Defence Industry

Technologies and National Security
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Issue Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar2009 | Date : 11 Nov , 2010

Bio-technologies could bring in a revolution in logistics supply chain. It would help carrying lighter foods which have more shelf life and nutrition (this would help in having a leaner “tooth-to-tail ratio”). The technology could make the soldier’s uniform more lighter and also could inject camouflage capabilities in them.

Developed states and few developing states, have understood the relevance of technology from national security perspective and are making investments in various fields of technologies that have both short and long term security relevance. Such technologies are commonly known as Strategic Technologies. The current focus is on space and near-space technologies, networks, and close-in and standoff sensor technologies. It is also important to look at strategic materials and is expected that military technologists would have a narrow focus on this area in near future.

What is problematic in todays world is the advantage even the non-state actors are gaining by taking commercially available technologies like GPS, mobile phones, satellite phones and more importantly the Internet.

Following are few areas of technology which could be considered as Core Strategic Technologies:

  • Advanced 3D image processing, analysis, and feature extraction approaches.
  • Advanced electronic vision and situation awareness devices, algorithms and systems.
  • Biofabrication processes for improved nanostructured devices and materials,
  • Innovative methods to visualize complex, self-organizing systems
  • Microelectronic systems comprising advanced system concepts coupling electronics, sensors and actuators with micro-scale packaging and battery technologies
  • Novel three-dimensional data visualization and projection methods
  • Power harvesting technologies and devices
  • Self assembly and/or manufacture techniques

States understand that the 21st century threats are not restricted to the conventional realm only. Technological help is also essential to counter special threats such as terrorism. Recent history has shown that such threats cannot be met by conventional military tools and tactics. None of the technology could be identified as an effective tool to fight the menace of terrorism. At the same time, it could be unwise to argue that all tools and tactics available with militaries are irrelevant to fight terrorism. Terrorism being an asymmetric threat it is important to use both conventional and unconventional tactics to defeat the unknown aggressor. So the intelligent use of technology is more important than technology itself.

No situation in most of the terror attacks is similar, hence every situation demands innovative usage of available technologies. Few specific technologies like small robots for the purpose of tactical intelligence gathering could be used; humanoid robots could also become part of the first line of defence in specific cases. There is also a need to invest into non-lethal weapons8 to address these issues. Such weapons are useful to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities. They are useful in a scenario when the state requires catching the terrorists alive to trace back the terror network. Technologies based on Acoustics, Optical Science, Bio and Chem Science are being developed for such purposes by few states.

For many states in the world over last few decades, the threats and the enemies have changed. At places few rouge states have started supporting terrorism as a covert policy. There even exists a danger that non-state actors may adapt to the strategies involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In short, enemies in the 21st century pose a gigantic challenge that demands a new approach in form of methodological changes in intelligence gathering and usage of military tactics.

States need to understand that their Technology Strategy has to be a dynamic process. This would depend on the geo-political environment as well as the growth of technology itself. The formulation of strategy to meet new threats would depend on how best the states could factor the technology in their planning process. The recent conflicts have successfully demonstrated the capabilities of smart weapons. This demonstration by the US and allied forces have forced many other nation-states to invest in such technologies.

Today, states are investing in all kinds of military and non-military technologies for a simple reason that these technologies are critical to progress. They allow them socio-economic development as well as guarantee security

These conflicts have demonstrated that technology makes military capabilities far superior. Naturally, this has fueled an arms race amongst states. But, interestingly this arms race is not on the lines of the arms race in the Cold War era. In a way it could be said that the new arms race has started where states are interested in investing more in ‘aid’ (support) technologies rather than going for bigger weapons. For fighting 21st century warfare what is important is to offer soldiers lighter weapons, reduce the burden on logistic chain, and have weapon delivery platforms which are light and able to deliver weapons on the target mostly from standoff range.

In the past thirty years, the world has experienced more dramatic changes brought about by technology than ever before in history. Given some in-depth insights into advanced technology research organizations (both public and private); there are wondrous new developments ahead that will shape mankind’s lives in ways yet unimaginable. These scientific and technological breakthroughs have far reaching political, economic and social implications. These implications are not limited in scope to the country or jurisdiction where the development takes place but throughout the world.1

Technology is viewed as a force multiplier. But at the same time dependence on technology also allows the enemy to cripple your infrastructure by attacking your assets and cause substantial damage. The state’s dependence on various IT tools has unfortunately converted them into a lucrative target also. Issues with technology to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problem faced by many states.

Also, historically it has been seen that almost every military technological superiority is being challenged by counter measures be it ECM or ECCMs (Electronic counter and counter-counter measures) or missile defence shields. However, what is problematic in today’s world is the advantage even the non-state actors are gaining by taking commercially available technologies like GPS, mobile phones, satellite phones and more importantly the Internet.

Today, states are investing in all kinds of military and non-military technologies for a simple reason that these technologies are critical to progress. They allow them socio-economic development as well as guarantee security. States view possession of state-of-the – art technology infrastructure as a strategic asset which in turn could be viewed as symbol of national power.

In the context of international relations and diplomacy, power is normally considered as the ability of one state to influence or control other states. Investments in technology allow states to possess four commonly accepted instruments of national power2 viz. political, economic, informational, and military. Hence, even though this article has discussed importance of technology for military instrument of national power it needs to be understood that the concept of national security in the 21st century has wider connotations and should not be viewed only through a narrow prism of military. Investments in technology allow nation states have political, economic and informational superiority as well. It gives them leverage for the execution of state’s foreign policy through diplomatic means. Military industrial complex as well as other industries with technologically superior products allows them to attract global customers giving boost to economy. Technology also allows access to information which other states may not have.

Over the years the methods of war fighting have always responded to the evolution of technology. In some cases the technology itself came into being because it was researched for militaries. It has been aptly demonstrated during last few decades that the advances in technology dramatically expand the options available for the use of force. However, the process of scientific evolution is a difficult task. Scientific discoveries have their own momentum and further its transformation into technology could not always be guaranteed. The entire process of scientific discovery to its conversion into usable technology is an intricate progression involving large number of complex variables. Technical revolution is essentially a dynamic process and is constantly evolving and its impact on society as a whole and national security in particular will vary with the transformation in technology.


1. Kevin Coleman, “Technology Driven National Security Strategy”, February 11, 2004, Directions Magazine

2. Nader Elhefnawy, “Four Myths about Space Power”, Parameters, Spring 2003 and

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Gp Capt Ajey Lele (Retd.)

is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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