Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Soldiers will Dominate the Future Battlefield

The nature of warfare is constantly changing. In any future war terms like heroism, bravery, courage and sacrifice – will have little meaning as robotic soldiers will replace the human combatants. The moot question however remains – will there be less bloodshed, lesser chances of error, and faster decision-making in the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, cloud computing, quantum computing, and virtual reality?

By Neeraj Mahajan

Special Feature Archive

“Whoever becomes the leader in Artificial Intelligence will become the ruler of the world” – Vladimir Putin

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“From 5G technology to artificial intelligence, virtual reality, cloud, internet of things and robotics, the world looks towards India with optimism to provide technology-enabled solutions that are affordable and sustainable,” PM Narendra Modi said while delivering the inaugural address at the virtual India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2020.

Echoing similar sentiments Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was quoted as saying, “When nations go to war, the nation with better technology will win.”

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The ‘ABC’ of modern warfare is changing and instead of terms like heroism, bravery, courage and sacrifice – the outcome of the future war will be decided by the most-effective use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, cloud computing, quantum computing, virtual reality, and human augmentation devices.

This is the grim reality. We live in an era in which the latest technologies like Artificial intelligence (AI) hold the key to reshaping the man-machine relationship and transforming the decision-making process on the future battlefield.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) can minimise human causalities, reduce the chances of error and enhance the combat potential of forces in modern warfare. AI-driven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can strengthen the security of military bases, patrol border areas, identify potential threats, and transmit information to response teams. AI-driven systems can quickly process a large volume of data and make decision-making fast and effective, especially in a wartime environment.

AI-enabled autonomous systems can boost the surveillance capabilities and disarm IEDs in Counter-Insurgency (CI) Operations. Likewise, robot sentries can predict enemy behaviour and make life easy for regular troops by keeping an eye on the international border and line of control in harsh weather conditions.

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AI-enabled autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) also called ‘killer robots” can fight wars on their own without human oversight and control.  Once activated, these weapon systems can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator on the ground, air, underwater or in space.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can minimise human causalities, reduce the chances of error and enhance the combat potential of forces in modern warfare. AI-driven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can strengthen the security of military bases, patrol border areas, identify potential threats, and transmit information to response teams

AI-enabled target recognition systems can anticipate bottlenecks, and suggest mitigation strategies. Machine learning can thereafter help track, engage and destroy targets based on the data obtained. For instance, the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is using machine learning techniques to automatically locate and identify targets with the help of Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) images as part of the Target Recognition and Adaption in Contested Environments (TRACE) program.

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Over the past few years, the Government of India (GoI), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), and NASSCOM have endorsed a number of initiatives to promote the application of AI in various sectors like law enforcement, public sector, environment, agriculture, education, energy and healthcare. Some of these applications include facial recognition, hotspot analysis, biometric identification, criminal investigation, traffic control and crowd management.

According to a report titled “How the Indian government is championing the AI revolution”, emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning will emerge as the most important determinants of growth across the core sectors of the country.

Significantly, India did not have a dedicated national plan for AI or robotics until 2017. On June 30, 2018, a multi-stakeholder Task Force under the Chairmanship of N Chandrasekharan, Chairman, Tata Sons handed over the Final Report to the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recommending potential military and civilian applications in the AI domain. Based on this, the Ministry of Defence initiated the process of preparing Indian defence forces to use AI and increasingly develop these capabilities within the country.

The Task Force held detailed deliberations, with officers from Army, Navy, Air force, Coast Guard, as well as all Defence PSUs – BEL, HAL, BEML, BDL, MIDHANI, MDL, GRSE, GSL and HSL and OFB. After studying the level of Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning development in India – specifically in the context of defence needs, the task force made the following recommendations:

  • Making India a significant power of AI in defence specifically in the area of aviation, naval, land systems, cyber, nuclear, and biological warfare;
  • Policy and institutional interventions are required to regulate and encourage robust AI-based technologies for the defence sector in the country.
  • Collaboration with start-ups/commercial industry in the field of AI for defence purposes, considering the fact that most AI work is happening in the private sector

Accordingly, the Government of India launched a National Artificial Intelligence Portal as a one-stop digital platform for AI-related developments in India on 30 May 2020.

Today, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing robotic soldiers with a very high level of intelligence and capability to differentiate between a friend and foe. These robots may be ready for deployment around 2023. DRDO had already developed Daksh, a remote-controlled robotic vehicle for detecting and destroying dangerous objects like bombs. It has also planned to design a robotic mule, to carry heavy luggage up to 400 KG in mountainous terrain.

The DRDO has also modified Soviet BMP-2 armoured personnel carriers to develop Muntra (Mission Unmanned Tracked) — a family of unmanned armoured vehicles for surveillance, mine clearing, and operating in nuclear or chemical contaminated zones.

DRDO’s Daksh – is a made-in-India robot with almost 90 % indigenous parts. It is a fully automated, battery-operated remote-controlled robot on wheels that can detect and neutralize bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It can climb staircases, and steep slopes, or travel through narrow corridors to reach hazardous materials. Its robotized arm can lift a suspicious object and scan cars for explosives using a portable X-Ray device. It also has a shotgun, which can break open locked doors. It has been equipped with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazard detection mechanisms. It can identify hazardous objects and diffuse them with a jet of water. Above all, it can be remotely controlled over a range of 500 m in line of sight or within buildings from the master control station (MCS).

The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) — a premier laboratory of DRDO is involved in Research and Development in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Command and Control, Information and Communication Security leading to the development of Mission Critical products for Battlefield secure communication and information management systems.

The thrust areas of CAIR include research and development in:

  • Advanced Artificial Intelligence-based Information Processing Systems
  • Autonomy and Cognition for Unmanned and Robotic Systems
  • State-of-the-art Net-Centric Tactical C3I Force Multiplier Systems
  • Cyber, Information & Communication Security Systems

The CAIR is also working in the field of intelligent unmanned systems, computer vision, artificial intelligence and futuristic research-oriented robotic platforms as well as developing technologies for futuristic tactical communication networks for the Indian Army. CAIR has also initiated a project to develop AI-based solutions for signal intelligence to enhance intelligence, collation and analysis capabilities for the armed forces. The project will focus on decision support, sensor data analysis, predictive maintenance, situational awareness, accurate data extraction, and security.

CAIR has also developed a Net Work Traffic Analysis (NETRA) which can monitor Internet traffic. This device can intercept keywords such as bomb blast, kill and others in real-time.

CAIR has already developed an array of remotely operated vehicles, flapping wing robots; wheeled robots with passive suspension, snake robots, legged robots, wall-climbing robots, and robot sentry, among others. It is now in the process of developing a multi-agent robotics framework (MARF) for catering to a number of military applications.

AI-enabled autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) also called ‘killer robots” can fight wars on their own without human oversight and control.  Once activated, these weapon systems can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator on the ground, air, underwater or in space

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Central Research Laboratory (CRL) are working on a “first responder robot” to patrol the borders. The robot will be equipped with sensors and coded to communicate with the control centre as and when required. The main objective behind the development of such robots is to prevent the increasing number of cases where drones have been used to smuggle arms and ammunition into India and save the lives of security personnel deployed on the borders.

The BEL robot is very much like Guardium – an armed robot jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Industries to patrol the Gaza–Israel border. It is equipped with radars, high-sensitivity microphones, sensors, hostile fire indicators and an infrared camera that can spot invaders even in the dark. The Guardium can autonomously travel at up to 70-80 km per hour and intercept trespassers near the border fence before security personnel arrive. It can be used in either teleoperated or autonomous mode – without any human interaction. It sends data to the command station letting them know its location, destination, and the view of its surroundings through its rotating camera. Such unmanned systems can also be deployed to increase the perimeter security of military bases, airports and power plants, or sensitive installations.

BEL is also working on five major AI projects involving:

  • Facial recognition for security applications
  • IoT-based platform maintenance
  • Social networking analysis
  • Robotics surveillance platform
  • Automated information extraction and synthesis

BEL and Grene Robotics, Hyderabad, a niche private-sector player in AI and robotics, have signed an MoU to jointly develop an Autonomous MANPAD Data Link (ADML) system, a first-of-its-kind man-portable air defence system to bolster the country’s autonomous air defence capability. The AMDL is a state-of-the-art data link system, which exploits AI to provide a comprehensive air-defence solution.  This technological collaboration will reduce asymmetries in controlled warfare and will be first deployed on MANPADS, which are short-range weapon systems.

The MANPADS will enable a command centre to give real-time firing commands to armed personnel by taking into consideration technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. When deployed, the system has the capability to reduce fratricide and is capable of handling all types of weather.

Within the army, the Military College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (MCEME) has been designated as the Centre of Excellence for Robotics. Likewise, an Artificial Intelligence Centre has been established at the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE) which has been earmarked to play the role of a lead agency for the development of AI-based autonomous systems.

The Indian Army has also established a Quantum Lab at the MCTE, while the Navy is keen to deploy submersible unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), also known as underwater drones that can operate underwater without a human occupant. While remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROUVs) are remotely controlled by a human operator, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can operate independently without direct human input.

Not to be left behind the IAF has expressed a desire to develop a handheld, hard-kill, counter- Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). According to the requirements spelt out, the system should be self-contained, man-portable and operable by a single person besides having a range greater than 300 metres and capable of being used in quick succession. Further, it should not require any special skills for neutralizing the drones and its aiming should be simple and require minimum training.

The objective is to intercept and destroy small low flying drones used for surveillance or terror strike which have little radar, thermal or acoustic signature. At present detection of small drones is done on the basis of visual sightings or audio hearing. Troops thereafter engage small drones with standard rifles, which is very difficult.

Keeping this in mind, the Indian security forces, paramilitary and police organisations have been suggesting the induction of anti-drone systems.

According to Janes, the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) has completed the flight trials of TAPAS medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) roles.

On the other hand, Gurutvaa Systems an Indian firm has delivered the first set of the indigenously developed ‘Dronaam’ counter-unmanned aircraft systems (C-UASs) – an all-weather system capable of operating in day and night conditions to the Indian Air Force (IAF). Dronaam is a state-of-the-art, modular system designed for full-proof protection against illegal Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and is capable of disrupting the GNSS (global navigation satellite system) navigation and jamming radio frequencies of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

-The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News