Kerala Technology
‘Army should embrace swarm tactics’

Former Director General of DRDO, Guruprasad Siddalingappa, says technology upgrades are crucial for defence forces. Photo: TikTalk Newsletter

‘Army should embrace swarm tactics’

Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on March 26, 2024
Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on March 26, 2024

“Swarming the opposition with small unmanned drones has become an unbeatable strategy on modern-day battlefields, and Indian defence forces should explore such plans along with cutting-edge technology to maintain superiority,” says Guruprasad Siddalingappa, former Director General of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Speaking at the recently held Southern Star Army Academia Industry Interface at the Pangode Military Station in Trivandrum, Guruprasad pointed out that the recent Hamas attack on Israel is a classic example of the effectiveness of swarm strategy.

“The 5,000 rockets fired by Hamas saturated the Iron Dome, which could not handle it. All your defensive systems will be saturated within no time if there is a deployment of a swarm. There is no countermeasure right now, though people are working to develop one,” said the former DRDO DG, who established a startup called InnoGP Technologies after his retirement to continue his passion for innovative designs.

He said defensive techniques against swarm attacks, like communication jamming and electromagnetic pulses, are no longer effective as ways to overcome such countermeasures have been worked out and implemented by many.

“We have to think ahead. Today, it is risky to deploy conventional weapons like aircraft carriers in unknown waters. They will work only when they can dominate the complete communication space. But that cannot be achieved in every conflict.”

“This shift in warfare was further demonstrated when the Ukraine-Russia conflict started. Many defence experts and officials predicted that the war would not last more than a fortnight. It did not happen, largely because of unmanned systems.”

“Ukraine was the first country to deploy unmanned systems, and Russians continued to think in their conventional method. They did not want to come out of their conventional thinking.”

Guruprasad's insights are borne by the events on the ground. Two years after the fighting started, troops on both sides of the war use tens of thousands of drones each month for strikes and observation. The ongoing battles show how technological innovations could tip the balance of power, wrote Colonel Kristen D Thompson of the US Air Force recently.

There is more urgency for India to accelerate its drone and unmanned capabilities as China continues to race ahead in that field and is reportedly acquiring capabilities that are worrying even the Pentagon.

According to a recent report in the South China Morning Post, researchers in China have developed a drone that can split into two, three, or even six smaller drones once it reaches the target, depending on battle needs. Such rapid development of unmanned vehicles is not limited to one field alone and can encompass land, sea, and air battles.

Guruprasad said a new tactic is the combination of conventional forces and unmanned weapons. It is called manned and unmanned teaming (MUMT).

There are plans to use unmanned vehicles as wingmen for fighter aircraft. The unmanned vehicle will open up its radar and expose itself while effectively searching for potential targets. However, the weapons will be fired by the manned fighter who controls it and uses data obtained from that radar.

“The operational effectiveness of that will be one plus one is 11, and not two. It multiplies the effectiveness of the force.”

The research centres, private sector, and startups have a key role to play as the systems will keep evolving and must be constantly upgraded.

“Hardware upgrades may not be needed that quickly, but software upgrades to implement newer algorithms will happen every few months. So we have to change the way we think about this and become adaptive to the changing situation,” said Guruprasad.

However, he rules out machines taking over control of our defence, saying, “Nothing can beat the human mind. Experienced soldiers are precious assets in the command centers, and they have to use their understanding and competence. No AI or machine learning system can replace that. Human commanders are ultimate.”

The former DRDO DG emphasised the need for more efforts to improve our R&D, stressing that funding must be made available for this purpose. “Funding should not be for just building products alone; it should be made available for carrying out research.”

He said importing a kit from Chia and manufacturing something by just adding a few parts to it doesn’t become indigenisation. “When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Atmanirbharta initiative after 2019, he made it very clear that systems have to be designed, developed, and manufactured in India. If you are still importing 50 percent of the components, it doesn't become Atmanirbharta.”

Guruprasad emphasised that the private sector has to start researching, but the R&D funds should come from the government. “Look at the US; plane makers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing get money from the government to conduct research and build. Private R&D centres get a lot of money from the US government.”

In India, even Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) finds it difficult to invest in research and development. “We are a socialistic country where every industry leader is seen as a capitalist who will exploit the poor and the labour class,” says Guruprasad.

He says India is an unforgiving society. Institutions that undertake research and development face a barrage of criticism when a project gets delayed or fails.

The former DRDO scientist says even the media has to understand that. Whenever a missile launch test fails to achieve its mission, journalists rush to portray it as a failure. “But you don't see any such reports like that in the US.”

“Just look up the history of Apollo missions that finally landed a man on the moon. There were disastrous failures. If such failures had happened here, scientists linked to such failures would be even punished.”

The US didn’t stop the mission despite such failures because scientists learn so much from such failed missions, just like the Chandrayaan mission. Every failure teaches us ten times, then they become successful. Technology is a difficult thing.

“Not everything is perfectly understood. But we should pursue it with vigour,” says Guruprasad.



Startup with direct line to Nvidia boss

A virtually unknown startup called Yotta Data Service has stolen a march over more famous names like the Ambanis and Tatas by taking delivery of 4,000 Nvidia H100 chips, which is like manna from heaven for all artificial intelligence players. Yotta CEO Sunil Joshi says he plans to acquire 20,000 of them, which would cost 640 million US dollars or 5,000 crore rupees, as venture capitalist and analyst Aviral Bhatnagar pointed out. Joshi managed to get hold of the globally sought-after chips due to his relationship with Jensen Huang, Nvidia’s CEO, says a Bloomberg report.

Huang was the centre of attraction at the Nvidia developer conference in California last week, and he was all praise for India’s potential, saying “AI will help India transition from being the IT back office of global companies to the front office for engineering, finance, marketing, and sales”. Nvidia also unveiled a new AI superchip called Blackwell, with 208 billion transistors (up from 80 billion in H100). Compare that with the Apollo guidance system used in the US space programme – it had 12,300 transistors.



Cricket dreams spread to inland

As the IPL cricket tournament kicked off, the fantasy gaming platform Dream11 is reporting a rise in its fortunes. The company's co-founder and CEO, Harsh Jain, said the platform saw 1.1 million new users signing up on the very first day of the tournament. Money Control reports that 75 percent of Dream11 users now come from Tier I and Tier II cities as high-speed internet and mobile phone networks penetrate deeper into the country. It also reported an 80 percent year-on-year growth in women gamers.



Air taxis take-off in China

Another example of how China is steamrolling ahead: the first electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle is now on sale on Alibaba’s retail platform. The EH216-S vehicle is priced at 332,000 US dollars, and its makers, EHang, began deliveries of certified aircraft to customers, according to the South China Morning Post. The company says they will also be selling the vehicle overseas soon and has reportedly completed over 42,000 successful test flights in more than 14 countries. In December, China had said it would boost its low-altitude economy, covering air taxis, vertical take-off e-vehicles and pilotless aerial vehicles.



Winner, wrapped and delivered

With Parliament elections in India just around the corner, it seems we’ve already found a winner! Meet Asheeka Khadeeja, the brilliant mind behind a Kozhikode-based homemade chocolate factory. Asheeka’s not just making chocolates – she’s sweetening up the political scene by crafting custom chocolates with candidates’ faces on the cover. Who needs boring pamphlets when you can have edible campaign material? Candidates from all over are jumping on the chocolate wagon. Move over, conventional politics – Asheeka’sinnovation is the real winner here!