India making plans to boost noncontact warfare capabilities

India making plans to boost noncontact warfare capabilities

Top Stories | Feb 11, 2020:

Mandeep Singh

Cyber attacks, unmanned vehicles and weaponized robotics are all forms of what defense planners call instruments of noncontact warfare. Since these capabilities present opportunities and potential threats, India’s defense officials are increasingly devoting more attention to it.

“Noncontact warfare is gaining relevance in future wars,” India’s Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat, pictured, told an audience at the Army Technology Seminar on December 23, 2019. “That is not to say that the man on the ground with a rifle in his hand will no longer remain relevant,” he emphasized. “Noncontact warfare will help us in gaining advantage over the adversary in future. Therefore, it is important to understand the context in which we need to move forward in this direction.”

Rawat’s position — that developing noncontact-warfare capabilities is vital to India’s defense — has support from fellow officers and defense analysts.

“Autonomous systems, miniaturization, stealth, speed and stand-off precision strike platforms have changed the character of war,” wrote Brig. Gen. Vivek Verma of the Indian Army in a March 2019 essay for the United Service Institution of India. India needs to develop these capabilities and prepare to defend against them, he explained. He endorsed Rawat’s advocacy of cooperation between government and industry, also advising cooperation among ministries and with other countries.

“The traditional battlespace of land, sea, air and outer space is overlapping with the non-battlespace like technological space, social spaces and cognitive space of the human mind,” he argued. “Virtually every space is being contested with battlefield significance.”

Rawat was joined at the seminar by other senior military officers, government advisors, defense industry leaders and academics. In addition to discussions, the seminar provided a forum for Indian defense startups to pitch technology concepts directly to the defense leadership.

Rawat highlighted the Indian Army’s embrace of technology and its determination to build a “culture of innovations,” according to a statement by Indian Army spokesman Col. Aman Anand.

“He [Rawat] also stressed the need of dual-use technologies for the future,” Anand said. “Toward this, the Indian Army has endeavored to be more open toward industry,” relaxing stringent military equipment specifications to ones better suited to private sector commerce.

Rawat’s demand that India use artificial intelligence and big data in defense operations was called “the need of the hour” by Indian tech writer Adamya Sharma in January 2019 after the general delivered a speech that warned of the People’s Republic of China’s investments in artificial intelligence and cyber warfare and their corresponding threat to India.

“In India, China has been held responsible for 35% of all cyber attacks carried out on official Indian websites from April-June 2018,” wrote Sharma on website, where she serves as managing editor.

Most worrying, Sharma stated, is that many of the attacks had specifically targeted India’s critical infrastructure, signifying acts of noncontact warfare. These included attacks on Indian railways, the Oil and Natural Gas Corp., the National Informatics Centre, the Centre for Railway Information Systems, three major banks and three provincial government data centers.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.