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NEST, the Military and DefExpo

Defexpo 2020 SpecialBy Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


According to media reports, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has established a new ministerial division termed ‘NEST’ denoting New, Emerging and Strategic Technologies. This is an excellent addition since so far the focus in hardly went beyond cyber diplomacy and NBC (nuclear, chemical and biological) weapons disarmament. The speculation is that NEST has been formed in the wake of the 5G controversy offered by global giants, especially by China’s Huawei which is inexorably linked to the PLA and is known to use backdoor Trojans that are largely undetectable and can be activated on Beijing’s wish. It is in the backdrop of this clash between futuristic technology systems that has required MEA to dedicate NEST dedicated an entire functioning unit to cutting-edge science and technologies, technology systems and the manufacturing and service industries emanating from them, which are becoming flashpoints.

The report goes on to say that NEST is likely to become a foreign policy sentinel for the government to understand emerging technologies, particularly the current domains of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, genetics or next-generation telecommunications. It can also merge technology policy with foreign policy as technologies are converging to create disruption with drastic regional and global geopolitical consequences. Since NEST is not only for the MEA, but can also be a key element in the entire national security policy set with three Cabinet Committees at the apex (on Security, Economic Affairs, and Investment and Growth), addition of a Cabinet Committee on Futuristic Technologies would be the required. The Cabinet Committee on Futuristic Technologies would need participation of ministries dealing with Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Department of Space (DoS), DRDO, Earth System Organisation, Council on Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Science and Technology (DoS&T), Department of Biotechnology, Cuber and Information Division, Disaster Management and the like. NEST should also have a fair complement of technocrats to make it effective. Resisting this will make it largely lose its effectiveness as has happened with the Department of Defence Production (DoPD) in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) wholly manned by generalist bureaucrats who have little technical knowhow. But while technologies like 5G are relevant to security at the national level, the defence establishment has to focus more deeply at futuristic technologies that must be inducted in Armed Forces relative to fast-paced technological developments around the world, especially in China.

But while technologies like 5G are relevant to security at the national level, the defence establishment has to focus more deeply at futuristic technologies that must be inducted in Armed Forces relative to fastpaced technological developments around the world, especially in China.

The MoD issues the ‘Technology Perspective & Capability Road Map’ (TPCR) from time to time spanning a 15 year period; the last two were issued in 2013 and 2018. These are guidelines for development of technologies by the industry. However, not much is on ground from what is spelt out. The preamble or first chapter of each TPCR must bring out what has been the progress on the previous TPCRs, which is never covered to cover up lack of monitoring and accountability, The second flaw is that participation of private sector is still small because of the nexus between MoD’s DoPD and DRDO/DPSUs/OFB. The result is that we have made little progress in autonomous weapons including quantum drones; stealth technologies, precision guided firearms, high-energy lasers, space-based weapons, hypersonic aircraft, active denial systems – millimeter wave or microwave beams, tasers, e-bombs, quantum communications, electromagnetic rail-gun, hand-held EW weapons, psychotropic weapons and the like. Decisions for planning defence resources including futuristic technologies need to be based on concrete analysis that breaks down the categories of major military technological inventions and innovations one by one and examine each individually.

The requirement would be to mitigate own vulnerabilities by most in areas where military technologies are changing fastest, as also creative thinking about how to modify tactics and operational plans to combat the adversary that has or is about to acquire advanced technologies. Such challenges can hardly be met by the routine TPCR issued by the MoD. Ideally, this should be handled by the just established Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). But the CDS is severely handicapped in meeting requirement role because of the limited role allotted to him, with all the power and finances including capital acquisitions under the Defence Secretary. Neither does the CDS have any operational powers nor a lien on defence production nor R&D. Government needs to seriously examine these issues. Given the right role and powers, the CDS can effectively usher true revolution in military affairs (RMA) in the Armed Forces to meet future challenges. He can evolve a true TPCR relevant to the RMA and monitor its implementation. He would be looking to optimize events like DefExpo India 2020 more holistically rather that the Defence Secretary looking for patchy deals under ‘Make in India’ that are financially most beneficial.


The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.