Future force for future wars

Confluence technology and a whole-of-government approach need to drive new strategies and tactics

While addressing the country’s top military leadership in Gujarat’s Kevadia recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the top commanders to develop the military into a future force while taking note of the rapidly changing technological landscape. He also called for an approach that focuses on breaking down civil-military silos and on expediting the speed of decision-making besides shedding the legacy system.

Changing nature of war

Earlier, wars used to be easy to define. We could say with confidence whether we were at war or at peace. We could identify whom we were fighting with and at which front. The character of war was demonstrated depending upon the norms and ideology of society, technology, and anonymity. Now, new terms denote changes in the definition of modern war. These include ‘hyper’, ‘hybrid’, ‘compound’, ‘non-linear’, ‘fourth-generation’, ‘next-generation’ and ‘contactless’. Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz recognised the changing character of war incredibly early when he stated that war was practically limitless in variety. Such being the unpredictability, how do you modernise a force and make it ready for the future?

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War, at its core, is organised violence, waged for political purposes. The real purpose is domination. If humans are naturally political animals, war will be the proverbial state of nature and peace, the aberration.

For peace to prevail or be enforced, development of future force capability based on a Third Offset Strategy was announced by the U.S. in 2014. It consists of cutting-edge technology, exploration of new operational concepts for utilising such technology, and retaining the best and brightest in human resource to achieve the objective of peace. Although still in its inchoate stages, it focuses on promising technology areas such as robotics and system autonomy, miniaturisation, Big Data, and advanced manufacturing. It provides for autonomous learning systems, collaborative decision-making between humans and machines, assisted human operations, advanced manned-unmanned systems operations, network-enabled autonomous weapons, and high-speed projectiles. Technologies like these can be expected to cause unprecedented effects and disruption by impacting cognitive and perceptional domains through weapons, soldiers, robots, and cyborgs. Tactical actions undertaken through these can be expected to cause strategic effects.

Force employment

It will be the way the effects are directed for employment that will most significantly change warfare. Strategists reared in Western-Style liberal democracies, who are used to thinking in terms of an orderly Westphalian world, are slowly being forced to come to terms with anomalies in the existing paradigm. In India, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, is preparing the future force. He admits that ‘force on force’ concepts are difficult to tide over but is positive about the future.

What do military developments mean for political and democratic decision-making? Democracies work slowly. To prepare for accelerated future wars, they need to master the ‘hybridised effect’ of warfare that our adversaries are increasingly adopting. Operating below the threshold of out-and-out hostilities, effects caused by anonymous threats bypass frontiers without challenging national sovereignty. Our understanding of war on the other hand has remained the same: organised campaigns, orchestrated by domain-led central staff against an enemy that conforms to preconceived notions of logical and rational actions. Confluence technology and a whole-of-government approach, which are absent, need to drive new strategies and tactics.

Perhaps the most important political trend affecting armed conflict in the 21st century will be in the relationship between civilians and those who fight on their behalf. This is what the Prime Minister said needs to change when he asked for breaking of civilian-military silos.

Lt General Anil Chait is former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Central Army

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Anil Chait