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Civil Military Fusion or Diffusion in India? By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Inventiveness in science and technology made colonial militaries better equipped, lethal and more efficient. In the process all colonial nations prospered. If one extends it further, all great nations have gone through a process of civil- military fusion. India missed the bus of the Industrial Revolution. It cannot afford to miss the ongoing cycle of disruptive technology revolution through civil-military fusion. 

In case India wants to make the transition to be a power of consequence it has to undergo a focussed civil-military fusion process.

The concept of civil-military fusion goes back to the Industrial Revolution. As inventions and discoveries in basic sciences like physics, chemistry and innovations in engineering and technology  took place, they were continuously oriented and purposed to produce military hardware – guns, rifles, ships, tanks, aircraft and other weapons to make militaries more capable. Inventiveness in science and technology made colonial militaries better equipped, lethal and more efficient. In the process all colonial nations prospered. If one extends it further, all great nations have gone through a process of civil- military fusion. India missed the bus of the Industrial Revolution. It cannot afford to miss the ongoing cycle of disruptive technology revolution through civil-military fusion.

In the last century, the USA went through a process of intense civil- military fusion during the Second World War. At its height, the USA was producing military aircraft by the hour, tanks by the day and warships by the week or even less. The entire American industry focussed on churning out military equipment which could beat the Germans and Japanese qualitatively and quantitatively. They did it successfully. The mighty military – industrial complex of the USA, which drives its economy, is all about a military- civil fusion. Hence, civil-military fusion is not just about making militaries strong but also about boosting economies to make nations great. In this century China started this process and is seeking its way to greatness.

The last decades of the 20th century saw the onset of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). It was the synergistic outcome of technological developments and doctrinal innovation, suitably adapted to battlefield environments. The RMA was most visible during the Gulf Wars. It was  based on information, communication and electronic technologies which had burst on to the scene then. They contributed to better navigation, command, control, sensing, and precision on the battle field. However, since the beginning of this century, technologies have started emerging which are commonly known and termed as disruptors. We know them as the Internet of Things (IOT), cybertechnology, AI, space colonization, 3D printing, high speed travel, robotics, block chain , autonomous vehicles, advanced virtual reality, renewable energy and so on. These technologies are now being super fused with traditional technologies which have an enduring relevance and impact on the battlefield. These include propulsion technology, sensor technology, digital revolution, directed energy, space platforms, navigational aids and new material technology to name a few. The fusion of these technologies is a disruptive  revolution which is going to shape future militaries and the way wars will be fought in an era of  Disruption in Military Affairs as depicted in the graphic below.

The thing to note about this disruption is that all these technologies are  of dual use nature and are changing the way we live. While many of the  technologies are still aspirational, emerging  or under advanced stages of development, it is quite clear that they have extensive and seamless dual application in civil and military domains. These are being largely developed and innovated in the civil sector. These are now being fast-tracked into battlefields in parallel, where they are being tested out extensively. The duality of application is where the executionary facet of civil military fusion is really taking place. The scale, level and approach to civil military fusion depends upon the technological base of the nation.

In the USA, a fresh cycle of civil-military fusion commenced about a decade and a half back despite it already being a developed nation with cutting edge technologies. Hence the civil military fusion in the USA is an extension of its highly developed technology platform. While it is not designated or discussed as civil military fusion, the process is driven by the US Government and its armed forces. Further it is fully backed by the innovators and developers of progressive technologies. The fundamentals of civil military fusion lie in the USA’s military industrial complex which has always involved the armed forces and some of the largest corporations that have traditionally been designers, developers,  producers and suppliers of cutting edge technology and weapons globally. They have also been the key drivers of  the US economy. In the current cycle , most cutting edge / disruptive technologies are being researched and developed in the USA in the private sector by their giant corporations like Microsoft, SpaceX, Google, Intel and so on. Civil military fusion in the USA is only an upgrade on the ongoing dual use of new technologies.

On the other hand, China has started on this path with a low technological base and adopted a centralised statist approach. Its path to civil military fusion is vastly different but very focussed. China’s civil military fusion process is fundamentally driven by its superpower ambitions and to establish a Sino-centric world order. It is a top down national strategy in China to make the PLA the most advanced military in the world by 2049.  It stresses on eliminating barriers between China’s civilian, research, industrial, commercial, military and defence sectors. It is implementing this strategy, not just through domestic R&D, but also by acquiring advanced technologies through coercive business models and theft of intellectual property in order to achieve military dominance. It seeks accelerated military modernization through integration of new technologies with operational concepts, increased scientific research, and personnel reforms. The civil military fusion infrastructure connects the military and civilian sectors to catalyse innovation, economic development, and advance dual-use technologies, especially those suited for informatised and ‘intelligentised’ warfare. However, in the whole process the value addition to China’s economy and its comprehensive national power is kept at the forefront.  

In case India wants to make the transition to be a power of consequence it has to undergo a focussed civil-military Fusion process. On that there is no doubt. That is amply clear from the discourse of the past few months in various think tanks. In fact there has been a lot of talk of how to bring about civil military fusion into India. Bringing about civil-military fusion in all walks of life is being discussed at length at conferences and seminars held by these think tanks. However the curious issue is that all such discussion has been one sided – from the military. The civil part of it has been missing completely. In fact there seems to be no consciousness  at all that civil-military fusion is even required. In fact the opposite is true. Let me highlight it with examples.

In the current budget CAPEX, across the board has been increased from 2.7% to 3.3% of the GDP in the budget with adequate emphasis on technology upgradation. This includes almost all disruptive technologies as outlined earlier. As per most analysts, the CAPEX hike will eventually shoot up to 4.5% within the year. It is a good thing. However, the current defence outlay is barely 2% of the GDP and likely to dip even further if the economy grows as envisaged. We have a situation where our national investment and growth is in one direction and the defence outlays in another! The very fundamental and conceptual take off point of civil military fusion is that national growth in disruptive technologies  must spur growth of its defence and vice versa. This is not reflected in the national budget at all, which is also a major policy document. It is indicative of civil military diffusion and not fusion. 

There must be very little doubt in anyone’s mind that the aerospace sector in India is about to take off, like no other sector, to propel the nation to greatness. It is really the  key sector in which civil military fusion can kick off. The technologies required for fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, passenger aircraft, missiles, rockets and space launch vehicles are mostly similar. It is with this reason that all major air shows in the world – Paris, Farnborough, Dubai and Singapore are all combined civil-military affairs. All of them take great pains to showcase themselves as combined civil-military air shows. They promote civil military fusion. In India it is the opposite. There is complete diffusion in the aerospace sector from top to bottom. India held the Aero India 2023 recently under the Defence Ministry, which featured military aircraft. In Jan 2024 ‘Wings India 2024’ is being held at Hyderabad under The Ministry of Civil Aviation. It is being promoted as the largest civil aviation event in Asia. Ironically, both these events talk of pursuing the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision to fulfil ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat.’ When the Defence Ministry and the Civil Aviation Ministry are looking in different directions, the Prime Minister’s vision will remain as distant as ever.

These two examples very clearly indicate that civil military fusion is not even remotely being contemplated at national level either through policy or execution. In fact I doubt if there is even a vestige of such a concept in the minds of our leadership. India cannot continue to remain a slow moving, big talking, status quoist nation of immense potential for ever. The latent potential, untapped in perpetuity, must be unleashed.  The cost that the nation has to pay for not getting into this game is that the gap with China will keep widening. Further, Atmanirbharta will remain a chimera. Without doubt the transition from diffusion to fusion will be difficult. I do not think we have a choice to avoid difficult processes. To state the obvious, civil military fusion in India can only succeed if our national leadership desires so. That is where we need to start. However, civil-military fusion is a complex process. While every nation has to adopt a fusion strategy suiting its culture, political and industrial climate, it must be conceptually clear as to what is intended to be achieved. In this vein, India must evolve its own approach and model to  achieve civil military fusion.As and when we think on these lines we must be cognisant to evolve an Indian model of civil military fusion to seek Indian solutions to Indian problems.

Lastly,  if India is to be great, Civil Military Fusion is the only way forward to achieve greatness. The nation and its defence forces must grow together. There must be a ‘seep through’ effect from one to the other. That must shine through national policies and concepts.

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4 responses to “Civil Military Fusion or Diffusion in India? By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. RAdm Deepak Bansal Avatar
    RAdm Deepak Bansal

    very well articulated General

  2. Col V Bhagavan Prasad Avatar
    Col V Bhagavan Prasad

    A very critical analysis, with lucid expressions ! Still very valid in the multi polar Geo-pol scenario.
    Requires to be debated & put in to action by the Govt.

    The writer requires to be formally commended for his forthright views enunciated therein !

    Col V B Prasad

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