December 2012

Technological Sovereignty

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Jaijit Bhattacharya, Adjunct Professor with IIT Delhi and Director, South Asia, Global Government Affairs with HPDr Jaijit Bhattacharya
President, Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research;
Director, South Asia, Hewlett Packard

Sovereignty is one of the cornerstones for ensuring the security of the country and ensures that India as a nation can stand up to pressures from other nations. Sovereignty is critical to ensure our economic independence. As India moves into occupying the space of an IT superpower, the ability of the ICT industry to provide the requisite technologies reliably to the military, needs to be significantly enhanced. The issue is compounded with the fact that India has a feeble presence at the high stake tables of IT standards. IT standards have become one of the preferred tools of developed economies to extract undue economic benefit from emerging economies. Given that India, as of now, appears to have limited presence presence at the global forums on international IT standards, we appear to be abdicating our responsibility to secure our IT industry as well as IT usage. This situation has very deep implications on our defence preparedness.

The Strategic Implications With the lack of control over the technological layers, defense institutions will be challenged to protect the nation from Cyberwarfare. More importantly, military hardware itself could be subject to intrusions and control by adversaries, thanks to the increased “intelligence” of the equipment.

Given that tactical thrusts on the ground need to be backed up with complex supply chain which are increasingly dependent on critical information infrastructure such as Railways Signaling, telecommunications network etc, the entire Military strategy could be threatened by compromising the critical information infrastructure which has non-authenticated ICT components.

With the same “ICT intrusions”, the Financial Infrastructure of the country can be brought down, impacting the ability of the military to sustain a conventional warfare.

The impact on Network Centric Warfare is also obvious.

Thus it is imperative that we move towards an ICT & Electronics and Cyber (ICT&CE) ecosystem profile which provides greater control over the ICT layers to the military strategists.

The Tactical Implications
The tactical implication of lack of Technological Sovereignty on ICT is even more severe. The saying that “but for a nail, the war was lost” holds absolutely true for role of ICT in tactical engagements.

Compromising the supply-chain, command and control systems, financial systems, Operational Control systems will have devastating tactical implications, arising out of not having control over the ICT layers.

Industrial Ecosystem
A military can be as strong as the industrial ecosystem that backs it up.

In the modern warfare, ICT industrial ecosystem plays a critical role to ensure continuous supply of the latest ICT tools to support defense preparedness.

It is quite questionable whether India’s ICT Industrial Ecosystem has the wherewithal to provide uncompromised ICT tools to the military. This issues needs to be addressed through systematic policymaking and through carefully crafted institutional mechanisms.

Way Forward
India is growing as an economy and as an IT superpower. However, from a defense pre-paredness perspective, one is suspect of the layers of ICT&EC going into the ecosystem and the purposes for which these layers are actually operating.

India has limited sovereignty over these layers of ICT&EC that are going into defense preparedness. It is imperative to address this lacuna. India has the potential to develop the critical technologies and provide the technological sovereignty required to have credible defense preparedness.

One of the policies that may be leveraged to develop Technological Sovereignty is the defence offset clause. Under the current procurement
norms, India has a policy for 30% offset on defence procurement. This creates an immense opportunity for domestic manufacturers and service providers. More importantly, this also creates an opportunity for developing domestic IPR to take benefit of the 30% defence offset policy. However, in order to do so, it is critical to identify the roadblocks that prevent domestic manufacturers from tapping this enormous market, which also includes a fickle tax regime that prevents having a long-term view of the market. It would also involve identification of institutional mechanisms to facilitate partnerships of global military ICT providers with domestics manufacturers to enable the procurement process The first step in this process would be the identification of institutional mechanisms to facilitate domestic entrepreneurship.

However, such a step would require conceptualization of facilitating policies and institutional mechanisms to accelerate the process of Technological Sovereignty in ICT&EC for Strategic purposes.

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