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The Fourth Industrial Revolution and its implications for Vietnam’s defence industry

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has had a vigorous effect on every aspect of our social life, including the defence and military areas. Therefore, it is necessary to make use of its advantages, minimise its disadvantages, and clearly identify its implications for Vietnam’s defence.

The world witnessed three industrial revolutions with great leaps in science and technology before entering the present Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In essence, this revolution is based on digital technology and integration of intelligent technologies in physics and biology, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, nanotechnology, and so on. According to experts, 4IR will bring about amazing breakthroughs and totally new capabilities, transform most countries’ industries, and deeply affect every aspect of social life. While prior developments and growth were mainly attributed to limited inputs (labour, resources, etc.), they are largely driven by unlimited elements (technology, innovation, etc.,) owing to the application of 4IR. This reality will deeply affect production, consumption, and prices on the global scale and give rise to new concepts such as the Industrial Internet, Intelligent Factory, Technological City, Smart Society, and so fourth. However, 4IR also poses new challenges, including slowing down or even shifting the world’s economic centre of gravity, increasing inequalities between nations, and adversely affecting economies with low-cost manufacturing. Some economic sectors will be narrowed down or disappear while low-skilled and aged workers associated with old technologies are prone to unemployment.

As for military and defence, 4IR is and will have tremendous, comprehensive influence and bring about both greater advantages and disadvantages. New scientific and technological achievements will be applied, creating new weapon systems and equipment such as directed energy weapons, biogenetic weapons, combat robots, etc., with outstanding features, thus giving rise to new types of warfare and combat methods. Nevertheless, the application of 4IR products, to some extent, may cause dangerous risk. States, especially major powers, might make use of scientific and military achievements for their unjust objectives; use their soft power to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs and policies; control at a distance to make developing and underdeveloped countries dependent. Growing demands of hi-tech weapons and equipment may lead to costly arm races and force states to increasingly depend on the developed ones. In the mean time, there are not any international mechanisms for controlling and supervising the application of new achievements in military science and technology  so as to minimise the adverse effects of 4IR.

The aforementioned factors deliver great and multifaceted impact on the defence of the socialist Vietnamese  Fatherland in our country. To make use of the advantages while reducing the challenges and negative impact of 4IR in military and defense fields, it is necessary to work out synchronous strategic policies and measures.

First, it is imperative to transform our thinking on military, defence and national protection in the new situation. 4IR is an inevitable trend, so we should be better aware of its role and influence, both positive and negative, on Vietnam’s defence so as to work out synchronous, practical solutions. New strategic context and 4IR will lead to growing military imbalance between countries, including Vietnam. If we choose to modernise Vietnam’s People’s Army (VPA) mostly by means of procuring  weapons and equipment, we will be at a disadvantage and unable to narrow the gap between our military and others. On the other hand, AI, new weapons and equipment are man-made products exploited and controlled by humans regardless of their modernity. Consequently, besides procuring modernised weapons and equipment, it is important to correctly perceive the relationship between human factors and weaponry. Accordingly, we should base on essential technical, technological infrastructure and promote the human factors in the new condition to leverage scientific and technological achievements to boost growth and respond effectively to challenges of high-tech weapons. It is noteworthy that, as for our country, people’s war to safeguard the Fatherland will still be the most effective way to deal with a high-tech war. However, in the new situation, we need not only will and determination but also intellectual and a high standard of science and technology. This means that people’s war should be developed to new heights in all aspects.

Second, focusing on developing high-quality human resources. Humans are the deciding factor in applying military sci-tech achievements resulted from 4IR. The requirements for human resources in this era are ever demanding. Therefore, training and developing high-quality human resources are very important. To meet these requirements, it is necessary to promote sci-tech and foreign language training, and create innovation in teaching and learning methodologies and content. In particular, it is imperative to build military science and foreign language centres; research and produce some dual-use high-tech products; and broaden and strengthen international cooperation in this field to set the stage for developing high-quality human resources for the VPA.

Third, fostering research and development in military art, military social sciences and humanities, and military technical and logistical sciences. The research and development of military art should focus on characteristics of high-tech wars; methods for conducting people’s war in response to new types of wars of aggression; methods for leading, commanding and controlling combat activities and wars. On this basis, innovations and enhancements are to be made in training and education of human resources to best serve military and defence tasks. Regarding military social sciences and humanities, it is necessary to study, enrich, and sharpen theory of the VPA’s combat ideology, goals, ideals; spiritual and political elements, and the spirit of determining to fight and determining to win. Military logistical and technical sciences should concentrate on developing high-tech technical and logistical vehicles and facilities, methods and solutions to conduct technical maintenance and logistical support in new types of war and strategic operations, particularly those in the air, on land, at sea, and in cyberspace domains, and so forth.

Fourth, establishing and developing the defence industry. This is the area which is heavily affected by 4IR. It is also a key element in directly manufacturing high-tech products for the VPA, thus necessitating choosing technologies suitable for Vietnam’s abilities and conditions, and giving priority to selectively building the defence industrial base and corporations, striving for establishing high-tech defence groups. Considerations should be given to gradually integrating the defence industry into the national industry to effectively mobilise state and social resources; developing dual-use and high-tech technologies; combining production with procurement to satisfy the armed forces’ demands of modernised weapons and equipment. Moreover, it is necessary to supplement, adjust, and develop mechanisms, policies and strategies, and mobilise resources for key projects.

Resolution of the 8th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (11th tenure) on Strategy for National Defence in the new situation has set out missions and solutions aimed at developing military and security art, science and technology, and applying scientific achievements to combat training, readiness, and so on. Those are crucial directions for the military and defence aspects in 4IR. Thoroughly grasping the Party’s viewpoints, renewing our thinking, and implementing the above-mentioned measures in a synchronous manner represent the ways to make use of opportunities and overcome challenges to contribute to successfully fulfilling the mission of national defence in the new situation.

By Lieutenant General, Associate Professor, Doctor Nguyen Duc Hai

Director General of the Institute for Defence Strategy

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