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Keynote Address 2018

Technology and Battlefield



Padmavibhushan Hon. Dr. Vasudev K. Aatre

Ex. Director General, DRDO

Guest of Honour


Humanity seems to have a great propensity for violence and war. If we trace back the human history, every century had its share of wars with 20th century perhaps being the most violent with the two world wars, the wars in the Pacific region and Indian subcontinent. Maintaining sovereignty over territory, accessibility to earthy resources and sheer greed are some of the reasons for this propensity. There is sufficient historical instances to conclude that the outcome of wars and conflicts to large extent is decided by not just the preparedness but also the force structure. In the present context, a country with better technology has greater chances of winning the war.

It was during the Second World War and in early 1940s that several battlefield technologies were developed. Research laboratories attached to academic institutions took a lead in Defense R&D. For instance, MIT radiation laboratory developed several Communication and Radar technologies Further, if we trace the progress of S&T during the last century, it is the defense and aerospace research, which have propelled t science and technology to become humanity's greatest enterprise .The role of scientists and engineers in defense, can hardly be overemphasized. Scientists and engineers are involved in myriad of activities like developing surveillance and weapons systems technologies and providing other engineering services like communication, roads, transportation etc. Science and technology dominance is what a country looks for in structuring the weapon systems for its military forces. As Captain BH Liddell Hart put it, “Automatic weapons foreshadow the obsolescence of military forces. In future handful scientists may weigh far more heavily than mass of infantry”.

Battlefield elements must cater for several its attributes: sense (surveillance and communication), reach (Platforms and mobility), deny (counter measures) and destroy (weapons). The technologies deployed in battles are mainly grouped under three categories:

(1) Platforms – like tanks, aircrafts, ships, submarines. In the present context autonomous vehicles like unmanned vehicles;

(2) Electronics - Radars, Sonars, Communications Systems, Electronic warfare systems. In the present context C4I (Command, control, communication, computer and Intelligence) systems), Robots and use of AI (Artificial Intelligence);

(3) Weapons – Small arms (and ammunition), guns and area weapons, bombs, rockets and missiles. In the present context smart ammunition, laser and space based weapons.

Intelligence gathering is a very important aspect in battlefield preparation and can be in many forms – human intelligence, electronics (electronic intelligence and signal intelligence), or satellite based intelligence. Surveillance is mainly achieved by either ground based or aircraft based radars. In recent times, the most potent air based surveillance is provided by AWACS, Airborne warning and control System, which is essentially a powerful radar carried on an aircraft that can survey a very large area and direct the air warfare. This is considered as a major force multiplier. Under water sonars carried on ships and submarines provide surveillance.

Counter measures are integral part of present day battle strategy. The simplest form of this is concealing and camouflaging by various means. The most potent from is to build in stealth. The present day combat aircrafts (indeed, most platforms) are provided with stealth characteristics through design, structural configurations and special materials. However, the most important countermeasure is provided by Electronic Warfare or EW systems. The main aim of EW systems is domination of the electromagnetic spectrum by denying or reducing the effectiveness of the enemy's electronic equipment while preventing the enemy to do the same with our own electronic equipment. EW comes in three flavors Electronic Support, Electronic Protection and electronic Attack; EW is another force multiplier.

Victory in a battle finally depends on destruction of enemy's forces and battlefield equipment. Motley weapons starting from the guns and ending up with missiles achieve this. While guns including the field guns, mortars and area weapons have limited influence and destruction capability, missiles are the main weapons of destruction. In the most recent gulf, war cruise missiles had a great impact on the outcome of the war for the allied forces. Missiles with nuclear capability are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction and can be surface launched or launched from air or underwater. Nuclear powered submarines with missile launching capabilities are clearly major force multipliers.

In the present scenario, one often talks of integrated and network centric warfare where all the three service combine their power and equipment to gain upper hand in the battle. Network centric warfare or network centric operations is a military doctrine pioneered by US department of defense in the 1990s. It is the transformation of information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into competitive advantage through computer networking of geographically dispersed forces. In the Network centric warfare it is a combined operation and everything is connected to everything else.

The importance of software in today's defense systems is growing. Developing new methods that provide advanced techniques for developing, deploying and testing software will become ever more important in accelerating the delivery of technical capabilities. Techniques like robust virtual machines, open source chips and automated verification and validation tools will become more pervasive and will provide a platform for rapidly developing and deploying new capabilities. This will be further complemented by the developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning. Deployment of robots for many services including battlefield robots may become a reality.

As we embark on new defense strategies, we have to bring the triple – Academia, R&D laboratories and Industries – together to design, develop and productionize military hardware. In India, the main organization involved in Defense R&D is the DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization. DRDO was established in 1958 and today has over 50 laboratories spread all over India from Leh in the north to Kochi in the south and from Jodhpur in the west to Tejpur in the east. The main clustering of the laboratories are in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. DRDO laboratories cover a vast area of military requirements – radars and sonars, communication and electronic warfare systems, aircrafts and battle tanks, ships and submarines, guns and ammunition, missiles and rockets, bridges and transport vehicles, food and health care etc. The main systems that have been delivered by DRDO are Agni and Akash missiles, Light combat Air craft Tejus, Arjun main battlefield tank, Sumyukta and Sangaraha electronic warfare systems, weapon locating and 3D radars, Sonar systems for all the three dimension of the navy, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system, battle field communication systems and torpedoes etc.

Clearly, victory in future wars largely depend on superior technology of the military hardware. Superior technology can only be achieved by supporting advanced research in S&T in academic institutions and R&D laboratories The role of scientists and technologist in the coming years is bound to increase and a country's knowledge base will determine the outcome any war.

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