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9 April 2020, Gateway House

Scale up national cloud for AI in defence

Indigenous development of key Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure is critical to scaling up the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within the armed forces. Home-grown cloud technology, like National Cloud Meghraj, can help in this transformation while also meeting India’s cyber-physical security demands for data exchange and data localisation

Fellow, Indian Navy Studies Programme

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The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), currently sweeping the world and large parts of India, is making demands on institutions to dramatically upgrade resources and operations. The Indian armed forces, usually first responders in any major crisis – whether combat or otherwise – will be all too familiar with the need for speed and capacity.

A decision or strategy is only useful if it can outpace the changes on the ground. Availability of actionable data in real time is therefore paramount.

Here, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has clear advantages – but it is also expensive. Therefore the Army, Navy and Air Force must adopt it as a common tri-service objective to make the best use of the capital involved. The Ministry of Defence has already set up a task force[1] for this in 2018, with the goal of establishing a roadmap for Strategic Implementation of AI for National Security and Defence. The task force identified five Use Cases[2] of AI for the armed forces, namely, Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), unmanned surveillance, simulated war games and training, cybersecurity, aerospace security, and intelligence & reconnaissance. Their development will add tremendous value to the three forces’ capabilities in times of war.

On the recommendations of the task force, the Defence Al Council (DAIC) and Defence Al Project Agency (DAIPA)[3] were set up within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to marshal resources within industry, academia, and defence research organisations for R&D and implementation of AI in the armed forces.

Yet, much more needs to be done. And a critical element is missing: domestic cloud computing capacity.

The three forces currently have multiple disjointed information systems, distributed across modern and legacy infrastructure. These are key challenges to integrating various service commands into the theatre command structure,[4] which the Ministry of Defence is contemplating.

Cloud technology and upgrades to ICT infrastructure is therefore necessary for the successful AI transformation within the armed forces. Deployment of AI at the edge of war-fighting requires tactical and combat formations to store, access, manipulate, and move bulk data rapidly and securely. Cloud technology offers all these advantages and India must move quickly to secure this technology.

Both the U.S. and China are leagues ahead. In the U.S., the commercial Amazon Web Service (AWS), Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure are dominant cloud computing players while in China, Huawei and Alibaba have both rolled out cloud services. In parallel, the defence services of those nations are also engaged in building cloud capacity. For instance, the U.S. Department of Defence is in the advanced stages of finalising a contract for the creation of Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI)[5] to promote readiness for AI, address cyber challenges, and provide tactical support to those fighting a war from the front. The Chinese military and intelligence agency are deeply involved in developing advanced cloud computing technologies[6] for similar use and may even surpass the U.S. in achieving AI leadership.

India has the National Cloud Meghraj,[7] developed by the National Informatics Centre, Pune, and supported by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). Initially deployed in 2014 to provide Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), over time, it has expanded to provide Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). However, this platform lacks the capacity to support the growth of AI in the armed forces.

The three services must jointly collaborate with industry and academia to develop a cloud strategy that is not only forward-looking but also capable of migrating existing legacy applications through suitable re-architecting of security protocols. To achieve this:

a) the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)[8] and representatives from the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) must be included in DAIC and DAIPA to develop a common tri-services AI strategy and infrastructure. Their inclusion will enhance co-ordination and avoid duplication of effort at AI transformation;

b) the three services must jointly collaborate with industry and academia to support the development of indigenous 5G technology, another technology which can significantly change the balance towards AI leadership;

c) the National Cloud Meghraj must be ramped up to facilitate secure exchange of voluminous, mission-critical data between formations on land, air, sea and sub-surface; and

d) India must collaborate with the U.S., a leader in commercial cloud technology, under the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership for R&D acceleration.

The availability of indigenous ICT infrastructure (cloud computing and 5G or 6G[9]) will expedite AI innovation for an increase in Use Cases to improve organisational efficiency within the armed forces. These Use Cases, will, in turn, significantly add to the capabilities of military leaders when framing a crisis response – whether in combat or non-combat situations, such as the current one, COVID-19.

Cdr. Amrut Godbole is a serving officer of the Indian Navy and currently Indian Navy Fellow, Gateway House.

The views expressed in this report/article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy, the Ministry of Defense, or India.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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References

[1] Press Information Bureau, ‘AI task force hands over Final Report to RM’, Government of India, 30 June 2018, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=180322

[2] A specific situation in which a product or service could potentially be used.

[3] Ministry of Defence, ‘lmptementation of the recommendations of the multi-stakeholder Task Force constituted by the Ministry of Defence for ‘strategic lmplementation of Artificial Intelligence for National Security and Defence’, Government of India, 8 February 2019, https://ddpmod.gov.in/sites/default/files/AI.pdf

[4] ‘CDS Gen Rawat unveils big ticket military reform agenda’, Press Trust of India, 17 February 2020, http://www.ptinews.com/news/11232592_CDS-Gen-Rawat-unveils-big-ticket-military-reform-agenda

[5] Department of Defense, ‘DoD Cloud Strategy’, Government of India, December 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2019/Feb/04/2002085866/-1/-1/1/DOD-CLOUD-STRATEGY.PDF

[6] ‘The 28 Institute of China Electronics Technology and Baidu established the “Intelligent Command and Control Technology Joint Laboratory” to promote the military-civilian integration into the new technology field’, Web Archive, 23 January 2018,

https://web.archive.org/web/20190704194117/http://www.sohu.com/a/218485100_779538

[7] Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘Software as a Service’, Government of India, https://cloud.gov.in/

[8] Press Information Bureau, ‘Cabinet approves creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of four star General’, Government of India, 24 December 2019,

https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1597425

[9] Giri, Chaitanya, ‘6G, the new frontier’, Gateway House, 14 November 2019, https://www.gatewayhouse.in/6g-the-new-frontier/

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