, and other cutting-edge technologies. Simultaneously, expanding India’s own military-grade UCAV fleet, specifically tailored for ISR and electronic warfare, becomes imperative. Coordination optimization between the various branches of the military—army, navy, and air force—is paramount for a cohesive and effective defence strategy. Recognizing the strategic significance of high-altitude mountain warfare scenarios along the LAC, India’s efforts are geared towards developing specialized UCAVs. These platforms are designed to provide critical surveillance and precision strike capabilities, aiming to offset China’s infrastructure advantage in the challenging mountainous terrain.

Artificial Intelligence – The Quest for Algorithmic Warfare Dominance

Chinese military literature frames rising AI and autonomous capabilities within intelligentised or algorithmic warfare theory. This envisions converged intelligence power across domains, with AI expanding sensors and computing capability to process vast surveillance data faster than human opponents. It supports functions from predictive intelligence to wargaming through virtual reality systems, and algorithmic command making decisions at machine speeds about logistics or missile movements. The US’ parallel strategy called Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) similarly centres on AI-enabled information advantage. While India has uniquely challenging geography spanning land, sea and sky for surveillance, its AI adoption remains basic. It lacks extensive private sector expertise unlike China or the US as well. However, India’s globally respected IT services industry does offer a talent pool to tap through closer public-private partnerships focused on national security deliverables. Expanding academic and training programs in niche defence technology domains around AI, computing infrastructure modernization and associated investment would significantly bolster India’s capability.

Quantum Sciences – Next-Generation Sensing and Computing

Quantum technology leverages unique quantum physics properties for potentially major improvements in cryptography, computing, sensing and communication security – all crucial for military operations. Though commercial quantum applications remain largely prospective, major states recognize early R&D’s long-term dividends. The US runs dedicated defence programs and funds quantum hardware startups to solidify future advantage. China too invests billions with its Quantum Engineering Laboratory into becoming the world’s “premier quantum power” for hack-proof ‘unhackable’ communications and decryption supremacy. For India, adopting quantum-safe cryptography is vital for protecting critical future defence infrastructure, bases and strategic communications from interception. Quantum key distribution networks being developed locally thus hold value. But additional focused efforts into quantum sensing and computing specifically attuned for security use-cases are equally important. Advancing quantum radar, Lidar and related research to spot stealth platforms undetected, conduct advanced discovery and precision tracking of adversaries supports both counter-terror and conventional military applications.

International Technology Collaboration – Careful Balancing for Strategic Autonomy

The global defence industry has concentrated into a handful of major corporations and countries, making partnerships essential for even well-resourced militaries to remain competitive. Cutting-edge and highly specialized future warfare domains like hypersonic missiles, directed energy weapons, integrated C4ISR, quantum sciences or biotech include extremely prohibitive development costs and expertise barriers currently out of reach. India’s partnerships with France, Israel, Japan and others have brought valuable co-production opportunities that expand capability. The BECA geospatial collaboration agreement with the US illustrates such mutually beneficial high-tech defence cooperation. However, over-reliance on any one partner risks severe supply and maintenance disruptions due to geopolitical rifts, as India’s lingering Russian defence ties demonstrate. Excessive strategic embrace with the US-led bloc invites blowback, while abandoning legacy partners has downsides too. India’s ability to balance relations across camps unwilling to entirely dictate its choices thus becomes geopolitically crucial. It enables the restraint India continues exercising on issues like Russia sanctions. Ultimately, indigenous innovation remains the pathway to reduce external dependence and secure long- term strategic autonomy.

Institutionalizing Defence Technology Innovation

While international partnerships assist in capability acquisition, sustainable military edge requires cultivating an indigenous R&D ecosystem. China’s “civil-military fusion” national strategy actively entwines commercial tech advances into dual-use defence applications through bidirectional incentives. Chinese state subsidies and supportive regulation incentivize major firms to lead globally now in areas like drones, AI security systems, 5G telecom, quantum sciences and more – with defence derivatives readily available. India seeks enhanced synergy between military requirements, private industry and research institutions to increase self-reliance. To catalyse domestic R&D and production, FDI regulations have been relaxed with greater private sector participation in defence manufacturing. But additional mechanisms merit consideration around IP ownership, tax benefits for indigenous R&D, and coordinated investments into specialized domains like materials science, robotics or AI safety. Joint capability roadmaps and even product development with partners can also seed expertise. Moreover, consolidative structures that tightly integrate India’s high-quality but fragmented scientific establishment hold transformative possibilities if implemented as envisioned. Bodies like the Defence Innovation Organisation and Technology Coordination Groups now aim to align stakeholders across the ecosystem. Operationalising such coordination to inform rival states’ integrated approaches could strategically benefit Indian needs.

Navigating the New Multi-Domain Battlefield

Thematically, the heterogeneous mix of evolving capabilities discussed fundamentally expands the arena of conflict into interconnected domains, with information superiority emerging decisive. Winning future wars may depend on outthinking opponents using intelligent systems, rather than conventional firepower or manpower that were historical determinants. India’s geographic diversity spanning land, sea and sky demands even more integrated coordination than adversaries. Developing robust communications infrastructure with security by design hence becomes critical, while training personnel in complex information-age conflict tactics and counter-tactics. India’s citizenry is its ultimate edge. With water scarcity risks also heightening regional instability, innovations tackling resource pressures deserve attention too. Desalination, water recycling and precision agriculture can alleviate some drivers of instability. Pursuing disruptive frugal models in such realms aligned with needs lends strategic opportunities.


In the rapidly evolving landscape of military technology, technological advancements are reshaping the nature of future battlefields, introducing increased automation facilitated by artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated sensors. These shifts not only enhance military capabilities but also expand the scope of state surveillance and control. India’s response to this changing paradigm is critical and hinges on its ability to responsibly harness cutting-edge military innovations. This responsibility extends beyond mere technological adoption, emphasizing a delicate balance between strategic interests, international partnerships, and adherence to core values. As India invests in building indigenous technological capacity, it aims to achieve not only self-reliance in defence but also an elevated global influence. This strategic pursuit aligns with India’s vision of comprehensive national power, reflecting not just military strength but economic, diplomatic, and technological prowess. Importantly, India envisions this pursuit as being in harmony with its civilizational ethos, aspiring to be a net provider of global public goods, contributing positively to the international order and fostering stability on the global stage.