Russia-Ukraine conflict: A wake-up call for India to bolster its military AI capabilities

According to reports, Russia is suspected to be behind these attacks. There is a high likelihood that AI was used in this attack, and more such attacks might very well follow.

russia ukraine war
A charred military vehicle is seen on a road, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, near the town of Bucha in the Kyiv region (Reuters)

By Dr (Prof) NishaKant Ojha

As tensions rise between Russia and Ukraine, all eyes are on the movement of troops – both on land and air. But there’s one thing that, while noticed, did not get the attention it deserved. Just last week, Ukraine suffered a massive cyber-attack that brought down the websites of major banks, its army and defence ministries.

According to reports, Russia is suspected to be behind these attacks. There is a high likelihood that AI was used in this attack, and more such attacks might very well follow. Countries like India, which are now focusing on using more and more interconnected equipment for enhancing their defence capabilities, need to be especially vigilant, considering it is surrounded by neighbours such as China, Pakistan which are known to have the tacit or indirect support of Russia.

Just two weeks ago, news reports indicated that officials from the defence establishment, which includes the Army, Navy, IAF and DRDO, will be focusing on artificial intelligence for faster decision making, better surveillance and more advanced weapon systems. This is a step in the right direction, but India needs to do more.

How AI is increasing vulnerabilities

When it comes to building a prosperous nation based on knowledge and the enhancing value of human life, AI technologies are crucial. Unfortunately, however, AI is widening the vulnerability window of our defence systems and borders.

During the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan last year, one of the biggest game-changers that helped Azerbaijan gain an advantage was the use of drones. These drones are autonomous, equipped with artificial intelligence and have very deep surveillance capabilities. It was the Turkish military that provided this kind of aerial support to Azerbaijan. Since Azerbaijan did not have to use its planes and manpower in these attacks, they gained morale and were able to inflict more severe damage. This was a watershed moment in the area of warfare.

According to reports, Turkish made Kargu-2 drones can actually attack human targets by recognising their face. These drones have advanced cameras and are equipped with artificial intelligence-based facial recognition software that can be used to mount attacks without the need for human intervention at all. It is a double-edged sword – On one hand, they will reduce civilian casualties, and on the other hand, assassination attempts of the future will likely make use of such technology. Allegedly, these drones were used by Turkey in Libya to attack human targets. 

The growing closeness between Turkey and China should be of concern to India, especially because this means that China and Turkey can and do share military capabilities with each other, which puts India at risk. Last year, the drone attack on the Indian Air Force base in Jammu was a warning call for India to take the threats of artificial intelligence and drones more seriously.

Without pervasive AI capabilities and new war fighting paradigms, we will be unable to defend against AI-enabled attacks. Therefore, we need to broaden our understanding of national security and develop AI-enabled solutions.

Many countries are already taking several steps in this direction.

The international AI arms race

The United States Pentagon has set up a Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre, which is tasked with helping the US military make use of artificial intelligence. In fact, last year, there were reports that the Centre will try to strengthen its AI systems by hacking itself.

The British Army has used an artificial intelligence-based engine that gives data about the environment and terrain. They will also be using AI to predict enemy behaviour, transmit real-time intelligence and do reconnaissance.

Last year, there were reports that the Indian military would send 100 personnel to the US so as to train them on cyber security and artificial intelligence. India needs to make better use of its alliances and friendships with countries such as the United States, UK, Australia and Germany, which are at the forefront of advanced AI military technology.

In fact, there are also several start-ups in India that have homegrown solutions for AI attacks, whether physical or virtual. India should explore partnerships with such start-ups to bolster its safety and security further.

This also means India should start divesting from traditional military systems and spend more on next-generation capabilities.

Although we’re late to the party, technologies like these are now advanced enough to be deployed very quickly. This will help India deal effectively with the threats of its belligerent neighbours.

(The author is an Advisor Cyber, Aerospace & Counter Terrorism – Advisor West Asia -Middle East (Under Paris Convention-Treaty)-Eminent Faculty-Defense& Para Military)A Unit -Government of India, Co-opted Director-Government Apex Body. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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