[Editorial Analysis] Heading towards strategic instability

Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Adopting technology in defense sector


• In late 2018, the government decided to set up three new agencies the Defence Cyber Agency, the Defence Space Agency and the Special Operations Division in order to address the new age challenges to national security.

• It is also important to note that the constitution of these agencies is a far cry from the crucial recommendations given by the Naresh Chandra Task Force and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, both of which had suggested the formation of three separate joint commands to deal with new challenges to India’s national security in the cyber, space and special operations domains.

• This rather lacklustre response to major ‘futuristic’ challenges to our national security raises a larger question: is India adequately prepared for the new age wars in general or is it still preparing for the last war it fought, and won?

High-tech innovations

• There is a revolution in military affairs that seems to have attracted the attention of strategic analysts and policy planners across the world.

• The current focus in military thinking across the world is increasingly moving away from traditional heavy-duty military hardware to high-tech innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, satellite jammers, hypersonic strike technology, advanced cyber capabilities and spectrum denial and high-energy lasers.

• In the light of the unprecedented capabilities that these systems offer, there is also an increased focus on developing suitable command and control as well as doctrinal concepts to accommodate and calibrate them.

Challenges for adopting these technologies

• The arrival of these technologies might deeply frustrate strategic stability as we know it given their disruptive nature.

• Strategic stability in the contemporary international system, especially among the nuclear weapon states, depends on several age-old certainties, the most important being the issue of survivability of a state’s nuclear arsenal and its ability to carry out a second strike after a first attack.

• Once accuracies get better, hypersonic glide vehicles replace conventional delivery systems, real time tracking and surveillance make major strides, and AI-enabled systems take over, survivability of nuclear arsenal, which lies at the heart of great power stability, could take a severe beating.

• An assumption that the naval leg of a nuclear triad is the most survivable part since it is hidden away in the depths of the ocean away from the adversary’s gaze.

• However, the potential ability of deep-sea drones to detect ballistic-missile armed nuclear submarines or SSBNs may make this assurance a thing of the past thereby frustrating traditional calculations.

• The U.S.’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty is perhaps an indication of a potential arms race in the offing.

• In a January 2018 article, the Economist put it succinctly: “Disruptive new technologies, worsening relations between Russia and America and a less cautious Russian leadership than in the cold war have raised fears that a new era of strategic instability may be approaching.”

Fears of conflict

• There is an inherent paradox vis-à-vis high technology-enabled military systems. While on the one hand, it is imperative for states to redesign their systems in the light of these new technologies.

• The digital and cyber components, this also makes the cyber- and digital-enabled systems vulnerable to covert cyberattacks.

• It given that such surreptitious attacks might take place in the early stages of a conflict, ensuing confusion and scare might lead to uncontrolled escalation with little time for assessment and judgement.

Chinese capabilities

• China has emerged as a key actor in the field of emerging military technologies. This is something that will concern New Delhi in the days ahead.

• Some analysts believe that Beijing is in the lead position in emerging technologies with potential military applications such as quantum computing, 3D printing, hypersonic missiles and AI.

• If indeed, Beijing continues to develop hypersonic systems, for instance, it could potentially target a range of targets in the U.S.

• While the Chinese focus is evidently on U.S. capabilities, which China interprets as a potential threat, this is not without latent concerns for New Delhi.

• India might, in turn, consider developing some of these technologies which will create dilemmas for Islamabad.

• The cascading strategic competition then looks unavoidable at this point, and that is worrisome.

• It might be difficult to avoid some of these developments given their dual use.

Way forward

• In this context that we must revisit the government’s decision to set up the agencies to address cyber and space challenges.

• This is a timely effort from the government to have finally decided to set them up — though they are not yet in place.

• It is unfortunate that unlike what was envisioned earlier, these agencies will be reduced in their powers and their standing in the pecking order of defence planning in the country.

• Moreover, reports indicate that the Space Command will be headed by the Air Force, the Army will head the Special Operations Command, and the Navy will be given the responsibility of the Cyber Command.

• If indeed that happens, their effectiveness in terms of tri-service synergy will be much less than anticipated.

• It given that the higher defence decision-making in the country is still civil services-dominated, despite the recent attempts to correct it, the effectiveness of these agencies will remain weak.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With respect to Tropical Rainforest, which of the above statement is/are incorrect?

A. The World Wildlife Fund’s biome classification puts the tropical rainforests under Tropical Moist Broadleaf Forest.

B. Tropical rain forests are found in regions where temperatures and precipitation are low year-round.

C. In soils of the Tropical Rain Forests, the nutrients are found mainly in living plant biomass and in the layer of decomposing litter.

D. There are apparently no seasons in Tropical rain forests near the equator, yet the tropical rainforests which
are away from equator have only wet and dry seasons.
Correct Answer: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Is India adequately prepared for the new age wars in general or is it still preparing for the last war it fought, and won?

Q.2) Is it sufficiently prepared to face the new age wars? Has the urgency associated with these technological developments dawned on the security planners in New Delhi?

Share article