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September 21, 1998


Asia Pacific Software Showcase
Asia Pacific Software Showcase

The Thinking Soldier: General V P Malik is breaking a tradition of tech isolation. The IT industry can now do army hacks.The Thinking Soldier: General V P Malik is breaking a tradition of tech isolation. The IT industry can now do army hacks. When it comes to technology, the army loves to reinvent the wheel. They have to be able to build or replicate every part, system and weapon all by themselves. Secrecy and self-reliance are the obvious motives.

Email this story to a friend. But in the Age of Information Technology, when economics itself is becoming networked, is this desirable or even possible?

The Thinking Soldier
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Chief of Army Staff General Ved Prakash Malik has defined the problem. Computing is about openness, so why build and write code that can be bought off the shelf?

He has also defined a few solutions: Professional help from the industry must be sought in developing software and there must be greater interaction and openness with the industry besides an increased thrust on the spread of computer literacy among the rank and file.

Napoleon's army may have marched on its stomach. But General Malik is a thinking soldier. He believes that in the next century his men will march on their head.

In a recent Confederation of Indian Industry meeting he shared his thoughts with the nation's elite businessmen. Rediff brings you the full speech:

Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their book The Third Wave divided the world into three waves.

The First Wave comprises undeveloped regions that lack industry and exportable knowledge based services; places whose natural resources are their chief saleable assets.

The Second Wave has cheap manual labour and mass manufacturing facilities with an integrated national economy.

And the Third Wave comprises new actors on the stage. Those who convert knowledge into wealth. They have access to vast databanks and new markets for intelligence products and services, software, banking, high-tech products, pharmaceuticals research and the like.

The Third Wave appears to have answered T S Eliot who moaned 'Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge/where is the knowledge we have lost in information?'

We are happy that through extraordinary gazette notification number 160 of July 25, 1998, the present government has shown its determination to be counted among the Third Wave nations by 2008. The preamble to the Prime Minister's Taskforce Report on Information Technology states that:

'In the history of civilisation, no work of science has so comprehensively impacted on the course of human development as information technology. Information technology is changing every aspect of human life... Information technology is breaking old barriers and building new interconnections... Information technology has also become the chief determinant of the progress of nations, communities and individuals.

'Information technology is a tool that will enable India to achieve the goal of becoming a strong, prosperous and self-confident nation... Information technology promises to compress the time it would otherwise take for India to advance rapidly in the march of development and occupy a position of honour and pride in the comity of nations.'

Warfare in the Third Wave generation is shifting from an industrial character to a new forum based on knowledge and information.

This enables precise surgical strikes on select command and control nodes, strategic facilities and combat resources and combat support facilities in depth.

This also enables in getting at an opponent's nerve controls as happened in precision attacks in the Gulf War; missile attacks in Iraq and more recently in Afghanistan.

Napoleon said that the army marches on its stomach. However, today an army fights on the basis of technologies or to be more precise on the basis of information technologies.

Information technology is the main factor that has brought about a revolution in military affairs.

We, in the army, are therefore deeply conscious and aware of the immense potential of information technology.

As soon as the IT plan for the nation was finalised by the Prime Minister's Taskforce, I had a look at the IT status of the army.

In consonance with the national IT plans, we have now prepared a well defined IT roadmap. This map has identified our route towards hardware, software and human resource developments. My vision statement for the IT roadmap in the army is:

'To establish a strong information technology infrastructure to act as a force multiplier by incorporating fully automated and networked operational and management information system, complemented by fully information technology literate manpower.'

In order to implement this vision, the challenges before us are to first enhance the information technology quotient per soldier. Second, to adopt available technologies readily and with speed. Third, to continuously remain abreast of emerging technologies in key areas. Fourth, to innovate and adapt from the marketplace where we have a wealth of talent. And lastly, to strengthen centres of excellence in strategic areas and enhance the pace towards self-reliance.

These days we have to handle more and more specialist and high-tech equipment, missiles, radar, et cetra, which demand large amount of automation. We need greater speed in:

  1. Accessing, processing and collation of information;
  2. Decision making and
  3. Reduction in drudgery and corresponding loss in morale. An effort to apply IT intensively and update our systems and procedures is a sin qua non.

The army has already created a state-of-art communications network, popularly called the Army Static Communications Network. We have a separate directorate at army headquarters, additional directorate, general systems, which formulates and implements plans and policies for the army.

This has been expanded. There are currently a number of projects analysing and designing the army's requirements in specific field like C4I2, that is command, control, communications, co-ordination, information and interoperable systems.

With the Command, Information and Decision Support System at tactical level, the Battlefield Surveillance System, the Artillery Combat Command and Control System, Data Based Management Systems with Management Information Systems and Geographic Information System, we also need training packages simulators and computerised war gaming to make our training more effective and economical.

We are also executing a project for automation of our ordnance installations called the Computerised Inventory Control Project.

As we survey the global information technology scenario it is clear that high information technology dependency will also carry with it high vulnerability.

Information technology attacks will be common practice during times of emergency or as a part of an orchestrated economic blackmail.

Data security and counterespionage will need special attention in the context of hackers and vulnerability of IT systems to code breaking.

Besides, this information dominance and information overload, if not handled well, may result from analysis to paralysis.

We believe that these are natural fallout of any new technology. The challenge is to create systems and architectures for implementing the necessary prerequisites for security and controlling, checking and updating of all activities.

The key areas toward our enhanced information technology capabilities are resources, equipment, systems, networks and people who can handle information dominance.

We seek a mutually beneficial partnership in all these areas. We aim to network with the industry and establish a biding relationship.

To enable this we need to put some institutional agreements into place. Our raksha mantri (defence minister) has already set into motion the processes of a 'Confederation of Indian Industry - Armed Forces Information Technology Taskforce'.

I believe the nominated members have already had a few sessions and we look forward to getting some workable suggestions from them.

We, in the army, are committed to giving this arrangement a boost. I believe this will be a rewarding exercise and today we have no option but to see it perform with vigour and despatch.

Information technology differs from earlier technologies in several ways.

First, software rather than hardware is increasingly critical to value addition in related industries.

Second, industry standards are increasingly open and uniform around the world, allowing easier market entry and quicker innovation.

Third, global competitiveness and ease of transnational communications means that products, architecture and infrastructure develop with increasing speed and with desirable quality.

Some of the measures that I have laid down for speedy absorption of IT in the army are:

  1. Implementation of the projects to be decentralised;
  2. Projects of up to Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million), be cleared by the army itself.
  3. Professional help from the industry to develop software must be sought.
  4. There should be no reinventing of the wheel. Software, if available, must be procured off the shelf.
  5. There must be greater interaction and openness with the industry.
  6. There has to be a thrust on spread of computer literacy among the rank and file.

We have been imparting training to our officers and men at various training institutions. Select officers have been doing advanced training in computer sciences at the IITs.

But this is not enough. We have therefore decided that to accelerate the process we need to work out training packages with some commercial firms like NIIT and Aptech and open our own institution of information technology in Secunderabad for advanced learning as well as application in our systems.

Our roadmap will ensure that in the age of IT, the Indian army will get the full benefit of the synergy of brain power and the technical skills available anywhere in the country - within the government, in the universities or institutes of information technology and also the private sector.

The army would prefer to enter into a long-term understanding with the information technology industry so that we can work in tandem towards a common goal.

Long-term plans can be drawn, regular interaction can be undertaken and a result-oriented action with a regular interface must be ensured. We need synergy to achieve our objectives without jeopardising our individual goals.

I wish the participants success in all the deliberations and I end with the hope that the follow-up action will be meaningful and implementable in quick time.

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