Military & Aerospace

Hybrid Warfare: Are Indian Armed Forces Ready to Face New Challenges?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Nov , 2022


“Future Conflicts will be more violent and unpredictable with battlefields being severely contested and seamlessly connected. In future, even conventional conflicts are likely to have a large asymmetric component leading to hybrid war. Technology has become a key driver of future wars.”  – General Bipin Rawat, CDS

Philosophy of hybrid warfare comprises various terminologies such as Grey Zone Warfare, Unrestricted Warfare, Non-Linear Warfare used by different nations in accordance with their goals and ambitions. Though the term ‘hybrid warfare’ seems to be a recent construct but its use is as old as the history of warfare itself.  In ancient history of India, the great political strategist Chanakya, around 300 B.C. recommended the effective use of Saam( Conciliation), Daam (economic gratification), Dand (Use of Force), and Bhed (Dissension) by the king (In today’s context –nation) for achieving the intended outcome. Interestingly, Chanakya also emphasized the use of black magic to devastate the enemy.

In a nutshell, hybrid warfare comprises the lethality of conventional war with fanatical fervor of irregular warfare and effective use of advanced technology.  According to The Indian Army Land Warfare Doctrine, 2018, hybrid warfare consists of conventional, sub- conventional, unconventional, and non-conventional means. Conventional means comprise state actors and resources that include chemical, biological, and nuclear dimensions. Most of the activities under this category include open/overt warfare.

Unconventional means are covert by nature and hence include various endeavors such as sabotage, subversion, resistance, revolution, intelligence operations. Non-conventional means are very distinct by nature and these means are used by the state overtly and covertly to accomplish its political agenda. Under this domain, political, diplomatic, economic, and demographic wars are used as a part of hybrid warfare strategies.

On the other hand, sub-conventional activities are executed in the scenarios of both No War No Peace (NWNP) and peace proper. Activities such as proxy war, terrorism, insurgency, cyber attack, civil war, and public disorder come under the ambit of NWNP scenario while peace-time issues consist of criminal disorder, and unlawful activities. For instance, Pakistan is using every possible mean with the lethality of regular warfare to hurt India’s economy, polity, society, military, science, technology, information, and cyber space since its conception. In fact, for Pakistan, proxy war has become a more viable option after the 1971 debacle and 1999 Kargil short duration conflict and it has become its state policy.

Against this backdrop, now very pertinent question arises – Are Indian Armed Forces ready to face new challenges posed by the hybrid warfare? In accordance with the abovementioned classification of the hybrid warfare strategies, all the challenges to the Indian Armed Forces need to be sliced in the following categories namely, Physical Domain Challenges, Virtual Domain Challenges.

Physical Domain Challenges

Under this category, several activities that are crude, unscientific, uncoordinated, and irregular by nature come under the sphere of sub-conventional, un-conventional, and non-conventional warfare strategies. Pakistan is using these strategies since 1947 due to the established disparity between the military and economic capabilities of India and Pakistan. For instance, in 1948, Pakistan crafted the conventional design for Kashmir that consisted of a force of tribesmen supported by the serving and retired Army officers of Pakistan coupled with the subversion of the troops of state forces of Maharaja as an aspect of hybrid warfare.

Another incidence of hybrid warfare was in 1965 when over the missing hair of Prophet Muhammad Kashmir was disturbed that proffered an opportunity to Pakistan to induct irregular forces with the regular army to gain control over the territory from ingress points. Utilizing the sub-conventional means are the domestic and strategic compulsions of the Pakistan. To keep Kashmir issue alive is the need of the hour for Pakistan’s domestic politics for which hybrid warfare is the best option according to the cost benefit analysis.

Other means that are being used by Pak as hybrid war strategies include, infiltration, provocative tactics across the international border, efforts to revive Khalistan movement in Punjab that can be seen during farmers’ protest against Farm Bills. It is highly desired to mention here that using sub-conventional means as a strategy of warfare is very effective, economically sustainable, and very potent option for the small nations to sustain proxy war against big nations because these tactics give very effective results or in Sun Tzu’s words winning without fighting. Hybrid Wars are extremely provoking by nature and very capable to exploit the ethnic, socio-economic, and perceptive difference in order to dismantling and disrupting the regime of adversary nation.

By following the warfare strategies of Sun Tzu, Pakistan is also using other tactical means such as funding the terrorist groups, fomenting social and political unrest to keep India boil, funding NGOs and other social and ethnic groups involving in anti- national activities. These groups involved in anti-national activities always try to search the issues or opportunities to spark a clash ‘deliberately’ with the government officials and that is ‘misleadingly’ reported by hostile anti-government media outlets comprising print, visual media, and fake videos on social media to craft anti-government perception.

For instance, protests against Citizen Amendment Act, 2019 caused so much socio-political-economic unrest through its spillover effect throughout India in order to create anti-regime perception in India and the world. These protests received the support of the so called “liberals” immediately to keep India diplomatically isolated from the international community (especially from the West).

To keep India boil, series of protests were organized throughout India. Here very pertinent question arises: Who funded these protests? In logical and rationalistic sense, no political party or business tycoons would have funded these protests therefore these protests would have received the financial support from some suspicious conduits. More importantly, these protests were very successful in earning the sympathy of even renowned personalities and film actors.

Virtual Domain Challenges

Virtual domain challenges are connected with the application of advance technology as a part of hybrid warfare strategies. India’s northern adversary China armed with the top-notch technologies and world class weaponry is far ahead from India in military and economic capabilities.

Use of purely conventional means for conflict resolution doesn’t fit in present day world that is fully interdependent. This compulsion compels the countries to apply the advance technology as a tool of hybrid warfare strategies. Due to having cutting- edge advance technologies, China is using non-kinetic or non-contact grey zone tactics very intensely in the regions like, South-China Sea, Indian Ocean region. There are a number of strategies in the virtual domain that are being used by China that include Cyber Warfare, Electronic Warfare (EW), Integrated Network Electronic Warfare (INEW), Information Warfare (IW), Psychological Warfare, Media Warfare, deception in an unified framework.

All these tactics are being supported and commanded by the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). Apart from this, China also developed ‘IW militia’ that comprises the highly skilled personnel in advance technologies and computer through this force it can control or hack even the infrastructural set up of any country. For instance, Chinese hackers targeted India’s power grid in Ladakh for achieving the necessary information about India’s critical infrastructure or sabotaging it in near future as per the American cyber security firm Recorded Future.

Most importantly, China has doubled its space assets for intelligence gathering, monitoring, and reconnaissance. Through its space satellite that contains 250 systems, China can track, target, and monitor the regional flash points, Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and the forces of other countries world-wide especially in Indo-Pacific region. China’s space assets are second after the US.

China’s PLA views the Electronic Warfare is very critical component of modern warfare in deceiving and maneuvering the enemy. Furthermore, PLA regularly includes jamming and anti-jamming techniques in its regular exercise that are intended to deny multiple space-based communications, radar system, GPS navigation support to military movement, and precision guided munitions employment. Loss of space- based communication and navigation services for any military of the world could seriously affect its performance during any war.

Therefore, hybrid warfare is an ever growing reality and every nation should prepare to deal it effectively that is posing serious threat to it in multiple dimensions. Indian Army should deliberate deeply on this aspect and develop futuristic assets to handle new scenarios iron handedly that are emerging out of the new trends in the sphere of hybrid wars. 


Rathore, Mahipal Singh (2020). “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges to Indian Defence Forces”. Centre for Land and Warfare Studies, Available on:  [Accessed on: 23 Oct, 2022]

Banerjee, Ajay (n.d). “Chinese space assets double in four years”. The Tribune, Available on: [Accessed on: 23 Oct, 2022]   

Bajwa, J.S (11 Feb, 2020). “India under Hybrid Attack?!”. Indian Defence Review, Available on: [Accessed on: 23 Oct, 2020]

Chinese hackers target Indian power grid assets in Ladakh (20 April,2022). The Economic Times, Available on: [Accessed on 23 Oct, 2022]

Yadav, Kunendra Singh (n.d). “Hybrid Warfare Challenges to the Armed Forces: Realities and the Way Ahead”. Centre for Land Warfare Studies,

Available on: [Accessed on 23 Oct, 2022]

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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

Deepak Kumar

is policy Analyst, columnist, and commentator on India's foreign policy. He writes on important issues that affect India's national security.

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