Modern military needs intellectual inputs, says Marconi Prize winner Dr Paulraj

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M
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Saturday, 10 Jan 2015 was a historic day for India's military aviation. It was on this day in 2011, after many delays, debates and doubts, the Indian Air Force (IAF) reluctantly gave the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC-1) to the desi bird - the Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas).

Exactly four years later, Tejas added another chapter to its long list of achievements on 10 Jan 2015, when it flew for the first time fitted with a home-grown electronic warfare suite.

Modern military

Sadly, it was on this day in 1970 that India lost a great Test Pilot in Group Capt Suranjan Das, after his plane -- the HF-24 Mk IR -- crashed in Bengaluru.

For the hardcore devotees of aerospace and defence, 10 January gifted yet another moment. Dr Arogyaswami Paulraj, the man who revolutionised wireless technology for the benefit of mankind and the recipient of the prestigious $100,000 Marconi Prize for 2014, addressed a gathering of military brains in Bengaluru.

He was delivering the key-note address to the Second Admiral R L Pereira Memorial Lecture, organized by the Navy Foundation, Bengaluru Chapter.

Dr Paulraj

PMO seeks Dr Paulraj's suggestions

The Marconi Prize, considered as the Nobel Prize of Information Technology, is instituted by the Marconi Society and Dr Paulraj is the second Indian to have won it after Prof Yash Pal.

Dr Paulraj, a recipient of Padma Bhushan, donated the entire prize money back to the Society for undertaking advance research in education.

Prime Minister Naredra Modi is said to have met Dr Paulraj during his current visit to India. The Prime Minister's Office has sought Dr Paulraj's help while discussing India's approach to high tech communication technology.

He is currently an Emeritus Professor at the Stanford University and travels extensively to China and the United Kingdom as well.

Technology alone doesn't win wars

Dr Paulraj began his lecture by saying that technology alone does not win wars. "We also need leadership, courage, intellectual capacity and training. Probably the greatest threat to global security over the next few decades is global warming," he said.

"If the average global temperature rises by 9 deg F, as is now appears likely, we face dramatic upheavals -- a huge rise in sea levels that will displace hundreds of millions of people globally," he added.

He said the war has already cost Syria with over 2,50,000 deaths, over four million refugees and many cities in total ruins.

"Pakistan, on our own border is also severely stressed, and some would argue, also on the road to collapse. With over 200 nuclear weapons, this is not an insignificant threat to global security," he added.

Modern military

Cyber warfare the real threat

Terming cyber as a powerful weapon, Dr Paulraj feared that cyber warfare could in future make jet liners drop from the sky or collapse the national electricity grid.

He said the identity of the cyber-attacker can be disguised and therefore the attack is both deniable by the perpetrator and not easily attributable by the victim.

"The Stuxnet virus, reportedly developed by the US and Israel to attack Iran's centrifuges is a harbinger of sophisticated cyber weapon - hard to detect, hard to prevent, hard to attribute and easy to deny," he said.

Robotics key to future

The expert termed Robotics as a key technology area that is making rapid strides globally.

"Robotics is transforming manufacturing and lowering costs but also displacing human labor in many other sectors," he said.

"Drones and robots will transform agriculture, emergency response, transportation and surveillance. There are now over 2,000 commercial drone companies, many of these in China," he added.

Dr Paulraj said that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has finally become a real technology with India too jumping on the band wagon.

"Today it has arrived. AI is taking over many tasks that humans do today and often do it even better. For the military, AI has entered autonomous land, sea, underwater and airborne vehicles. If precision strike was the game changer in past 20 years, unmanned autonomous platforms will alter the military landscape over the next 20 years," he said.

Modern military

Empowering the 21st century soldier

The Marconi Prize winner said that he strongly believed that all general officers should have broader education beyond science and technology.

"They should learn about humanities which illuminate how societies and countries function. Ideally all general officers should have a master's degree and I would also argue that some of the officer education should be at the top global universities. If a country wants the world's best weapons, why not also study at the world's best universities," he asked.

Saying that military training in schools and colleges might play some role in developing strategic depth, Dr Paulraj felt that the military was in need of more intellectual inputs.

"University think tanks funded by the military can be useful. Stanford University has such a center. Beyond academic education, best way to build real insights is to be immersed in a skilled working environment," he felt.

He concluded by saying that the Indian military now faces a security environment that can be vastly more difficult and weapons technology driven by an avalanche of change.

"The new threats can be complex as also utterly surprising. To be truly prepared, we need organizational modernisation which is more important than equipment modernization," he added.

Disarmingly modest man

Earlier, Navy Foundation President Commodore Ray D'Souza (Retd) gave some rare insights into the simple persona called Dr Paulraj. Terming Dr Paulraj as a youthful genius, humanist and intellectual giant, Commodore D'Souza recalled how he along with other young naval cadets followed the footsteps of Dr Paulraj.

"The enormity of his contribution in the field of WiFi communication, by the invention of MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) technology, resulted in international accolades. Dr Paulraj is often spoken of in the same breath as Marconi, Alexander Graham Bell, Vint Cerf, and Tim Berners Lee. He is a disarmingly modest and generous human being," Commodore D'Souza concluded.

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake)

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