For many millennia technologies developed for military applications later permeated into civil and commercial applications. With the rapid growth of techniques combined with the easy accessibility to information, education and awareness and the dissipation of scientific papers readily available on the internet we are now witnessing a new era where commercial and civilian innovations are later absorbed into military systems. Matters are not helped anymore as military’s are designed to contest present threats and future predicted challenges and, also, equipment, platforms and systems are acquired through a torturous process that takes several years but which must remain relevant across its long service life of 25 years or more. Consequently, many of the ‘state of the art’ military systems are already obsolete by commercial and civilian standards even before they enter service.  Increasingly it is becoming difficult to conceive the utility of these high-cost solutions for future warfighting even 5 years down the line from induction.

Much of this trend has been driven by the advances that materials, robotics, computing and processing has achieved in the last decade. Today, processors used for video gaming are already 400 times more powerful than what flies on the F-35, unquestionably, one of the most software intensive fighter aircraft in the world. This has become possible because the ability to collect, collate, analyse and intelligently convert BIG Data from multi-spectral sensors and from multifarious sources using cloud computing, Edge, Data cubes etc into actionable information has exponentially grown. This rides on AI technologies such as NLP, Deep Learning, Heuristics, cognitive computing, swarm intelligence etc which offers an infinite range of use cases left to the imagination and requirement of the end user.  

Unquestionably, a key technology that might completely change the way of war will be artificial intelligence (AI). Applications of this trend were already evident in the Azerbaijan and Armenia conflict, the Idlib encounter and numerous proof of concept projects where unmanned and manned systems team together to create devastating results and create war winning asymmetries in the application of force at a time and at a space determined by computers.

AI is of two main types. General AI develops bespoke customised solutions for specific use cases. Narrow AI provides established algorithms for more common use cases and has much larger applications. However, an AI algorithm is only as good as the training data it is provided, and this requires a substantial amount of work by the humans who would need to categorise and label data which are then provided to the processor to ’machine learn’ identifiers associated with an object, behaviour or an activity. This learning by the processor helps to autonomously associate the object, behaviour or activity and predict its next response. Hence, accurately labelled and catalogued training data is the key to successful AI applications, and therefore such systems are primarily dependent on the ability of the potential user to field the required BIG Data to enable the processor the machine learn its features. Data is the main raw material out of which high-performing AI systems are built. Voluminous data is available in the various records, log-books, registers, documentation etc that is routinely maintained in all air stations and establishments and this data will form the foundation of applied AI for the Air Force.

We are now beginning to see a lot of results in this field and application of AI technologies in the Air Forces are particularly significant.  Narrow AI are already being successfully used for a range of applications such as control of military hardware and its predictive maintenance, cyber warfare, smart logistics, infrastructure and asset management, combat medicine, personnel management and a host of other routine activities that take up a large amount of manpower and time to administer the Air Force.  Automating this by creating AI enabled DSS frees up scarce resources to concentrate on the core busines of the Air Force – creating and maintaining a robust, resilient and responsive air defence system for the nation.

General AI use cases are still work in progress. These will directly impact warfare by providing exponential capacity, capability and competence to the Air Warrior with a host of ‘deep dived’ intelligent options which was completely impossible a few years ago. Finally, such systems would close the Kill Chain by completing the OODA loop well ahead of the adversary.

AI, to borrow terms from the DAP 2020, is no longer an ‘enhanced parameter’ but an ‘essential parameter ‘A’ in the future force structure and composition of the Air Force. There is a distinct need to understand the form and substance of various facets of AI and identify use cases for application in the Indian Air Force by identifying use cases that can be readily adopted in the near term and mid-term whilst others which needs to be developed over the long term. Quite clearly these long-term technologies are unlikely to come from established defence establishments and would have to be brought in from the civil and commercial world. Examples are algorithms created for cab hailing systems, crowd sourced hotel reservation systems, fintech systems (for their data integrity), blockchains for secure logistics and transport etc. AI enabled network solutions that have created the monoliths of Amazon, FedEx, Oyo and Uber have wide ranging applications in the Armed Forces if the user creatively leverages these existing solutions to war fighting.  This requires a new age air warrior who is both tech savvy with the ability to draw together existing AI use cases in the commercial space with those that can be adapted to the Air Force with only minor tweaking of established algorithms and processes.

Towards debating these issues an e-symposium on ‘AI for Air Warriors’ is being scheduled in the 4th week of March 2021. Eminent practitioners of AI drawn from the global academia and business world will come together to share their views on shaping the Indian Air Force for the new age war.


2 thoughts on “AI for Air Warriors

  1. Sujeet , a very appropriate topic and well written , I would suggest that you discuss with few Air warriors the core application for war fighting especially the ISR issues in flight and use of precision weapons for pointing accuracy using AI algorithms to improve the present system of say LCA or NUH.
    The Logistics and maintenance too will be largely affected with VR and AR assisted by AI
    Warm Regards

  2. Thank you very much. SAMDeS has planned a e-sym on AI for Air Warriors with experts drawn from across the world. will update details once we firm up the data.

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