India has already witnessed “trailers” of what conflict in the future will look like, along the country’s unsettled and active border, Indian Army Chief General M M Naravane said on Thursday. He said India faces “unique, substantial and multi-domain challenges” and “disputed borders with nuclear neighbours, coupled with state-sponsored proxy war, stretches our security apparatus and resources”.
Speaking, along with the chiefs of the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force (IAF), at the Pragyan Conclave organised by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) think tank, Naravane said, “We are already witnessing trailers of future conflicts. They are being enacted daily on the information battlefield, in the networks and cyberspace. They are also being played along with our yet unsettled and active borders. It is for us to visualise, the battlefield contours of tomorrow, based on these trailers.”
The theme of the event was contours of future wars and countermeasures. Naravane said that the “creation of the Defence Space Agency, Defence Cyber Agency, and the Armed Forces Special Operations Division, are steps to synergise resources and expertise, and build integrated capabilities in these domains.”
He mentioned that restructuring, rebalancing and reorienting of the Indian forces have already been initiated, and added, “We are further consolidating, from our operational experiences to these changes, and this shall remain a work in progress.”
Touching upon the collusive threat India faces from Pakistan and China, he said, without naming any country that our “adversaries shall continue with their efforts, to achieve their strategic aims, short of conflict, by use of Grey Zone activities, in the political, military and economic domains, and do so in a collusive manner” and the events “in 2020 have been testimony, to the diversity of security threats in all domains, and this has brought the spotlight towards, non-contact and grey-zone warfare”.
“The ceasefire on the Line of Control continues to hold, because we have negotiated from a position of strength,” and the “developments on our Northern Borders, have also adequately underscored, the requirement of ready and capable forces, with an optimal component of boots on the ground, backed by modern technology, to preserve our sovereignty and integrity”.
Almost all modern technologies have the potential for military application and disruptive impact on modern-day warfare, said the Army Chief.
“There are ongoing hostilities between states, in the cyber, information, sub-conventional and hybrid domains, without a formal pronouncement of war,” and along with diplomatic, informational, and economic coercive activities, are already being prosecuted in the Grey Zone, the Army Chief added. The aim remains to incapacitate the adversary, disintegrate his sources of power, and render the command and control systems ineffective, so as to make physical forces redundant, he also said.
He stated that some nations are “challenging the globally accepted norms, and the rules-based order” which has “manifested in various forms of, creeping aggression and opportunist actions, to alter the status quo, keeping the threshold below all-out war”. Speaking later, IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari stated the technologies of future wars “will encompass conventional kinetic means merged with non-kinetic, non-lethal means spread across the cyber, information and space continuums”.
Deterrence, Chaudhari said, “would play a significant role in preserving strategic autonomy” and the “four cardinal principles of sound intelligence, the credibility of our force structures, perception management and timely application of combat power would be key to successful deterrence.”
The country could be attacked on all fronts in the future, he said, mentioning “economic strangulation to diplomatic isolation and military standoffs to information blackout in the form of Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS attacks)” and the traditional domains of land, sea and air have further expanded to include cyber and space domains which will be the battlegrounds of the future.
“China’s doctrine of ‘winning informalised local wars’ enshrines the centrality of information as an instrument of prosecuting and winning contemporary wars. The Chinese concept of ‘unrestricted warfare’ combines elements of information operations, cyberspace operations, irregular warfare, lawfare and foreign relations, carried out in peacetime as well as during conflict. This paradigm shift requires a change in our thought process.” Chaudhari stated.
Asserting the importance of airpower, the Air Force Chief said, “Conflicts in the last few decades have clearly established, without doubt, the pre-eminence of airpower as the instrument of choice for almost all operational contingencies” and as the budget will “almost always remain a constraint, prioritisation of procurement at the national level for key combat elements and enablers becomes very critical.”
He said that the armed forces need to adapt to “operate in an environment of denial” with “redundant networking at the strategic, operational and tactical level is the need of the hour and therefore developing a tri-services data link is a combat imperative.” The forces, he said, “need to be equipped, trained and ready to operate against a wide spectrum of threats ranging from drones to hypersonic missiles.”
Admiral R Hari Kumar, the Navy Chief, spoke about the “contemporary geopolitical climate and more specifically the return of great power competition.” He said that “a multipolar world order with overlapping spheres of influence, this competition is leading to jostling between nations on a day-to-day basis, across regions and domains. Such competition, if unchecked or unregulated is likely to lead to conflict. We are all aware that at the operational and tactical level, this competition is already manifesting in the form of grey zone warfare, hybrid warfare, salami slicing, etc.”
Calling for “undivided attention” on the cyber domain, he said it “interacts endlessly with all other domains of land, sea, air, and space” and the “lack of international regulations on the use of cyber-space, and plausible deniability complicates the situation even further”.
The forces, he stated, “are involved in managing these conflicts even now on a day-to-day basis”, which require immediate solutions and “tend to distract us from the long view, which are the “transformational changes which will instil agility and future-proof our organisations from impending shocks”.
The Navy Chief underscored the importance of the appointment of a National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC), which is “aimed at breaking silos, and supporting cross-organisational linkages”. He said, “Given our security situation, the probability of a full-blown conflict can never be ruled out.”