Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan
Since ancient times, warfare has evolved either based on the concepts and doctrines or the evolution of technology that shaped the war fighting. Today the phenomenal evolution of technology is shaping future warfares wherein Artificial Intelligence, big data analytics, cyber, militarization of space, nano-technology, directed energy weapons and hyper velocity technology portend non-contact kinetic and no-kinetic dimensions of asymmetric warfare. However, Indian military and the Higher Defence Organisation seems to be stuck with early 20th century structures, formations and tables of equipment, antiquated planning processes headed by generalists and looking to fight future wars by knee-jerk restructuring.
To grasp the enormity of the threats likely to be faced by India, it may be prudent to first categorise the evolution in warfare, assess where the Indian Military stands at present, what threats are likely to emanate from potential adversaries and what needs to be done to counter the same. Based on that, provide a glimpse of emerging technologies and how they are driving the RMA. That the leading militaries of the world are moving towards 5th generation warfare, developing capabilities for 6th generation and working towards 7th / 8th generation warfare indicates where India stands.
First Generation Warfare (1GW) was based on massed manpower, line and column, face to face. The warfare was based on ‘attrition’, with use of swords, arrows, lances, axes etc. This lasted virtually till nearly the start of the First World War. The Second Generation Warfare (2GW) evolved with the arrival of gunpowder in the battlefield – muskets, cannons, breach loading rifles, machine guns, artillery guns, rockets etc. It changed the method of fighting to fixed fortifications (including trenches, overhead cover) and massed firepower. This can be seen in place even today along our Western and Northern borders. It was how India fought the 1999 Kargil War.
The Third Generation Warfare (3GW) is best exemplified by the Blitzkrieg doctrine of the Germans in World War II; manoeuvre warfare, where space is replaced by time. It was based on theconcept of overcoming technological disadvantage through the use of clever use of strategy and tactics. The ‘Operational Art’ of managing many simultaneous battles across the depth of the tactical battle area emerged as a new concept. As linear fightingcame to an end, new ways of moving faster began to appear.The emphasis on cavalry moved from mechanised forces to greater speed.The development of the helicopterallowed insertions in hostile territory, and advanced missile technology allowed forces to bypass enemydefences and strike at targets from great distances. The speed inherent in these methods necessitated agreater degree of independence allowed to the units on the front lines. The First Gulf War epitomised the full force of this concept – the Iraqis had laid out the 2GW defences but the Americans overwhelmed the Iraqis with classic use of technology and 3GW concepts to comprehensively defeat them and it laid the seeds for the increased asymmetric and non-contact warfare. The Fourth generation Warfare (4GW) was already visible in China, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and India. As also during the Cold War the low intensity conflicts, the predecessors of 4GW had its footprints in much of Latin America and Africa.
The essence of 4GW is guerrilla tactics and use of non-state actors. It is an asymmetric response to conventional superiority and has now metamorphosed into terrorism, wherein their loose hybrid structures, systemic destruction and effective use of information warfare enable a non-linear response to conventional forces. Use of technology for radicalisation and information sharing, cyber and digital domains makes a linear response to counter them ineffective. This led to non-contact response with precision weapons and cruise missiles. Yet the collateral damage was large. It evolved into, what the Americans term as ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’, and the Chinese call ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. It entailed targeting the capability of potential adversaries in multiple-domains to impede its Comprehensive National Power (CNP) and providing a semblance of non-linear response capability to the non-state actors.
The Fifth Generation Warfare (5GW) that is now evolving is the extreme form of non-contact warfare, enabled due to the spread of digitisation – a network centric warfare. It makes use of networks, combat clouds (cloud computing for combat), multi-domain battle (non-military, trans-military and military domains) and fusion warfare, wherein some domains coalesce in a manner that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Emergence of ‘Swarm Tactics’ with autonomous / semi-autonomous weapons was seen when a swarm of drones targeted two Russian bases in Western Syria earlier this year. Swarming is seen as a logical extension of ‘network centric warfare’. The necessary technologies to apply it at operational and strategic levels are still being evolved, but current levels enable its application at the tactical levels in specific contexts (as indicated by the swarm attack mentioned above).
The Sixth Generation Warfare (6GW), technology for which is now a work in progress, aims at manipulating the space-time loop to own advantage. It aims at extreme electronic deception by corrupting the digital data of the adversary, presenting false signatures with use of holograms to deceive and corrupt the O-O-D-A (observe –orient-decide-act) loop of the adversary to own advantage. With use of a mix of manned and unmanned automated platforms and systems the adversary is overwhelmed psychologically even before war breaks out or early in the campaign. The will to fight is broken at all levels. The US, West, China and Russia is working towards this end for future wars.
To add to this mix is the concept of ‘Reflexive Control’ - it is defined as a means of conveying to the adversary specially prepared information to incline him to voluntarilymake the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of theaction. Even though the theory was developed long ago in Russia, it isstill undergoing further refinement. The Soviets had been working on this since the mid – 20th Century; however the advent of social media, digitisation and cyber networks greatly facilitate this concept. This can be applied at tactical, operational, strategic and geo-political levels, transcending all domains – non-military, tarns-military and military.
The Seventh Generation Warfare (7GW) is still very nebulous and could be in place much later in this century, or early 22nd Century, provided the issue of permitting complete decision making by machines, without any human interface is acceptable. The 7GW looks at totally automated warfare, where Artificial Intelligence (AI)would reduce drastically, or totally remove the human interface in the decision making, command and execution. Advances in Nano-technology, Stealth technology, AI, Robotics, surveillance and digital networks (internet-of things) indicate to such future capabilities as would be needed for prosecuting 7GW.
The Indian Military and Ministry of Defence has structures for a 2GW, has formations and units with some semblance of 3GW (mostly along the Western borders) and faces 4GW in with minimal infusion of technology in these structures by aiming to tire out the insurgents and non-state actors (something that initial 4GW aimed at). It has generalists as decision-makers who are hesitant to change; also the senior hierarchy is limited by service and lanyard loyalties leading to knee-jerk attempts at restructuring.
Along its Western borders, the structures are similar to India, but it has mastered the art of an unrelenting state support to a 4GW against India. However, the threat from the Northern borders is evolving towards 5GW, under the overarching umbrella of covert support to 4GW – ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. To face thesethreats and to ensure a credible deterrence against such threats India needs to evolve a new concept and strategy for ensuring its security.
The author is a Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation, United Services Institution of India