Disruptive technology is described as the formulation of innovative ideas that reshape existing norms. Historically, humans have consistently advanced and transformed living standards with new and progressive ideas that disrupt current practices. In the contemporary era, the need to invest in disruptive technology has manifested in increased competition between states in a constant race to stay at the top of the power hierarchy.
Defence and security are areas where extensive competition has birthed substantial innovations in the last decade. The world’s most powerful states are in a race to establish themselves as unparalleled in the field of defence, with significant developments in their weapons and systems. The accelerated pace of these developments in the modern, globalised era has quickly reshaped what warfare tactics now entail. Conventional weapons have become old-fashioned as advancements in disruptive military technologies have become the priority for many superpowers, as the use of this type of weapons technology by a state would tilt the power balance in its favour. Disruption is revolutionising the new world order in technology with dual-use technologies and applications of autonomous unmanned systems. Emerging disruptive technologies, or EDTs, have a disruptive and revolutionary impact on defence and military capabilities, strategy, and operations. EDTs include, but are not limited to, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, hypersonic weapons systems and cyber technologies.
India, in particular, has recently started exploring the boundaries of disruptive technology and its military applications. It faces complex internal and external security threats, such as disputed territory issues with both China and Pakistan and internal unrest with rising extremism, which have driven it to allocate resources into its research and development for advanced weapons, an area in which it was severely lacking. Indian analysts raised alarm and expressed grave concerns over China’s growing global strategic influence and military capabilities, with its R&D allocation now increasing to 20% of the world’s total R&D budget. Furthermore, China becoming the biggest exporter of advanced military weapons hardware to Pakistan, that too at subsidised rates, poses a major security threat for India.
Therefore, in the past two years, India has started to take initiatives in disruptive warfare by studying the various niches and disruptive technologies that will assist in modernising its military, with a particular focus on AI, robotics, drone swarm etc. It came as a dire need for the Indian military that was still heavily reliant on obsolete technology and unable to catch up with the Chinese revolution in military affairs currently dominant in the global arena. The Chinese advancements in warfare technologies, primarily in the spheres of information, electronic and asymmetric warfare, space warfare and long-range precision strikes, are at the forefront of the global arms race in disruptive military technology.
In 2022, India stood at 4th place on the annual Global Firepower (GFP) review, which ranks 138 states according to their military and logistic capabilities. It is the world’s second-largest hub of imported weapons, which prompted the state to accelerate domestic manufacturing of modernised and disruptive weapons technologies. The Indian Army Chief, in 2020, pressed the military to use domestically manufactured dual-use disruptive technologies as part of a modernisation approach in the armed forces. With the Modi government’s Make in India policy, the country aims to achieve an ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (a self-reliant India), particularly in the defence sector, to push for domestic production of weapons, and investments in research, innovation, and development. Therefore, in 2022, the state banned imports of 101 weapons and systems, including naval utility helicopters, anti-ship missiles, rockets, torpedoes, medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems, tank engines and medium-range surface to air missile systems, all to be manufactured locally.
Additionally, in light of the Ukraine war, India’s defence deals with Russia face a predicament and risk of lack of implementation, which urged the Indian government to sign defence contracts with Indian investors worth $25 billion, to locally manufacture tactical communication systems, enhanced rocket systems, radar systems, helicopter-launched Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, and other advanced military technologies. And amid the stand-off with China in the Ladakh region, India has recently increased its defence spending by 9.8%, with its annual defence budget now at USD 70 billion. This shows rigorous Indian intent for accelerated growth towards disruptive weapons and reducing its reliance on defence imports.
With India’s military prowess increasing at an accelerated pace, the South Asian strategic environment is at risk of being disturbed. Pakistan will have to stay more vigilant of the offensive and expansionist military outlook that its eastern neighbour is pursuing, as it cannot challenge India in conventional military might. However, Pakistan has the advantage of a superior strategic orientation over India, in addition to the protection offered by nuclear deterrence, which has successfully prevented an all-out war between the two states. The security risks for Pakistan remain the same; India is maximising its power and self-reliance while actively engaging in offensive military tactics to emerge as a regional superpower. Furthermore, with the investment and advancements in disruptive military technologies by India and Pakistan’s arms trade with China, the prospect of an arms control framework being deployed in South Asia becomes more unlikely. It further threatens the potential of a peaceful and open South Asian region, with a new and modernised arms race.