Profiling Future Wars — Indian Context
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Issue Vol. 33.2 Apr-Jun 2018 | Date : 16 Apr , 2018

‘An analysis of the content and character of armed confrontation in local wars and armed conflicts over the last decade leads us to the conclusion that the content of the particular military events of armed struggle in the future will be tied up closely with other, subordinate types – economic, informational, psychological, climatic, scientific, technological, diplomatic, and ideological’.

— VN Gorbunov and SA Bogdanov, Armed Confrontation
in the 21st Century Military Thought

Governments are wholly responsible for the safety and security of its citizens. Hence they should strive to provide a conducive environment for its citizens so that they can pursue their chosen and preferred vocation, unimpeded by interfering external forces and free from internal strife. Governments are also responsible for securing an interrupted flow of raw material and energy resources to maintain the process of development on a steady course. In doing so, the government protects not just the way of life of its citizens, but the value systems and ideology of the nation.

As in the case of human interpersonal relations, so too in the relationships between nations there are bound to be differences, disagreements and irritants. And just as personal differences are resolved through the established laws of the state and societal norms, so too must differences between nations be resolved through diplomacy, international laws and accepted codes of conduct. Undoubtedly, in both cases, there will be situations when the laws will be violated and violence resorted to. In human relationships this will happen where the state machinery is weak and governance is poor. Similarly, the relationships between nations can spiral from differences to disagreements to coercion to skirmishes to a conflict leading to a war!

Internally, for good governance, governments have the judiciary and the local police bolstered by the central armed police forces. For external threats to the territorial integrity and the menace of internal insurgency/terrorism and any threat to the value systems dear to the nation, the governments can resort to the use of the armed forces. To try and equate the police forces with the army is strategic gaucherie. Yet that’s what India seems to want to do!!

Armies prefer to develop technologies to fight a war according to a doctrine. India does not have that option.

The history of India since circa 1500 has been one of submission and acquiescence. The Mughals followed by the British converted India into a region which hardly resembled that what existed prior to this period. What India is today is not what it was before circa 1500; it is a morphed and imposed amalgam of culture and tradition. While China has assiduously crafted a national narrative of its “Century of humiliation,” India has, nonchalantly, assimilated those four centuries into its history. On the plus side this indicates India’s capacity to absorb and assimilate and to adjust to an imposed ‘new normal’. But on the negative side, such passivity is easily exploited by any adversary and inimical elements.

To protect what we now have needs a thorough study of what threats and challenges India faces. As an aside, these two words – threat and challenge – can be related to hard and soft power. For the military all unfriendly military forces are ‘threats’, individually or in collusion – these have to be dealt with by appropriate military force levels. While in diplomacy all difficult bilateral or multi-lateral relationships are seen as ‘challenges’. In military parlance there are only threats to be dealt with while in diplomacy there is no term as threat but only challenges.

Clausewitz’s profound conclusions in the 1700’s still hold good. From the 10-volumes of Clausewitz’s collected works, On War is formed by the first three volumes and represents his theoretical explorations. It is one of the most important treatises on political-military analysis and strategy ever written, and remains both controversial and an influence on strategic thinking. Among many strands of thought, three stand out as essential to Clausewitz’s concept:

  • War must never be seen as having any purpose in itself, but should be seen as an instrument of Politik – a German word that combines the meanings of the English words policy and politics: “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.”
  • The military objectives in war that support one’s political objectives fall into two broad types: “war to achieve limited aims” and war to “disarm” the enemy: “to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent.”
  • All else being equal, the course of war will tend to favour the party with the stronger emotional and political motivations, but especially the defender.

Therefore if war is a political instrument, what is its objective? Political objectives are often ambiguous. Sometimes, this is because the contenders do not clearly understand their own intentions and desires. At other times, they are willing to accept either limited or unlimited political outcomes, depending on events. However, in earlier times nations justified (jus ad bellum or ‘the right to war’) going to war to capture and annex territory for ‘lebensraum’; to capture sources of strategic raw material and energy; to defend against adversarial interference; to spread an ideology or religion by the sword; to protect lines of communication for uninterrupted trade and commerce; to force a change of a hostile regime; and in the post modern era – intervene so as to prevent violation of human rights; and finally, a unique Chinese invention, ‘to teach a lesson’.

…a short video was played in the UN for its members of miniature drones being employed in swarms powered by AI using facial recognition and internet protocol tracing to track down people by identifying their faces or locate their mobile phones or vehicles to eliminate them.

Post Second World War there have been just a few cases of war nation’s going to war over territorial issues – 1950 China usurped Tibet by military force; 1971 war was fought for the liberation of Bangladesh (eliminating the erstwhile East Pakistan); 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea; and since 2014 China has been building islands (3200 acres on seven features) in the South China Sea.

In the era of globalisation, wars to secure sources of strategic raw material and energy have acquired more of an economic dimension. The Cold War was an ideological war. Both the blocs fought a series of proxy wars to protect their respective domains, it ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Xi Jinping has offered an alternate model of governance as followed in China but has no willing takers. Regime change as a political objective has been a difficult objective even for the current lone super power as witnessed earlier in Afghanistan, later in Iraq and now in Syria. It can be argued that intervention to protect human rights by any country doing so on its own without United Nations sanctioning makes such intervention a no go political objective for war. This leaves space for very limited objectives, namely, active defensive measures to protect territory and trade and commerce; imagined/contrived historical claims of territory which a country annexes by war; lastly, the unique political objective ‘to teach a lesson’.

The western democracies have essentially stabilised and are less prone to be drawn into a conflict for any political objective. On the other hand developing countries are vulnerable to conflicts lesser than wars due to inherent political instability and ethnic and/or religious pressures. Moreover, most of these countries are ruled by hardline military dictators or dictators having full support of their military forces, or have a single party political system. Inevitably, there is a great deal of centralisation of power in these regimes.

India is faced with two such diplomatic challenges and a growing military threat. As a consequence, India has to prepare to fight a war on one front which could, in all likelihood, spiral into a two front war as both the likely adversaries have developed a unique “all weather friendship, deep as the oceans and high as the mountains”.

To discount such an eventuality or to express doubt in the military’s ability to deal with such a threat is tantamount to giving up, and reflects poorly on the higher echelons of the present military hierarchy. It’s what the army always plans for – the worst case scenario. While the polity will utilise all elements of national power to prevent such an eventuality, but that does not absolve the armed forces of the responsibility to prepare for it with whatever wherewithal they have –Churchill had once commented on the exorbitant demand for forces and equipment by Field Marshal Allen Montgomery for the Eighth Army in North Africa against the depleted forces of Field Marshal Rommel – “such demands of generals can only be met in heaven”.

Both China and Pakistan are in a perpetual mode of modernising their armed forces. For India to wait for the day when it is superior to both of them and finally declaring – “we are ready for a two front war” is downright ludicrous and pusillanimous to say the least. The armed forces do not have a choice. They may just have to fight a two front war whether they like it or not and they will have to do it with what they have.

Today the need of the hour is disruptive thinking. A way of thinking that produces an unconventional strategy that leaves competitors scrambling to catch up.

Most of the recent studies on future wars give prominence to war in cyber space and space; however, they believe that the traditional domains of land-air-sea continue to remain important. Since most of these studies are conducted in developed countries with little original studies to offer from the sub-continent, the conclusions from these studies need to be modified to reflect the ground realities with respect to Indian conditions.

Interestingly, China has produced substantial original study in this domain. Chinese language debates on the aim of future wars is primarily clustered around two traditional military aims: degradation and obtain/retain/occupy. Chinese experts do not consider political/economic degradation as an end in and of itself. Instead, they believe that states will continue to seek physical degradation and physical occupation as their main objective in future conflicts. This should adequately indicate to the Indian Armed Forces what their priorities for modernisation should be.

Since India and China are the main competitors in the Asian region, comparisons of their military forces are inevitable. Mao announced the creation of the Peoples Republic of China on 1st October 1949 coming out of a civil war. India was then preparing to present itself a Constitution and declaring the country a Republic. Between the years 1959-1961 there was widespread famine in China due to drought and equally due to Mao’s disastrous policy decisions in the programme of “The Great Leap Forward” from 1958-1962, which, ultimately claimed 36 million lives. Despite such an adverse internal situation, China fought a war with India. The victory in this war enabled Mao to tighten his hold on power in the government and the Party. In just another four years Mao launched another disastrous socio-political class struggle: “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” from 1966-1976. In the meantime India had recovered from the shock of defeat in the war with China and trudged on to develop steadily, albeit slowly, at a “Hindu rate of growth” due to a socialist political leaning.

Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernisation Programme was a remarkably conceived plan to pull China out a quagmire by its boot laces. The subsequent years saw a double digit growth of its economy that enabled it to allocate substantial funds for military modernisation. China’s military modernisation required huge funds. Buying weapons and equipment from the West would be exorbitant and unsustainable. China steadily built up its scientific and technological domain which had literally been wiped off during the Cultural Revolution. Using all means, fair and foul, ranging from stealing blueprints to reverse engineering, it built a large defence industrial base. China again faced sanctions after the Tiananmen Uprising of 1989. Their access to technology was crippled. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, China benefited the maximum by way of securing the services of erstwhile Soviet scientists and technology. Today China can stand on its own in most fields of technology and cutting edge military technology. Resultantly, one third of UNICORNS in the world originate in China. Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Robots with a very high degree of self-sufficiency, metamaterials and nano technology are where research is focussed. On the contrary, India did not encourage indigenous development and preferred to import military hardware due to shady ‘kick backs’ linked to such deals seemingly favoured by the governments in power. As a consequence, India’s public sector defence industries have become merely a secure government job with their R&D, more often than not, reinventing the wheel.

As regards nuclear-capable Pakistan, it continues to be a headache for international observers. The country is notorious for serving as a springboard for extremist groups, including those set against its mortal enemy, India. Pakistan Army has been using a low cost option of a proxy war against India by using terrorists to keep the Indian forces occupied. It has blatantly conceived a threat to Islam to radicalise the population in Kashmir. Pakistani army has to be made to pay for supporting terrorists. India has initiated a non-contact version of punitive action which it must continue and evolve further by the use of armed drones further in depth areas. The terrorist hierarchy should be similarly targeted continuously. Simultaneous action through diplomacy has successfully isolated Pakistan and put it in a bind. The next step should be to convince China that its support of Pakistan is counter-intuitive and not in sync with its desired image of a benign rising power.

Wars cannot be won without getting ones hands dirty and bayonets and kukris bloodied. Boots on ground will remain indispensable till the end of all wars on the planet.

Armies prefer to develop technologies to fight a war according to a doctrine. India does not have that option. It is compelled to look for weapons and systems which are available at affordable price and then device methods and warfighting doctrines to use these weapons and systems it is able to buy, which is generally in limited numbers.

The Chinese army envisions future conflicts under the conceptual umbrella of Integrated Network Electronic Warfare (INEW). INEW concept of operations would be widely employed in the earliest phases of a conflict, and possibly pre-emptively to deny the enemy access to information essential for continued combat operations and information dominance. China’s strategic thought on cyber warfare combines coordinated use of computer network operations (CNOs), electronic warfare (EW), and kinetic strikes designed to paralyze an enemy’s networked information systems. It also creates “blind spots” against an adversary’s C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) systems. These concepts are reflected in the PLA’s evolving doctrine of “informationized conditions” that envisions future campaigns conducted in all domains simultaneously: ground, air, sea, space, and cyberspace.

While specific operational aspects and capabilities are shrouded in secrecy, publicly available writings by the PLA’s semi-authoritative military sources such as the Academy of Military Sciences indicate a simultaneous application of mutually-reinforcing and multiple force elements. These include; the PLA’s Electronic Warfare and Counter-Space Forces using electronic jamming, electronic deception and suppression to disrupt information acquisition and information transfer; the PLA’s Computer Network Attack and Exploitation Units to disrupt, destroy, or subvert an adversary’s data and networks using advanced virus attacks, hacking, deception, and sabotage information processing. Recently a short video was played in the UN for its members of miniature drones being employed in swarms powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) using facial recognition and internet protocol tracing to track down people by identifying their faces or locate their mobile phones or vehicles to eliminate them. It was a prelude to creating ‘Slaughterbots’ as part of the ‘Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ (CSKR).

Some of the technologies that will impact future wars are – hyper-stealth or quantum stealth; electromagnetic rail guns; space weapons and non-nuclear Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP); hyper-sonic cruise missile and prompt global strike; ‘sentient’ Unmanned Vehicles; guided bullets for small arms; bullet-proof exo-skeletons; shear-thickening fluids to replace Kevlar; head mounted lasers scanning the environment directly on to the retina; ‘ethic’ software to correct a missile trajectory fired in a wrong direction. Truly a case of science fiction becoming reality! The list of research related to the military is long and getting longer. The need of the hour is to shun conservative thinking and aim for the moon, otherwise the army will stagnate. Does this imply that this “army manned by bespectacled nerds would completely destroy the forces of handsome athletes who fight on a lower technological level”?

It is a myth that you can just recruit some able bodied young men into the military, march them around a field a little bit and you’ve got an army.

A decade ago the buzz was ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’. A revolution is defined as being discontinuous or radical. It is an innovation that is unexpected, but nevertheless does not affect existing markets.

Today the need of the hour is disruptive thinking. A way of thinking that produces an unconventional strategy that leaves competitors scrambling to catch up. A way of thinking that turns consumer expectations upside down and takes an industry into its next generation. Simplistically it is thinking ‘out of the box’.

It is true that technology will be prominent in future wars but to believe these will be entirely a non-contact even with ultra precision guided munitions engagement may be stretching it too far. After 66 days of relentless bombing of the Japanese positions on the island of Iwo Jima during WW II by the US air and naval forces it was observed that – “There’s no eight square miles of Earth that has ever received as much ordnance as the island of Iwo Jima. Almost all the Japanese survived,” and went on to kill 7000 US Marines when they landed on the beaches. To impose your political will on the enemy typically requires you, at the end of the day, to close with and destroy that enemy up close with ground forces. The current plan of the government to make it compulsory for aspirants of government jobs to serve in the army for five years is laudable. However, it will be scuttled by the bureaucrats before it even gets to see a ray to light. Wars cannot be won without getting ones hands dirty and bayonets and kukris bloodied. Boots on ground will remain indispensable till the end of all wars on the planet.

The penchant for raising Special Forces is also flawed. Special Forces are meant for ‘special’ tasks which can complement the operations of strategic nature, but they cannot win wars. During the Burma campaign Field Marshal Sir William Slim was sceptical on the employment of the ‘Chindits’. He was of the view that these ‘Special Forces’ were for a one time employment, so there was a tendency of holding them back for as long as possible. In a long duration war this had more serious implications.

Another widely accepted belief is that the future wars will be short, swift and intense. This is a fallacy that must be discarded. To achieve the military objectives for the nation’s political aim it is inevitable that both sides will be compelled to initiate a spiralling escalation of the war as neither will back out and accept defeat as was done in 1962. The logistic implications of this is that the present level of War Wastage Reserves (WWR) will need to be revised upwardly and surge capacity in the defence manufacturing industries be built in. This in itself is enough reason to develop a robust indigenous defence industrial base.

Click to buy (Vol. 33.2 Apr-Jun 2018)

There should be no false notion that the military is merely a force holding some weapons and equipment which need to be manned. Weapons bought when a crisis is already upon the country and then to get men recruited to man these new inductions is not a solution. It is a myth that you can just recruit some able bodied young men into the military, march them around a field a little bit and you’ve got an army. It takes a considerable amount of time to build armies, navies, air forces and special forces, especially in today’s environment with complex weapons systems.

Military equipment has an active life span of three to five decades. The scientist and warriors generally do not interact adequately. To expect a scientist to visualise the contours of future wars and then design a weapon or system that will be relevant for three to five decades is farcical. Ultimately it emerges as a fact that the defence industrial complex worldwide dictates the equipment profile of the armed forces, especially of developing countries. Wars, particularly future wars, are too serious a business to be left to the uninitiated. Woes betide them who let this Nation down.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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