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Navigating the Indo Pacific’s Tech Tsunami

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Asma Khan

Militaries have become technological advanced, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, where China, the United States, India, and, Japan, have consolidated military space activities to increase integration, collaboration, and coordination among different military and civilian government agencies supporting military missions in the region. China, Russia, India, and Japan have all reached significant milestones in the development of hypersonic missiles. Evidence is accumulating that the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a center of gravity for global military-technological innovation and rivalry. This same technology development is also creating risks and challenges, especially as it intersects fully with new operational realities and a changed and still changing Indo-Pacific strategic environment.

Militaries throughout the Indo-Pacific region are demonstrating a strong commitment and capacity to capitalize on the digital transformation enabled by 4IR technologies (fourth Industrial Revolution technology) to develop advanced platforms and weapons systems that incorporate new energies, advanced propulsion, and materials science. The digital revolution enabled by 4IR technologies such as AI, cloud computing, virtual and augmented reality, and smart sensors is at the core of the region’s defense modernization. The intelligent use of these technologies is yielding new efficiencies and an influx of “new possibles” for Indo-Pacific troops of all sizes.

China’s ascension, and military modernization, and US-China Rivalry is the key strategic motivation of its defense policy and directing technology and capacity investments for many US allies in the Indo-Pacific, notably the Quad nations of Australia, Japan, and India, linking it to China’s belligerent conduct and rapid military modernization. Even those that are reticent to name China as their primary strategic concern emphasize the escalatory effect that increased rivalry between the US and China is having on regional geopolitical tensions.

The development, and now deployment, of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons has improved China’s capacity to fight and win regional conflicts. China’s massive shipbuilding effort is letting it to acquire mass, allowing it to take the start and perhaps dominance in a variety of maritime domain eventualities. Players in the Indo Pacific are building stronger capabilities to secure increasing global concerns.

Key modernization developments affecting regional military balances and defense priorities:

Information dominance is the ability to ensure the security of one’s own command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, while also holding adversary C4ISR capabilities at risk, is at the heart of military modernization effort in the Indo pacific and approach to winning regional wars, particularly under informatized (or highly networked) conditions. The ability to compete successfully in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum is determined by information dominance.

Anti-ship and hypersonic missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs). They constitute a viable, but still vulnerable, capability to regional targets surface assets, including aircraft carriers. The display of anti-ship, ground launched, and hypersonic cruise missile is an additional challenge for regional navies.

Discourse power is the capacity to influence the political order and values both domestically and globally by exploiting language and social media to promote campaigns to redefine international norms, values, and ethics.

Moreover, there is a concentration on uncrewed airborne, surface, and even submarine vehicles, with a particular emphasis on swarms of uncrewed vehicles. The emphasis on drone swarms reflects the modernization effort’s shift toward “intelligentized” warfare, in which AI is more fully integrated into military activities at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels to keep up with the increasing volume and velocity of information available to operators and decision-makers. Regional players are looking to hybrid intelligence and “brain-machine fusion” as part of their push toward intelligentization. Swarms and autonomous systems provide one answer to the necessity for rapid decision-making, particularly at the tactical level. Increasingly, military strategists are looking to AI as a tool to assist people and ease the cognitive strain placed on human operators and decision-makers. Priorities in technology and capabilities include remotely piloted and autonomous uncrewed systems, directed-energy weapons, deterrent high-speed missile systems, and space resilience technologies, at play in the Indo pacific.

The emphasis on dominating both informatized and intelligentized environments is critical, and its impressive progress in evolving strike technologies such as drone swarms and hypersonic missiles highlight the continuing importance of the military-civil fusion (MCF) doctrine in driving the modernization effort. This concept allows for the transfer of knowledge and know-how between commercial high-tech industries and applied-research institutions on the one hand, while also supporting the defense-industrial foundation on intelligentized warfare on the other.

National security strategy for India stresses a different set of challenges namely its contested boundaries with both Pakistan and China as well as extremism and internal security. In fact, the primary concern is disruptive technology. India is becoming increasing assertive in the Indo Pacific region under the aegis of US to counter China. The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched the innovation for defense excellence (iDEX) program to facilitate rapid development of new, indigenized, and innovative technologies for the Indian defense sector, and has also announced the establishment of eight advanced-technology centers to carry out research “on futuristic military applications and to support academia in efforts to undertake research on new technologies for military use.

The presence and ongoing threat of gray-zone scenarios are also shaping defense technology and capabilities goals. These situations mostly entail state-led or state-backed activities that use military, political, social, economic, and commercial technical tools to alter the status quo in ways that are less severe than those that would normally elicit a kinetic military reaction. Gray-zone scenarios are eroding the distinction between military and nonmilitary activity. The ability of technology to address these issues is described in five kinds of gray-zone scenarios, which include deniable attacks; information operations; use of proxy forces; economic coercion and territorial encroachment. Each of these categories is currently or has previously played out in the Indo-Pacific, both separately and in conjunction with one another. As an example of a territorial-encroachment scenario, China’s island building in the South China Sea, as well as the employment of marine militias to watch and threaten foreign military and commercial boats, comprises the use of proxy troops, as well as a form of economic coercion. There is certainly room for kinetic responses (or at least a credible threat of using kinetic force) to gray-zone situations, and defense communities are investing in non-kinetic capabilities such as “soft-kill” directed-energy counter-drone technologies, personal protection equipment, electronic attack, and the ability to effectively compete in the cyber and information domains. The most important requirements for meeting gray-zone challenges are improved situational awareness’ Information operations forces electronic warfare and information operations.

Space, Cyber, and Electromagnetic warfare are the new domains of warfare; these three domains are also equally important to “everyday life” and other civil and commercial purposes, emphasizing the convergence of explicitly military and nonmilitary threats to national and regional security in the Indo-Pacific. As activity in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum gets increasingly complex, domain differences and multi-domain activities are blending together.

The boundaries of demarcation dividing military domains, military and nonmilitary activity, and states of peace and conflict have all blurred, with consequences for the region’s future conflict. The future of combat can be best described as ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, nonlinear, unrestricted, unpredictable, and hybrid. The identities of the precise technologies of interest are not hidden. A review of official papers from the United States along with states in the Indo-Pacific area, as well as open-source reporting and commentary on defense-technology development objectives, reveals broad and overlapping interest in the technologies, shaping the future of military capabilities, threat environment, and strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.