In a world of innovation and disruptive technologies, that often prove useful in multiple domains of civil and military usage, militaries need to be far more adaptive and develop a culture that drives the process. As of now, legacy mindsets often prove to be dampeners in accruing benefits that could provide greater military capabilities. The author propagates the necessity of innovation pervading the military culture being essential to draw the benefits of scientific progress and technological disruptions.
“Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers – poets, actors, journalists – they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don’t fight science and they don’t fight technology”–Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, author and science communicator
Technology Development Road Map is derived from future emerging threats and identified strategic capability gaps to meet with those emerging threats. The Indian Army Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap-2018 (TPCR), for example, published by Ministry of Defence, in its preamble states, “Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap – 2018 (TPCR- 2018) provides to the industry an overview of the equipment that is envisaged to be inducted into the Indian Armed Forces up to the late 2020s. This document intends to drive the technology development process that the industry may like to pursue”.
The focus of the DEFEXPO-2020 was also, ‘Digital Transformation of Defence’. This legislates the importance of being laid to changing paradigms and exhibits the transformation that the Indian Defence Forces are prepared to embark on.
Innovation in Defence is to re-draw processes to meet the disruption in technological development appears a cogent means to cover the capability gap. Disruptive technologies bring iconoclastic operational outcomes and are revolutionary in their development as against the evolutionary processes that the militaries are generally used for the adoption of their solutions.
Adoption of disruptive technologies brings about an improvement in the performance of existing products, services, processes, organizations and methods and enhances military capabilities. Rapid technological innovation for emerging global strategic threats appears to be the go-to operations strategy and the willingness to adapt must overshadow the fear of failure.
Quite literally, the Cambridge English dictionary lists Innovation as ‘a new method, idea or product’. Juxtaposing this in the defence parlance would imply infusing technology in the existing systems to propagate revised processes to accrue operational benefits.
Countries like India need to adopt the twin approach of imbibing incremental technologies and in some measure also incorporate the disruptive technology paradigm. This concept is also reflected in our 30:40:30 equipping norms currently being followed, wherein 30 forms the legacy equipment held on the inventory, 40 being the contemporary equipment and 30, state of art, futuristic technologies.
In high technology areas, where the evolution of change is rapid, it is only coherent that these ratios are made to vary. The military, being an important constituent of India’s Comprehensive National Power needs to evolve with emerging technological trends for it to be benefitting both integral constituents, and as part of its military diplomacy, also facilitating seamless operation with armies from Friendly Foreign Countries (FFC).
The innovation flow from civil to military or vice-versa has now focused on independent military research and development. The military, studying security implications and benefits that the civil innovation could accrue in its processes, adapt the disruptive innovation so that it brings about radical changes in the way the military operates and alters operational outcomes with little change in resources allotted, enhancing overall efficiency.
Who leads the innovation cycle is a debate long lost to utility. Civil guided by equity generation will dive deep into the innovation spiral if it serves its means as a revenue generation model. The military on the other hand may dive but for its procedural requirements and operational objectives. The share of the technological pie is then either shared or divided by both. The nuance to this approach being the confidentiality of the research that needs to be maintained and therefore, progressed out of public scrutiny, exclusively by the military.
The prevalent military culture defines adaptation of innovation as a matter of procedure. Countries with evolved processes and higher allocation of GDPs for defence spending are susceptible to adapt to the innovations with greater ease than others for whom the availability is restricted and who would rather stabilize existing inventory than flirt with newer ones.
Father of Keynesian economics, John Maynard Keynes’s often quoted statement, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones,” was apt to ascribe adaption as per prevalent culture.
The hierarchical structure of the military is bedded to processes that in the past have had them yield dividends both in training and operations. To be then adopting newer paradigms and shedding proven ones appears suicidal, even when the reality points otherwise.
At the turn of the century, when India was to receive their first batch of the then state of art T-90S tanks, for several years preceding arrival and sometime thereafter, the proponents believed that irrespective of the technological leap the machine provided, the ground tactics in its employment would largely remain undeterred. It was when the tanks were put through their initialization and the strike formations mobilized for Operation Parakram (2001-02), that the enormity of the technology leap the equipment provided over the adversary came to dawn. The practitioners then scurried to translate the advantage into doctrines and the lesson was borne home for posterity.
Here is the defining statement for a future force comprising modular manned and unmanned platforms; ‘AI-enabled decision-making, agile command and control systems, robotics, and synthetic training technologies – all promising to enhance the lethality of the combat system architecture’. Defence forces, the world over, are attempting to bring about this cultural shift at the adaptation of disruptive technologies – the man behind the weapon argument, notwithstanding.
The UK, with its arms trade fair, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), professes to showcase the best of British Defence Technology at a world stage in every two years in London. The Chief of General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith himself in his keynote address at DSEI 2019 postulated the adoption of technology by the defence as being the contemporary military thought. He stated, “The tech revolution is driving a revolution in how the war on land is waged”. The thought is all-pervading and is central to themes for evolving militaries.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), seized of the aberration in the direction that technology is spiralling, announced a $2 billion campaign at developing the next wave of AI technologies to recreate a less combative and mutually beneficial collaboration between man and machine.
Seized of the flip side to the unmindful adaption of smart systems, policy postulations with stringent overtures are being adopted. Herein lies the next important issue; technology is a good servant but a poor master- depending on who wrests the control. The aspect stems from having intelligent machines and yet maintaining them at a threshold where the supremacy of the human mind is not challenged.
Technology’s exponential pace of progress has been amply enunciated in Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book- “Future Shock”. The pace encompasses both speed and profundity, and as the author adds, that dominant wisdom lies in the aspect of adapting quickly to rapid change, to avoid shock subsequently. This preferred intelligent option did not come naturally and required psychological conditioning, an aspect soliciting cultural change in thinking.
Technology feeds on knowledge and knowledge is expanding at exponential rates. Biologist, Richard Dawkins states, “We as people are just vessels for the conveyance of genes. We are the vessels that hold and communicate ideas, and now a pool of ideas percolates on a global basis more rapidly than ever before. We’re going to be entering a period of innovation like never before”.
The exponential speed at which the pace of change and pairing of ideas is being adapted across continents is reflective of development and with every other disruptive technology on the horizon, there is a perpetual sense of Future Shock! The phenomenon as per Dawkins is referred to as, “Pace Perpetual Progress (PPP)”.
The trepidation is explained through the canonical example of the 120-year version of Gordon Moore’s law as stated in a book by ‘Ray Kurzweil’, the inventor and futurist, ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines’, that refers to Moore’s perception that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, reducing the cost of computers, further implying that we could expect the speed and capability of our computers to increase every couple of years, and pay less for them. Since innovation does not occur in a vacuum and is a combination of ideas from before, it is, therefore, evolutionary in its development, but revolutionary in outcomes.
Here I would like to re-quote from my article titled, ‘Leveraging Emerging Technologies in Military Landscape’, published in ‘Bharatshakti.in’ on 18 December 2019, as an adjunct to the issue at hand, since with technological pace, the reminder needs to be revisited, lest the sheer pace of development subsumes us. “Technological changes are always fascinating. Changes in the Military Technological landscape are both a matter of awe and inadequacy. As the level of decision-making spirals hierarchically, the technological deficiency in the current inventory escalates the ineptitude of the connoisseur, practising military strategy. The Capital Acquisition processes the world over, inherently are outpaced by technologies appearing on the horizon that makes the contemporary inventory seem impoverished. Woe-begone the fate of nations, who succumb to these rapid changes, without having the patience and foresight to let the technology mature and prove itself, before incorporating it in conformity to the existing warfighting, country-specific dictums”.
This, however, does not underscore the cultural change being solicited for adapting to the rapid changes in the pace of technology where a tenuous balance will invariably need to be maintained.
It was in 2018, Dr Eric Schmidt, Chairman of US Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Board, offered his perspective on the obstacles to innovate in the defence. He stated, “misplaced incentives, entrenched and outdated processes and regulations, diffused decision-making and prevailing norms that reward perfunctory compliance or reticence of supervisors to consider new approaches”, all add up to the imbalance. He further summed up that it was not the will, but inertia that hindered innovation.
Smart systems, that make decisions based on available data in a predictive/adaptive manner, performing smart actions is slowly stepping into organizations. With their advent in the defence architecture, will the postulations of ‘Just War Theory”, with its three dimensions of ‘Jus ad Bellum’ (a just war), ‘Jus in Bello’ (law of war) and ‘Jus Post Bellum’ (justice after war) – hold credence? Having withstood the test of time for centuries, with its adaptation to repetitive technological revolutions, it has stood firm in the past, when the difference between the combatant and civilian in war, the impact of artillery on the battlefield and possession of nuclear weapons for deterrence was factored in the equation. So would hybrid, space and cyber warfare now challenge the centuries-old postulations of ‘Just War’? For the moment, let us concentrate ‘Just’ on the Culture.
Brig Yogesh Kapoor, VSM (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)