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Approach:  

  1. Intro acknowledging disruptive technologies shaping the course of war.
  2. Discuss how disruptive technologies are being employed.
  3. Identify the concerns with disruptive technologies.
  4. Conclusion

Modern conflicts have spread over land, air, maritime and cyber domains, fuelled by ethnic antagonisms, territorial claims & geopolitical competition. But, this has demonstrated the critical role of disruptive technologies in shaping military doctrines and influencing future battlefield tactics.

Role of disruptive technologies : Technology has always had a symbiotic relationship with warfare dynamics. For e.g., the advent of nuclear weapons in 1940s had significantly strengthened the military capabilities of US and Soviet Union, later spreading to other countries creating ‘nuclear arms race’.

While these trends persists, the 21st century wars are differentiated by disruptive technologies like robotics & autonomy, quantum computing, cyber warfare, AI., etc.

  • Russia-Ukraine conflict has demonstrated kinetic war efforts like deployment of KUB-BLA drones, identifying targets with AI. Ukrainian drones use satellite feed for aerial reconnaissance and Russian cyberattacks have caused ‘fog of war’.
  • Automation & data-driven technologies and robotics have spawned autonomous systems, equipped with sensors & processors to give situational awareness of the threat environment. They can be activated to select and engage targets without human intervention. E.g., the concept of ‘drone swarm’ has emerged where several drones communicate & coordinate to achieve tactical mission. In 2021, Israel operated drone swarm in south Gaza to target Hamas.
  • US Navy is on the verge of deploying AI-enable submarines; Russia is developing unmanned ground vehicle to patrol and Israel operates Iron Dome which uses AI to analyse enemy missiles and determine risks.
  • China is pursuing a civil-military fusion for integrated development of emerging technologies.

Concerns: proliferation of autonomous system raise ethical questions since algorithms will decide on the use of lethal force. The systems are coded to attack targets, developing “fire, forget & find capability”. Unfortunately, international developments are slow match these technological & battlefield developments. Proliferation of these to non-state actors can magnify their lethality through innovative applications. Drug smuggling syndicates and terrorist groups from Pakistan have already used drones to transport drugs & small arms in India’s NE.

Autonomous systems will play critical role as it evolves in functionality based on machine learning. With no fears of human casualties, military planners can go all out in fighting and escalating engagements – the most consequential implication of tech-wars. This potential development can also profoundly impact the military workforce, reskilling many service members and job cuts.

Rapid advances in technology & automation will continue to shape the future of conflict & wars. Countries are aiming to quickly weaponizing & deploying them. This may eliminate the political consequences of warfighting and ethical necessity to peacefully end hostilities. This distinct possibility of anarchism makes regulating technologies like lethal autonomous weapons imperative.

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