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TCS, HCL, Wipro, Tech Mahindra could help develop India's defence technology ecosystem

Aug 12, 2020, 10:02 IST
Business Insider India
The Indian Armed Forces could be the next big clients of Indian IT companiesBCCL/BI India
  • Indian IT companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra, HCL Tech, and Wipro could help develop India’s defence technology ecosystem.
  • Historically these companies have not been very active in the defence sector but could reap the benefits through a public-private partnership.
  • Virtual warfare is bringing cyber technology to the forefront, and Indian IT companies could play an important role in boosting exports, at the most, and reducing Indian reliance on imports, at the least.
Companies like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), HCL Technologies, Tech Mahindra, and Wipro aren’t known to be the biggest players in defence — but they could be. The import ban on defence items announced by India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh could be a boon for Indian IT companies looking to explore new horizons.

Today warfare is fought not just on the ground but also on the virtual battlefield. The US, Russia, and China are leading the world when it comes to cyber technology. India, though not staggeringly behind, is playing catch up.

“This offers opportunities for Indian IT companies such as Tech Mahindra, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Wipro, and HCL Technologies, which have so far played a restricted role in the Indian military’s technological modernisation,” said Sameer Patil, a fellow at Mumbai-based thinktank Gateway House.
Why is cyber technology in defence so important?
It’s inevitable to deny the role of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), swarming drones, blockchain, and quantum computing, among other things when it comes to future-proofing the military.

Even when a war is being fought on the ground, navigation satellites are doing half the work. When it comes to aircraft, data analysis by the digital modules on board is crucial for efficiency. Using Internet-of-Things (IoT) can boost the manufacturing of defence items.

In addition to this, cyber technology plays a critical role in defending against advanced cyber threats, like deep fakes and social engineering attacks — like honey trapping Indian soldiers. Having better defences will keep data from getting weaponised against India.
IBM, for instance, provides the US government with defence and national security solutions, which include military readiness and intelligence analysis.

Where do Indian IT companies come in?
The finer points of using IT in warfare can only be grasped through government-military-industry collaboration, according to Patil. “These companies can help the military better identify global technological trends,” he said.

Indian IT companies can also help identify critical technologies, especially those that may be denied to India as part of the International Strategic Export Controls regime — which includes restrictions on electronics, computers, and IT encompassing information security.
Some may argue that Tata Advanced Systems and other players are already active in the area. But none deal with data. TAS’ role thus far has primarily been on aeronautics and more recently on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

“The private sector has already established a certain degree of competency in cyber and has the necessary foreign tie-ups,” said Patil explaining the advantages of Indian IT companies. For instance, Tech Mahindra already has a partnership going with Israel’s Elta Systems to create cyber security-based products.

Given the rate at which technology is changing by the day, India has historically lagged when it comes to next-generation weaponry. Having Indian IT companies like TCS, HCL Tech, Wipro, or Tech Mahindra on board could create the required defence technology ecosystem faster.
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