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New horizons

Use of nano and biotechnology

Nano technology essentially brings to the military domain the capability of reducing weight of major weapons platforms thereby making for efficiencies in deployment in very difficult terrain as in the trans-Himalayan.

In this regional area the Chinese are trying to trap India into not creating the kind of infrastructure that would enable it to deploy troops and weaponry that would bring to naught the massive interventionist infrastructures that China has created over the past twenty years.

It is heartening to know that dozens of laboratories under the Defence Research and Defence Organisation have been engaged in trying to understand the horizons that nano and biotechnologies open up for military exploitation.

On the face of it, it would appear strange that a nation that has contributed to the creation and establishment of a Biological Warfare Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention and has signed and ratified both (and destroyed stockpiles) should show a renewed interest in the technology that would add a new, more dangerous kink in the possibility of such attacks.

It is by way of insurance to be able to tell whether biotechnologically engineered (they will be different in their molecular content) agricultural derivatives are dispersed by State and non-State actors that have hitherto failed to intimidate India by hitting at its economic centres.

Dangerous effect

As with the Mumbai attack of 26/11 the Pakistan Army Inter-Service Intelligence would be looking for new ways of hitting at India- both nano and biotechnology lend themselves to such clandestine attacks.

With atmospheric conditions as polluted as they are in India it will be difficult to differentiate whether the fog is a natural phenomenon or a terrorist attack. As Anupam Tiwari has pointed out in his monograph “Military Nanotechnology” published in the International Journal of Engineering Science and Advanced Technology.

“NT with its ability to trigger specific brain functions will provide a whole new menu of poison options. For example, a liar poison would make it impossible for someone to tell the truth. A kleptomaniac poison would make it impossible for a person to stop stealing things. An alcoholic poison will make a person unable to stop drinking alcohol. An obesity poison will cause persons to eat themselves to death, and the favorite frontal lobectomy poison that will make a person incapable of being angry or mean”.

Such mind-bending poisons will normally go unnoticed unless one is close enough to know the change that has occurred.

How to be able to know that such attacks have taken place and create antidotes to deal with them must be part of the current study of nanotechnology and biotechnology.

The new science has been vital for the developing the methodology of identifying and diagnosing diseases and for medical antidotes. Moreover the recent advances in biotechnology offer a real opportunity for the development of effective counter-measures to biological and toxin weapons agents.

From a bio-security perspective, vaccine development are activities that can be counted as having strategic value given that Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare protection is already  accepted as defensive shields even though the latter two have already been outlawed.

Since it was discovered in 1974, its qualities have drawn the military to its many likely applications. It is lightweight, adaptive, has stealth qualities and in camouflage applications can well make a soldier ‘disappear’ by the chameleon shades it exudes.

Its bulletproof qualities if incorporated in new military uniforms can extend protection not just to the torso area as do the frontal and back ceramic plates that constitute current jackets but can also provide protection to the extremities that are currently vulnerable.

Headgear which is particularly vulnerable to top attack can now be made elastic enough to absorb a great deal more of the kinetic energy of a Draganov bullet which is the universally accepted benchmark laid down by the US National Institute of Justice. The combination of very lightweight, intrinsically stronger and versatile medium lends itself admirably to military uses where weight, lethality, accuracy and even medicinal uses can make for comfort and safety on the battlefield.

Among the very first uses that the Indian military scientist has thought about is surveillance and audio-visual recorders that can tell of Maoist activities in the wide swath of territory in central India that is currently their area of operation and dominance.


Intelligence gathering with particles as small as dust is considered a possibility and just a handful dispersed in known areas of Maoist activity could yield valuable data about their presence, movement, strength and the disclosure of their intentions in their meetings will be a quantum leap in the acquisition of actionable intelligence which all security forces crave.

In fact, it would apply equally to counter-terror operations. Possible applications are unobtrusive micro audio bugs and video recording devices with high capacity data storage to plant at likely meeting places of terrorists, over ground agents and sympathizers.

Unattended micro ground or air sensors can be placed in advance and remotely activated on required basis and micro sized energy devices which can power unattended sensors / audio / video devices.

It also has a host of other applications in remote areas or places which require extremely light weight power sources like light weight man portable radars, missiles, UAVs and other systems.

Nanotechnology can play an important role in robotics by creating strong moving parts that in manned vehicles tend to succumb to wear and tear on the battlefield.

The DRDO has long advocated a policy of replacing manned armored vehicles-both tanks and infantry combat vehicles-by more versatile and compact robots.

It is intended to fit these robots with sensors and weapons which hitherto have been heavy because of the manner of their construction which was mostly metal-based. Nano composites will make for lightness and strength that will be capable of withstanding the rigors of the battlefield. Sensors and fire control systems should be both light and rugged.

However, there is one worry that with the DRDO taking on so much of the required contracts that when it fails to deliver on time, the cost overruns can be unacceptably high not to mention that the armed forces are deprived of what they need and the nation has to subject itself to the kind of pressures unleashed by the VVIP helicopter deal and other high value defence contracts that have had to be scrapped because of malfeasance by the contractors.     

Also, much as the private sector demands that it get a larger slice of defence contracts it is loath to invest in research and development which is both time-consuming and expensive.

Nonetheless, it should not be difficult to identify some of the private sector ‘mini ratnas’ and encourage them with finance and material inputs to develop many of the applications that nanotechnology offers.

Clothing for soldiers, for instance, will generate technical skills that could also apply to the civilian sector given the diverse climatic conditions that prevail in this country. Comfortable yet rugged clothing will have great demand once it is made available.