Policy impetus that can enable digital supremacy-Dedicated Defence ICT budget 1/3

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Defence sector piques the interest of many and for good reasons!In our previous series,we have emphasizedthat digitisation in defence sector is at evolving and now is the time to leapfrog to the frontier of a digitial defence.

In this series of three we bring forth the topic of policy impetus that can enable digital supremacy for our defence forces.

We start with importance of having a dedicated ICT budget for Defence like other major global Defence forces have, then we go on to talk about leveraging the strength of private players in Defence and finally we delve into the significance of Atmanirbharta in developing Defence ICT infrastructure.

Story 1

Dedicated Defence ICT budget

Digital technology is playing an important role in increasing the pace of India’s economic growth and creating opportunities for making our nation a just and equitable society. India is harnessing the potential of digital technologies for more and more inclusive development.

Despite all these developments, our nation constantly faces complex challenges and uncertainty in its strategic security environment. 

Digital Defence – The global picture

The Defence forces all over the world are getting ahead of the digital curve and putting in place solutions like intelligent planning, digital twins, robotics, AR/VR, net-centric warfare, AI/ML led threat analysis that act as strategic enablers to manage this shift. Digital technologies like Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) and Autonomous Aerial Vehicle are being deployed in a various military applications across intelligence, surveillance, navigation and communication.

Majority of the advanced armed forces globally are already leveraging ‘digital supremacy’ for military operations and future warfare. Network-centricity has been central to the way these armed forces operate.

CountryTechnology ProwessEnabling Network
IsraelIsraeli Defence Force (IDF) has recently established Digital Transformation Administration unit to apply big data, AI/ML to improve battlefield performance and streamline the military’s administration. The IDF is using Robot for Border Surveillance, which replaces human surveillance with technology solutionsIsraeli Defence Force (IDF) has recently established Digital Transformation Administration unit to apply big data, AI/ML to improve battlefield performance and streamline the military’s administration. The IDF is using Robot for Border Surveillance, which replaces human surveillance with technology solutions
United StatesThe U.S. DoD has signed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract with Microsoft to build the U.S. war cloud with an aim modernize the military’s entire IT infrastructureJEDI will transform the U.S. military’s cloud computing systems to support warfighterson the tactical edge
United KingdomThe UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) launched its new Defence Technology Framework and Defence Innovation Priorities. The framework sets out how the MOD intends to identify and focus efforts on technologies that offer the greatest potential to enhance capability across internal business functions and military operationsDefence Information Infrastructure (DII) is a secure military network owned by the UK’s MOD including the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force as well as MOD civil servants

Defence Digitisation imperatives for Indian Defence Forces

India also, now, must develop digital defence capabilities and a technology-enabled military strategy. There is a pressing need to augment and fortify India’s defence networks with digital imperatives outlined below:

  • Network modernisation & tactical communications for building strategic deterrence, net-centricity and enhancing win-ability
  • Robust Data Centre ecosystem for intelligence gathering and sharing and paving the way for futuristic defence applications 
  • Intelligence and situational awareness for predictive and prescriptive decision-making, enabling next-gen military ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), on-field and simulation training and war gaming, sensing & surveillance, coupled with analytics, and on-ground resource mobilisation for technology-led base and border management
  • Warfare strategies like Internet of Battle Things (IoBT), connected soldiers, command and control centres, autonomous technologies for UAVs, high-altitude pseudo satellites,etc.

The most important enabler of Defence Digitisation – A dedicated Defence ICT budget

All said and done, these digital capabilities need a formidable Defence grade network to ride on and a significant investment to develop these capabilities. The Indian Army possesses weapons and equipment that are on the verge of getting obsolete and will need replacement. The next step should be to acquire network-centric capabilities to optimise the Army’s full potential in defensive and offensive operations. In addition, urgent steps should be taken to enhance the operational capabilities of aviation, engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition branches in order to improve the Army’s overall combat potential.

India, with US$65.86 billion as total defence budget, is the third biggest military spender in the world. Among the major components of the defence budget the Defence Services Estimates (DSE) constitutes 69%, defence pension 28% and MoD (Civil) 3%.[1] Though Tri-forces’ modernisation budget increased by 11% in 2020-21 as compared to the last year, much of this has been dedicated for aircraft and aero-engines, heavy & medium vehicles, Rashtriya Rifles, and other military equipment.

Though it is important and strategic to be battlefield supreme, having digital supremacy is of paramount from a strategic perspective.

Here are some reasons why India should NOW have a dedicated ICT budget:

The impending network – India, now, must develop digital Defence capabilities and a technology-enabled military strategy of which Joint-ness forms the key component. The first and foremost step towards being digitally supreme converging networks of tri-forces and fortify them with the modern digital capabilities.

Varied threatscape – the ever evolving threatscape is making our borders vulnerable to various attacks in the form of infiltration, cross-border terrorism, and drug trafficking. There is a pressing need to ‘intelligize’ our borders and make them ‘Smart’ by using joint networks as a deterrent.

Envisioned state of digital supremacy – We have envisioned our Defence force embracing digitalisation not only for equipment evolution and battlefield strategies but also for incubating great military intelligence. Having a dedicated ICT budget is imperative for upgrading networks and adopting disruptive technologies critical for Defence force.

Benchmarking with the best – Many countries are able to form a formidable digital Defence force because they have a dedicated ICT budget for adding a ‘Digital Edge’ to their forces.

Let’s look at the ICT spent of some of the major global defence forces:

Though Indian Defence force has the third highest budget, but for network modernisation and digitisation, it has been staggered, spends have happened more in an ad hoc manner

The slow pace of the Indian defence ICT modernisation has led many adversaries seeking advantage of India’s vulnerabilities, which in turn have had severe implications for India’s national security in the past.

India needs a dedicated ICT budget but it needs some policy changes to make that happen. Will 2021 be that year when Indian will have a dedicated Defence ICT budget and it will strive to become supreme Defence power, at par with other major Defence forces of the world

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