‘The Avatar is the one that holds the balance of them together until he disappears. When that happens, peace is lost and war becomes the common theme among the nations.’
– Avatar: The Last Airbender
WAR?? They questioned.
WAR!! They exclaimed in horror.
The term war generates ghastly images of death, destruction, devastation and despair.
Fighter jets strafing targets on the ground, bombers dropping their deathly loads from thousands of meters above on unsuspecting populations below; big guns of naval ships booming and launching projectiles at other ships or targets on land, submarines prowling the deep waters to target the enemy aircraft carrier; tanks growling at neck breaking speeds maneuvering a pincer to trap the enemy; artillery raining destruction on the enemy unrelentingly; and finally that Infantry soldier waiting to evict the enemy entrenched in his fortified emplacements to seize victory which he has measured by his feet.
Will a future war be different? Will it not entail death and destruction? Will the ‘nature of war’ change with the induction of technology and Artificial Intelligence? Will it replace the soldier partially or wholly? Will diplomacy and soft power be the order of the day?
Think tank’s and academics are quick to extrapolate from contemporary situations and arrive at conclusions which are fit only for academic discussion and debate. On ground the realities cannot change radically due to constraints and bindings of all sorts. A new weapon or equipment has a long gestation period from the drawing board to the assembly line. Upgrading or modernising a large military force cannot be undertaken in a short time-frame.
Take the case of a military aircraft be it a fighter, ground attack aircraft, multi-role combat aircraft, bomber, transport aircraft or even a helicopter. They continue to be in service long after their pilots who flew them have retired and gone into the world beyond. It is the same for tanks, artillery guns, multi-barrel rocket launchers, anti-tank missiles, shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles and small arms of the Infantry. Each weapon and weapon system from visualisation to conception to drawing board to prototypes to setting up of assembly lines to serial production, the whole process extends over a period of 20-25 years. Thereafter the weapon and weapon system is in service for another 30-50 years. In such a scenario there is too much at stake for the weapons and weapon system manufacturers to divert their effort towards disruptive technologies. Therefore, upgrades are thus the order of the day.
The role of the Indian Army as simplified and placed on the web is: –
- To assert the territorial integrity of India.
- To defend the country if attacked by a foreign nation.
- To support the civil community in case of disasters (e.g. flooding).
- To participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations in consonance with India’s commitment to the United Nations Charter.
As a corollary, to undertake the first two tasks the Army needs physical presence on the borders especially the ones that are live, the Line of Control with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control with China. Is this scenario likely to change? Since it has remained operationally live for the last seventy-five years it likely to remain so for quite some time to come. With the ongoing territorial disputes with the two neighbours, India has to defend its territory and be prepared to take back territory which has been illegally occupied by the two belligerent neighbours.
What does that mean for the troops on ground? Can they ensure territorial integrity of the Country and defend against foreign aggression with surfeit of technology and non-contact war? Can India get back the territories illegally occupied by the wily neighbours without physically evicting them and thereafter asserting their presence there permanently? Can a war at sea in the Indian Ocean or South China Sea facilitate the capture of lost territory? Or can an air and missile war do that? They will surely contribute in final victory in a substantial way but physical kinetic contact with the enemy on ground cannot be compromised. True, technology can assist in making their task more efficient and effective. The US and the West is not envisaging fighting wars for territory. They are conceptualising fighting non-contact wars wherein air force, navy and missiles play a dominating role. Borrowing their concepts in the Indian context will be misleading.
Wars have acquired a host of adjectives, namely hybrid war, fourth/fifth generation war, cyber war, proxy war, limited war, regional war, unconventional war, sub-conventional war, no war-no peace, unrestricted war, irregular war, guerilla war, asymmetric war, non-contact war, war by other means, electronic war, space war and nuclear war.
To that is added non-traditional war which includes economic war, financial war, legal war, psychological war, diplomatic war, information war, propaganda war, and public opinion war. The internet and social media platforms have become ideal mediums to wage such wars.
Wars are a contest between two or more opposing governments. Each of the governments will use maximum resources available to secure its political objectives and achieve an end state which is favourable to it. Therefore, various physical and non-physical assets will be deployed. When a number of these assets of varying domains that comprise elements of national power are employed simultaneously the character of war changes to being hybrid. Future wars are therefore “whole of government/nation” effort.
History records that every war has added a new dimension which proved disruptive or as it is also called ‘a revolution in military affairs’ and that has been the main contributor that brought about victory. Military analysts then draw up conclusions that the futures wars will be fought on that new format. But if all armies are preparing to fight on the lines of such a new format there will be little headway and result in a stalemate. Victory will go to that army which has introduced a revolutionary new disruptive concept or weapon or a combination of disruption and revolution. However, bravery on the battle field will never be outdated. Victory will still be measured on foot.
With the ongoing war in Ukraine, some analysts are already concluding that war on land is not going to be the winning factor. Technology is the new disruptive entity not only on the battlefield but in overall victory. Here it is necessary to look at war through the Clausewitz’s lens – ‘war is politics by other means’. As already mentioned war is a government to government discourse. Therefore the government must be able to coordinate and synergise all elements of national power to subdue the enemy. The war on land, at sea, in the air, missiles, energy weapons, electronic war, cyber, space, propaganda, media, subversion, sabotage, diplomacy and even economic squeeze all have to contribute in this effort. Wars are won and lost in the minds of the leaders. Targeting the mind of the opponent and the population will start before the physical fighting commences.
Considering the vast spectrum of the domains in the ‘playbook’ of future wars it is necessary to have a central operations center which will address all these domains in sequence or simultaneously. The polity and bureaucracy in India are presently not geared to manage this effectively. That has been the case historically too. Whether it was the Indo-Pak war of 1947-48, India-China war of 1962, Indo-Pak war of 1965, the armed forces were left to fight on their own without much direction for a considered strategic outcome or a substantive political aim. It was India’s innate desire of defending and maintaining status quo that was in evidence.
The lack of knowledge and hands on experience in military matters of the polity and bureaucracy are major constraints. While the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961 and with amendments in 2017 and 2019, states that the Department of Defence is responsible for the defence of the country without specifying any particular appointment. Some analysts conclude that it, de facto, implies the Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of the country!! How can the Defence Secretary prosecute an ‘all of government war’ is questionable. The responsibility for coordinating the effort of the whole government machinery rests with the Cabinet Secretary. The National Security Adviser and Cabinet Committee for Security along with the Chief of Defence Staff will be the fountainhead of the strategic decision making and giving direction to the armed forces, while the Defence Secretary would coordinate the effort of the defence PSU’s all the machinery available with the Ministry of Defence. External and internal intelligence agencies are vital in this scenario. Strategic Forces Command too is a close adjunct. A War Room for coordinated functioning of these multifarious agencies is essential. What emerges is not a lack of warfighting capability of the country but the adhocism and uncoordinated higher strategic direction of war.
India’s two belligerent neighbours have their higher direction of war in central control. The Chinese President is the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, ipso facto, he controls an ‘all of government war’ employing all the elements of national power to defeat the enemy even before the first bullet is fired. In addition the PLA is the regimes ‘private’ army!! Not to be beaten India’s Western neighbours Army is one that has ‘a nation’ to itself. China is an autocratic regime while Pakistan has an army that is deeply involved in internal politics, economy and controls its foreign policy. Both these nations have a system of governance that is conceptually divergent from India’s bumbling and fumbling democracy where centralisation is taboo. This is likely to create adhocism at the time when push comes to shove.
India will remain a pseudo regional power till it gets this act together and looks beyond its geographical borders upto its strategic borders and also has the political will to project force by sea or air.
India’s dilemma will always be what Zuko said – “Why am I so bad at being good?!”