Nanotechnology has been gaining considerable momentum across a range of industries varying,
from medical applications to military usage. Indeed, nanotechnology has been hailed as the
next big thing that would soon find multiple applications in the military domain. All military
systems miniaturized would give a significant strategic advantage over the enemy. Like miniaturized
drones or a swarm of artificial bees would facilitate a better battlespace awareness and situational
visibility. Moreover, minitaturized bots equipped with AI standing tall on the enemy frontline gives
a clear picture of a changing battlefield. Nanotechnology would eventually enable a new class of
lethal weapons that will alter the geopolitical landscape. It’s high time that India
takes cognizance of the advanced capabilities of nanotechnology to be integrated into
the current war fighting tactics to have an upper hand over the adversary.
Nanotechnology has been defined as “the design, characterization, production, and application
of structures, devices, and systems by controlled manipulation of size and shape at the
nanometer scale (atomic, molecular, and macromolecular scale) that produces structures, devices,
and systems with at least one novel/superior characteristic or property.”[i] Applications of
nanotechnology are not new. In fact, its applications were used centuries before nanotechnology
as a field was formally defined, in creating paintings or making steel.[ii] The earliest
systematic discussion is considered to be done by an American Physicist named Richard Feynman
in 1959. In a speech, he explained the significance of “controlling and manipulating things at
a nanoscale.”[iii] The term “nanotechnology” was formally used by a Japanese scientists Nario
Taniguchi in a 1974 research paper on production technology. The technology could be used to
create objects and features on the order of nanometer. Interestingly, at the Nano-scale the
classical laws of physics become redundant and pave the way for quantum mechanics. As a result,
one could observe remarkable differences in material behavior.
This discovery had set the ball rolling for a series of nanotechnology initiatives across the world.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, almost all industrialized nations undertook nanotechnology
initiatives, leading to a world wide proliferation of nanotechnology activities.
All of the world’s major military powers are heavily involved in research and development of
nanotechnology infused materials and systems. As of now, nanotechnology research focuses on
improving medical facilities and producing light weight, strong and multi-functional
materials as armours that facilitate both protection and enhanced connectivity in a
Network-centric warfare domain. Nanotechnology undoubtedly provides myriad new options for the
military. Below are a few areas where the application of nanotechnology can be employed
in a big way:
- Nano-Battlesuit: Soldiers need to carry around a lot of heavy equipment’s. Also, their
clothing does not give them a foolproof protection from bullets. Many Nanotechnology R&D
departments are rigorously involved in developing “nano-battlesuit.” This battlesuit could be
as thin as a stretchy polyurethane fabric and contain health monitors and communication
equipment. Energy for communication could be generated by normal body movements.
Additionally, this material would provide strength far better than the currently available
materials and also facilitate effective protection from bullets.[iv] Thus, nano-battlesuit
allows the military to miniaturize that not only cuts down on weight but also enhances
efficiency and protection.
- Nano-sensors: Nanotechnology allows smaller sensors which could find applications in various
segments. For instance, integrating these nano-sensors with neural networks can help detect and
identify incredibly small traces of airborne chemicals. An array of these sensors will be of
great use to the border forces working on the front line, to determine the nature and magnitude
of the potential risk when explosives are detected.
- Nano-drones: Like any mobile device, nano-drones have cameras and sensors and also the
feature of facial recognition. Military nano-drones could also include few grams of
explosive sufficient enough to penetrate the skull and destroy the contents. These nano-drones
would facilitate airstrike of surgical precision. These nano-drones if trained as a team could
penetrate buildings, cars, trains, evade people, bullets, pretty much every counter-measure and
hence are lethal enough to kill half of the city.
- Nano- Systems implanted within human bodies: Another type of application would be to
monitor the medical and stress status of a soldier, releasing therapeutic drugs and
hormones as deemed necessary. Another application is linking such systems to the brain
cortex areas or the sensory organs, sensory nerves, motor nerves or muscles so as to
reduce the reaction times for the soldiers.
- Nano-satellites: Nanotechnology would provide umpteen numbers of possibilities in the outer
space. For starters, use of nanotechnology for markedly smaller satellites together with smaller
launch vehicles. Thus, making these satellites cost-effective. Moreover, these nano-satellies
could be used in swarms for radar, communication and intelligence. These satellites could also
facilitate dedicated high resolution images of enemy territory.
- Nano-nuclear, chemical and biological weapons: Although there would not be any fundamental
difference in the quality of nanotechnology induced nuclear weapons. Only the overall yield
would be pretty low, and the mass and size correspondingly small, blurring the distinction with
conventional weapons. This would also reduce the overall destruction caused. On the other hand,
nanotechnology would provide qualitatively new options for inducing biological or chemical
weapons. Nanotechnology makes biological/chemical warfare much more effective and manageable.
Nanotechnology could actually facilitate easier entry into the body or cells. Mechanisms
could be designed using nanotechnology such that limit or prevent damage to one’s own force,
such as self destruction after a defined period of time or reliable inoculation.
Nanotechnology finds applications in both civilian and military domain. Many of the applications of
nano-technologies are being developed in the civilian realm which may soon find a place in the
military arena. Nation states are rigorously working towards building capabilities in the field. Thus,
it calls for rigorous measures from the Indian side to be abreast with the technology.
India’s current Status
Considering the underlying salience of nanotechnology, even India has been putting in a
consistent effort in the field. The potential of Nanotechnology in India was realized by
2001 when NSTI (Nanoscience and Technology Initiative) was set up by the government of
India. Since then India has come a long way. DRDO is carrying out extensive work in the
field of nanotechnology to enhance its application in defense sector. Major focus areas
have been NBC (Nuclear, biological and Chemical) attack protection devices, stealth and
camouflage, sensors, high-energy applications, nanoelectronics, structural applications.
DRDO has also set up nano research and production facility in various parts of India.[v]
A Bengaluru based Log-9 Materials startup is also collaborating with the defense industry
to help it build various products and applications while conserving energy.[vi] However,
the progress made by the country is not enough and the process needs to be accelerated.
In today’s time advanced technology is no longer the domain of the few, rather has wide
reaching impact on all sections of society. There needs to be a plausible understanding
of the scenario that if a country misses out the next technological advance the enemy
would still have it, and this will impact the future of armed conflict in ways that
would be difficult to comprehend at the present juncture. This understanding is
necessary in preparing for the future security of the state. Moreover, the dual use
nature of nanotechnology has made it a much more popular field of research. There is a
dominant discourse among states that integrating and minitiaurising of already existing
technologies would give them a significant strategic advantage over adversary. If India
fails to speed up the process then, it might become the case of being too late.