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Maj Gen Shammi Raj, AVSM, SM (Retd) Writes : 

“The road ahead for Artificial Intelligence depends on and will be driven by Human Intentions. We need to make Artificial Intelligence in India and make Artificial Intelligence work for India.”[1]


Since the advent of civilization, humans have strived to take control of their environment and surroundings. This quest has resulted in many discoveries and inventions, the most notable being the machines. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the branch of computer science that emphasises development of intelligent machines, thinking and working like humans, or ability of computers to perform mental tasks that humans carry out using their acquired skills and knowledge.[2] Niti Aayog in its discussion paper titled “National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence # AIFORALL” has acknowledged that “AI might just be the single largest technology revolution of our lifetimes, with the potential to disrupt almost all aspects of human existence”.[3] It has a force multiplying potential to increase the human capabilities and infusing cost effective military systems with optimum results. Convinced of the potential of AI and the qualitative edge it can afford, the Armed Forces of the world’s leading military powers have embarked upon active AI development and deployment programmes. Likewise, the Indian Armed Forces can also leverage the AI potential to optimize their capabilities with a force-multiplying effect. This article aims at addressing the essential mechanics of implementation of AI in the Armed Forces.

“Emerging fields, facilitating artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things, block–chain and big data can take India to new heights of development and improve the quality of life of its citizens”[4]


……..Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

Environmental Scan

USA.   As of now, USA has been the most prominent actor in the field of military AI, having driven much of the early breakthroughs in AI research. One well known driver in developing these systems is their extensive military experience over the last two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the employment of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Pentagon’s so called ‘Third Offset Strategy’ reflects a major role reserved for AI in future military force projection.[5] The major AI systems identified by US (US Department of Defence Strategic Capabilities Office) include Autonomous Deep Learning Machine Systems, Human Machine Collaboration, Advanced Human-Machine Combat Teaming, Network Enabled Semi -Autonomous Weapons and Battlefield Swarm Technology (the prominent of these is the US Navy’s Low Cost Unmanned aerial vehicle Swarming Technology-LOCUST).[6]

China.            As second largest player in general purpose AI, China is displaying capability to not only keep pace with USA but even overtake them in years to come. China has undertaken massive machine learning research. China’s National Development and Reforms Commission in Feb 2017 approved a plan to establish an on line ‘National Laboratory for ‘Deep Learning’, with an overarching goal to ‘Boost China’s overall competence in AI’, building up an AI Industry worth 1 trillion RMB (about US $150 billion).[7] Companies such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent have remarkably adapted to develop and deploy AI applications. China is pursuing a national strategy of military-civil fusion as part of the “China Brain Plan” to develop AI and deploy it in unmanned systems, Cyber Security for social governance and for military supremacy. Faced by the ‘Third Offset Strategy’ of the US, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has planned to leapfrog US capabilities, with an aim to achieve competitive edge by end of year 2020 and breakthrough by year 2025. China wants to achieve progress in next generation AI technologies to include big data, swarm intelligence, hybrid enhanced intelligence and autonomous intelligent systems. Recently, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation successfully flight-tested a swarm of 119 drones.[8] China wants to become the world’s premier innovation centre in AI by 2030.[9] Besides, the importance of civil-military fusion has been recognised by President Xi Jinping, who has created a Military-Civil Integration Development Commission with himself as the head.[10]

Israel.             Israel was one of the first countries to reveal that it has deployed fully automated robots and self-driving military vehicles. It is investing heavily in research and development projects for early detection and accurately strike time-critical targets. The Israel military is looking to form mixed combat units of robotic vehicles and human soldiers. Israeli Aeronautics Ltd has produced a range of UAV control systems containing AI algorithms. In the field of combat simulation, Israel Defence Electronics Company Elbit System Ltd has produced a Command and Staff Trainer that simulates a range of joint operations and in turn enables commanders to make significantly more effective battlefield decisions.[11]

Russia.          While still somewhat lagging behind its great power rivals in terms of deep learning capabilities, the Russian Federation has displayed a steady commitment to developing and deploying a wide range of robotic military platforms including Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV). Those in active service include Uran-6 de-mining robot, Platform-M reconnaissance and Udar UGVs, built on the existing frame of the Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) BMP-3.[12]


In June 2018, India’s national think-tank, the NITI Aayog, released a discussion paper on the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in India.[13] This paper said the country could add US$1 trillion to its economy through integrating AI. Since then, some of the biggest moves made by the government to act on this prediction is the formation of a task force on Artificial Intelligence for India’s Economic Transformation by the Commerce and Industry Department of the Government of India in 2017, and the Union Cabinet in December 2018. These bodies approved an INR3,660 crore national mission on cyber-physical system technologies that involves extensive use of AI, machine learning, deep learning, big data analytics, quantum computing, quantum communication, quantum encryption, data science and predictive analytics.

But, what has been the progress in the nation since these ambitious missions were undertaken by the government? According to an analysis by research agency Itihaasa, the progress has been appreciable. When the agency used the number of ‘citable documents’, or the number of research publications in peer-reviewed journals, in the field of AI between 2013 and 2017 as a metric, India ranked third in terms of high quality research publications in Artificial Intelligence.[14] However, when parsed by another metric (citations, or the number of times an article is referred), India ranked only fifth behind the UK, Canada, the US and China which suggests that India must shift its focus to improving the quality of its research output in AI. The report also revealed that the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology were among the primary research centres for AI. Currently, most of the traction in India is in the form of AI pilot projects from the government in agriculture and healthcare, and the emergence of AI start ups in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. Though these are indications of grass roots level AI adoption, the pace of innovation isn’t comparable to the USA or China today.

Some challenges that the progress of AI in India faces are limited availability of manpower and of good quality and clean data, as there is no institutional mechanism to maintain high quality data. A report published by Price Water House Coopers (PwC) in 2018 revealed another imminent challenge, that even with all the potential benefits of AI which are envisaged to aid humans, people still have concerns regarding data privacy and are apprehensive to share data for a better experience. A vast majority of participants agree that they have major concerns regarding data privacy to the point that it is near unanimous (93%) and that they are hesitant to even share medical results knowing that it could help provide some personalised knowledge about their health, so data protection still remains a hazy domain hindering the growth of AI.[15]

Another cultural challenge that India faces is the fact that the cost of failure is much higher here than in the West. While failing in an attempt at big innovation and grand goals might be seen as brave in Silicon Valley, failure often implies a loss of face in India and this has historically meant a lack of room for experimentation. All these challenges tell us that even with government funding and industry participation, India is just at the starting point of what seems to be a promising long road.

Military Applications of AI

AI is widely acknowledged to be one of the most effective and disruptive technological interventions of our age and its use in defence will be no exception. In a study conducted at Harvard Kennedy School for US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), it is stated by the authors that “AI is likely to be a transformative military technology, on a par with the invention of aircraft and nuclear weapons”.[16] AI technologies hold great promise for facilitating military decisions and enhancing the combat potential of forces. AI enabled technologies would be critical for both operational and administrative domains of the Armed Forces.[17] The broad military applications of the same would include the following: –

(a)       AI-enabled data fusion, information processing and intelligence analysis.

(b)       Intelligent and Autonomous weapon systems.

(c)        Cyber warfare and data mining.

(d)       Human – Machine cognitive teaming.

(e)       Computational military reasoning.

(f)        AI enabled communication on the battlefield.

(g)       Logistics management.

(h)       Health applications.

Leveraging AI by the Armed Forces

For AI to be effective and impact the military domain, certain pre-requisites need to be fulfilled. Salient aspects are as follows: –

(a)       Govt initiatives in terms of institutionalized support through synergized use of industry, research establishments, users and Niti Aayog.

(b)       Creation of AI infrastructure comprising of data management systems, sensors, and communication amongst sensors.

(c)        Creating digital awareness in the Defence Services.

(d)       Organization and Staffing starting at the apex level.

(e)       Funding and resourcing of support.

(f)        Data sharing culture.

Structures & Mechanism for Implementation

AI applications involve all domains viz operations, logistics, human resource and so on across all spectrum of war and peace. Broad framework and institutional structures so far approved / established to look at the aspects of policy framework, organization, funding, resourcing, HR management and supporting eco-system are given in the ensuing paragraphs.

National Task Force.         17 members National Task Force (NTF) on employment of AI for national security and defence was established on 18 Feb 2018. It was headed by Mr. N Chandrasekaran Chairman Tata Sons and comprised representatives from tri-services, DPSUs and other relevant stakeholders. NTF report was submitted to GoI in Jun 2018.[18] Salient recommendations of the NTF report are briefly listed below: –

 (a)       Integration of AI with Defence Strategy to use it as a Force Multiplier.

 (b)       For leveraging data and data governance, need to develop Data Management Framework, establish Data Management Office (DMO) and appoint a full time Chief Data Officer (CDO) to head the DMO.

(c)        As regards enhancing infrastructure for AI, there is a need to scale up the existing capability of data centres and establish a central network of Test Beds.

(d)       Sourcing AI innovation through partnership with industry by going in for company registration, having a non-disclosure agreement with the registered company / companies while sharing use cases and data protection agreement.

(e)       Ecosystem development through synergy among Services, Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), Academia, start-ups, and industry.

(f)        For capacity building within Defence, need to set up Defence AI University (DAIU), running AI training courses at the Defence Training Centres and focused training of defence personnel including creation of a core group.

(g)       Funding requirements will be met by earmarking a dedicated AI budget from yearly defence budget, building a corpus, and effecting necessary amendments in the Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP-2016).

(h)       Creation of an Institutional Mechanism by setting up a Defence AI Council (DAIC) under the Hon’ble RM, formation of Defence AI Project Agency (DAIPA) with Secretary Defence Production as the Ex-Officio head and Defence Data Management Council (DDMC) responsible for data development, data sharing principles and ensuring its governance across the defence organization. Similarly, sub committees need to be formed at each Service Headquarters (SHQ) level to drive AI implementation in the respective services.

Implementation Directions.         To carry forward the NTF recommendations, an executive order has been taken out by the MoD.[19] Suitable directions incorporating formulation of strategy / concept, data governance, enhancing of infrastructure, public-private partnership, skill development and funding have been disseminated by the MoD to respective SHQs and other stakeholders. Each SHQ has earmarked an AI Work Force to drive implementation of AI as per the use cases / projects finalized. There is a need to have adequate synergy amongst the Services, academia, DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and industry partners to ensure implicit implementation of AI strategy and the roadmap conceived.

Implementation Roadmap

The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) must formulate at least 15-year roadmap as part of the Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) for development of AI. The roadmap for implementation of AI in the Armed Forces may be based on the following guidelines: –

(a)       Organisational change to suit the disruptive nature of AI technology.

(b)       Establishment of Data Ecosystem to identify, acquire and apply large datasets for development of AI systems. It should also include establishment of Data Centres with requisite infrastructure and communications. Besides, ecosystem for R&D needs to be developed by engaging the entire national AI infrastructure and resources.

(c)        Data Governance to include formulation of data philosophy, sources of data generation, standardization and sharing of data and cloud architecture.

(d)       Designation of Centres of Excellence at respective training establishments with AI labs, HR pool and for development of core competencies.

(e)       Productive policies for cultivating AI talent pool. Training road map as part of skill development to include creation of a core group by each Service and then covering the essential aspects of AI in the courses of instructions. It may also include some foreign courses from countries like USA and Israel with fair expertise in the field.

(f)        A strong cadre of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates ought to be built up and education policy realigned suitably.

(g)       Development of hardware industry and accruing of efficient cutting-edge computing resources.

(h)       Progression of the Use Cases as conceived by each SHQ and included in the LTIPP, under the aegis of newly created DMA. As learnt, each Service has already identified some priority use cases, which ought to be given added thrust with necessary coordination by the DMA.

(j)         Each SHQ must identify and finalise locations of Test Beds for Use Cases keeping in mind the requirements of Development Agencies, infrastructure, specialist manpower and timely completion of projects.

(k)        Dedicated Funding and Resourcing through various modes to include Technology Development Fund, Technology Boards, and IT grants. Simultaneously, enabling provisions must be incorporated in the revised version of Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP), which is currently under revision.

(l)         Strengthening of Public-Private partnership through interaction among SHQs, DRDO, industry and academia.

(m)      Tri-service Synergy is of paramount importance while formulating and progressing the Use Cases. Certain common projects in the domains of Surveillance, Intelligence, Logistics, Health and Manpower Management etc can be developed in a synergized manner by nominating a Nodal SHQ under the aegis of DMA.

(n)       Stress must be laid on development of dual use AI technology so that growth of AI industry and military superiority progress hand in hand.

(o)       India must leverage Strategic Partnerships with countries like USA and Israel to give impetus to AI in the country. Niti Aayog in concert with Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should play nodal role in this regard.


The article has dwelt upon just the essential aspects of implementation of AI in the Armed Forces, with an overview of AI in the leading foreign militaries, especially USA, China, Israel, and Russia. Incorporating AI technologies into various aspects of war fighting and sustenance is a necessity as it is going to establish itself as the foremost ‘Disruptive Technology’, thereby achieving transformative impact on national security. Therefore, collaborative effort of all stakeholders and nominated agencies is critical to meet the stated objectives in a time bound manner.


“The Armed Forces are the repository of big data and there is a need to record and institutionalize the information and carry out predictive analytics using AI”[20]

——— General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff



  2. National Task Force (NTF) Report Jun 2018,, Report of_Task_Force_on_Artificialintelligence
  3. Discussion Paper, “National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence #AIFORALL”, Niti Aayog, June 2018 from Strategy-for-AI-Discussion-paper.pdf
  4. Launch of the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution 11 Oct 2018
  6.’slocust launcher-fires-swarm-drone
  7. National Task Force on AI Report, Jun 2018
  8. https://www.thestatesman.com11jun2017
  16. Greg Allen and Taniel Chan, “AI and National Security”, Harvard Kennedy School, BELFAR Centre for science and international affairs, July 2017 from
  17. https://www.rand.pubs.research
  18. NTF Report of June 2018 on Artificial Intelligence,, Report of_Task_Force_on_Artificialintelligence
  19. MoD / DMA Executive Order on Implementation of AI in the Armed Forces (Not in open domain as yet), inputs based on interaction
  20. Geo Intelligence Asia summit, Jun 2018


[2] National Task Force (NTF) Report Jun 2018,, Report of_Task_Force_on_Artificialintelligence

[3] Discussion Paper, “National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence #AIFORALL”, Niti Aayog, June 2018 from Strategy-for-AI-Discussion-paper.pdf

[4] Launch of the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution 11 Oct 2018


[6]’slocust launcher-fires-swarm-drone

[7] National Task Force on AI Report, Jun 2018

[8] https://www.thestatesman.com11jun2017






[14] dated18jan2019.


[16] Greg Allen and Taniel Chan, “AI and National Security”, Harvard Kennedy School, BELFAR Centre for science and international affairs, July 2017 from

[17] https://www.rand.pubs.research

[18] NTF Report of June 2018 on Artificial Intelligence,, Report of_Task_Force_on_Artificialintelligence

[19] MoD / DMA Executive Order on Implementation of AI in the Armed Forces (Not in open domain as yet), inputs based on interaction

[20] Geo Intelligence Asia summit, Jun 2018

Maj Gen Shammi Raj, AVSM, SM (Retd), has had extensive service in counter-insurgency in J & K and Northeast, and along the Western borders. The general officer retired as the Additional Director General Perspective Planning, on 31 Dec 2109.
Article uploaded
 on 27-08-2020
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.

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  1. Shreesh Kumar says:

    Very well researched paper giving an overview as well as comparative study of AI capabilities. Useful resource for students as well as practitioners of AI.

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