Long gone are the days when nuclear power was the most important determinant of the global relevance of a state. Today, the ascendancy of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has disrupted the established calculus of power projection and influence. Despite the ethical, operational, and strategic risks that arise due to the creation of military applications of AI, the United States (US), Russia, China, France, and India are earnestly engaging in the exploration and deployment of AI technologies within military frameworks. India’s ongoing attempt to transform into a superpower has the potential to reshape the dynamics of its historical rivalry with Pakistan. However, the geographical proximity between the two countries is unlikely to let Pakistan escape Indian anxiety. AI not only foreshadows the death of the traditional basis of power but also functions as a foundational cornerstone for the new world order. India’s assertive strides in AI development demand introspection from Pakistan in order to stay relevant in the current geopolitical landscape.
The vision of Pakistan is more focused on AI development for economic, educational, and social development. President Arif Alvi’s Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (PIAIC) intends to promote national business, research, and educational prospects in blockchain, AI, and cloud computing. Similarly, the National Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Security (NIAIS) was launched by the Punjab government in 2019. The programme is aimed to close the skills gap between the labour market and the educational system while also considering the implications for the capabilities of national defence. The PIAIC and NIAIS projects represent Pakistan’s forward-thinking efforts to encourage a technology-driven renaissance. However, these initiatives are more than standalone skill-acquisition endeavours. Instead, they highlight the necessity of long-term investments in academic institutions, research centres, and collaborative relationships with businesses and foreign partners to create a dynamic and sustainable AI ecosystem.
The development of AI-military integration is not only a technological endeavour but also a strategic imperative that will influence the countries’ futures in a world that is becoming more and more AI-driven.
Following the AI-related work in the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) since 2009 and relevant bachelor’s degree programmes developed by NUCES-FAST, Air University, and the Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering (CASE), NED University in Karachi founded the Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (RCAI) in 2016. The Centre is aimed at strengthening Pakistan’s standing in the international AI community by assisting in policy formulation, offering training at various academic levels, and consulting support to businesses and government. The centre also focuses on applications in security, including cyber security.
Later, in 2020, the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC) of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) started a Cognitive Electronic Warfare (CEW) program to use AI and Machine Learning (ML) for effective analytical and tactical decision-making. CENTAIC focuses on fields including Big Data, ML, Deep Learning, Predictive Analysis, and Natural Language Processing and serves military and civilian needs. Pravin Sawhney, an Indian defence analyst, hypothesises that PAF may have used CEW in earlier operations, such as Operation Swift Retort, in reaction to India’s 2019 Balakot bombing. Furthermore, as Pakistan and China have been participating in joint air exercises since 2011, this dedication to AI/ML and CEW is considered a step towards improved interoperability with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
Similarly, the Pakistan Army declared the opening of its Cyber Command in 2022. It is said to have two divisions, one of which—the Army Centre of Emerging Technologies—reasonably is assumed to have AI as one of its primary research interests. Although Pakistan has not openly declared the integration of AI in the military domain, these initiatives indicate Pakistan’s dedication to using AI and ML for electronic warfare, which can provide them a significant advantage in modern battles.
As for the Indian government, it envisions using AI to promote economic growth, improve governance, and raise the standard of living for its people through several task forces and programmes. However, the country does not limit its AI developments to the socioeconomic sector. Unlike Pakistan, India has been working on its technological prowess in civil-military domains for over a decade. Launched in 2014, the Make in India initiative acts as a catalyst for fostering cooperation between the civilian and military AI industries. The projects under the initiative cover Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) stealth technology, vital improvements for the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), integrated Early Warning Systems (EWS), homegrown cruise missile technology, and the creation of Indian-made supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles. In 2018, India launched two smart border fencing projects under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) to spot intruders in Jammu and Kashmir. Under these projects, the concept of border protection is revolutionised by an unseen fortress that not only reduces the loss of lives but also helps reduce threat levels in the security forces. Among many other initiatives by the Indian government, the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) is tasked with the development of autonomous technologies in the domains of combat, path planning, sensors, target identification, underwater mine detection, patrolling, logistics, and localisation.
India places itself in competition with China instead of Pakistan when it comes to AI developments. This all-encompassing strategy aligns with India’s ambition to develop into a worldwide AI powerhouse by stimulating innovation, developing talent, and implementing AI solutions at scale. Although most of the AI developments are still in the development phase, the practicality of military applications of AI was proved by the AI drones that India successfully created. The Rustom 2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is being developed to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles. The maximum speed of the Tapas-BH (formerly Rustom 2) drone is 225 km/h, and with satellite-based communication, its command range is 1000 km. However, the Tapas-BH drone crashed during one of its trials in August 2023 due to unknown reasons. Similarly, the emergence of the indigenous Kamikaze drone is a testament to the innovative expertise of educational and research institutions in India. With a compact form factor, a foldable fixed-wing design, and versatile capabilities, the drone can carry up to 6 kg warhead. These drones give the Indian armed forces the ability to neutralise hostile targets effectively and usher in a new era of precision attack capabilities. On the other side of the border, Pakistan launched an advanced military-armed drone in 2019 using Selex Galileo technology that can effectively fire missiles at the target at longer ranges. In addition, the Pakistan Navy improved its operational capability in 2020 by adding unmanned aerial systems to its air arm. Moreover, the addition of a second ATR aircraft to the cargo/ para-drop role allows Special Forces operations more flexibility. The addition of LUNA NG UAVs has further bolstered the navy’s ISR capabilities in the maritime realm. These unmanned technologies have the potential to significantly improve situational awareness and marine surveillance. States can minimise collateral damage, prevent escalation, and show off their technological prowess due to this accuracy. In times of conflict, these capabilities can affect the strategic judgements and actions of both countries.
Indian AI projects place a strong emphasis on international collaborations as well as cooperation between academia, business, and government. In collaboration with the Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (CAIR) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) Bengaluru, the Indian Navy has initiated the development of the state-of-the-art Indigenous Maritime Situational Awareness System (IMSAS) to empower real-time command and control. On the other hand, Pakistan has allocated a budget to establish the Sino-Pak Centre for Artificial Intelligence (SPCAI), which will work with academia and companies in Austria as well as China.
While not much has been disclosed by Pakistan’s government regarding AI-military integration, the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry established an AI Task Force that suggested creating an Inter-Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission. Similarly, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD) AI task force focuses on the worldwide national security implications of AI from a strategic perspective. The goal of the task force is to make India a formidable AI power in cyber, nuclear, biological, and aerial domains. India envisions AI as a game-changing tool to tackle complex issues, including defence, healthcare accessibility, agricultural productivity, and urban growth.
However, India struggles with the domestic development of advanced military technologies in the broader context of military innovation. The military-industrial complex and the tendering process are complicated by a lack of transparency, project management, and collaboration between the commercial and governmental sectors. On the other hand, restricted resources such as investment in research and development, a lack of human resources, civil-military tensions, legal obligations, and a lack of AI specialists due to brain drain from Pakistan contribute to the underdevelopment of the AI field in the country. The revolutionary impact of AI on military capabilities highlights the significance of long-term investments, strategic vision, and global cooperation. The development of AI-military integration is not only a technological endeavour but also a strategic imperative that will influence the countries’ futures in a world that is becoming more and more AI-driven. In the future, it is likely that a state seen as a leader in AI-military integration will gain diplomatic leverage and alliances while also influencing the response of the international community during regional conflicts and tensions.