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Biggest capability differential between India China lies in cyber, says Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat

General Bipin Rawat

China is capable of launching cyber attacks against India, and there is a capability gap between the two countries when it comes to technology, said Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat. Speaking at a virtual event organised by the Vivekananda International Foundation, Rawat said though India was a little slow on the start, it was catching up.

“China has been able to invest a lot of funds, allocated a lot of funds in ensuring that they imbibe technology. Therefore, they certainly have a lead over us. We are also evolving technologies to make sure we come on par with them,” said Rawat, while responding to a question about a general capability gap between the two countries. He also commented on the armed forces adoption of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Key takeaways on tech in the armed forces

‘Biggest differential lies in cyber’: Rawat said that the biggest difference in capabilities lies in the field of cyber warfare. “We know that China is capable of launching cyber attacks on us and that it can disrupt a large of our systems. What we are trying to do is to create a system in which we can ensure cyber defence. And we have been able to therefore create a cyber agency which is own agency within the armed forces,” he said.

Can’t say there is no technology difference: Rawat was unequivocal in declaring that there was, indeed, a difference in capabilities. “[T]o say that there is no technology difference, I would hesitate to say that. And we can overcome this only if we, I dare say, integrate the resources of the three services,” he said.

Each service has own cyber agency: “Each service also has its own cyber agency to ensure even we come under a cyber attack, the down time and the effect of the cyber attack does not last long,” said Rawat. He added that the forced should be able to the systems should be able to overcome cyberattacks, in addition to preventive measures such as firewalls.

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“While we are trying to create firewalls for cyber attacks, yet we are quite sure that they will be able to break through these firewalls and we will have cyber attacks. What we are trying to do is how long will your system be down, and how you will be able to operate through that phase of cyber attack that you have been put through. That is one thing we are looking at and addressing in a serious manner.” — General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff

Navy ahead of army, air force in tech adoption: Continuing his point on the need to integrate the three services, Rawat said that the Navy was ahead of the Army and Air Force in the adoption of technology.

“I find that the three services are at different levels as far as a technology orientation is concerned. And I would unhestitatingly say that the Navy is far ahead of the Army and the Air Force in as far as the way they imbibed technology. If you integrate, you will at least be able to catch up with them. That is the way forward.” — General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff

Need to work with western nations: As India is behind China, and it needs to catch up, it is trying to develop relationships with western nations to get support, at least in peace time to overcome the differential, said Rawat.

Adoption of artificial intelligence in armed forces satisfactory: All three services have progressed with artificial intelligence “satisfactorily”, said Rawat, adding that India is making headway in the field. “We are seeing how best to leverage artificial intelligence in the field of logistics support. Today, as far as the maintenance of our equipment is concerned, we are now employing artificial intelligence to do predictive maintenance,” he said.

The Army and the Air Force have a tendency of maintaining a large number of reserves, largely to mitigate for failure at times of combat. “You can reduce the requirement of reserves if you predict your failures through artificial intelligence. Rather than wait for the system to fail, you can carry out some predictive maintenance on that equipment so that your requirement of reserves are curtailed and at the same time your equipment does not fail in the battlefield.”

The services individually are using AI as well, he said. The Air Force, for instance, uses AI for configuration of its aircraft in missions and in other matters. ‘We are looking at artificial intelligence in as far as underwater domain awareness is concerned, for looking at undersea of the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific. That way we find that a large number of issues on artificial intelligence are now making progress. But they way we should have actually progressed, I think we have not done so, we have somehow lagged behind. But now an impetus is being given to this, and people have started understanding the relevance of artificial intelligence,” he said.

Efforts in quantum computing has begun: While refusing to term the progress in quantum computing as “satisfactory”, Rawat said that there has at least been a beginning and “we are heading in that direction”. “We have been able to at least collect the data that is required for quantum computing […] We are now carrying out a lot of effort to see how best we can support the medical services through quantum computing and so on and so forth. In inventory management, in all those issues, quantum computing is slowing finding its way.”

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