Ancient China’s military strategist Sun Tzu had famously said that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. India’s own ancient philosopher Chanakya has said that if the end could be achieved by non-military methods – including intrigue, duplicity and fraud – he would not advocate an armed conflict.
And this is precisely what Army chief General M.M. Naravane said Wednesday when he spoke about the need to incorporate ‘Chanakya neeti‘ in India’s strategic and military thought process.
India needs to prepare for the war of the future rather than just for tomorrow.
The war of the future will not be fought just militarily. It would involve a combination of modern weapons, artificial intelligence, diplomatic muscles, cyber, and space capabilities that can give a deadly blow to the enemy even before it could initiate a strike.
India’s armed forces need to radically change the way long-term perspective plans are chalked out. Instead of focusing on adding more equipment for a conventional war scenario, there should be a single-minded focus on the use of modern warfare capabilities that countries like the US, China, Russia and the UK are already testing.
In the grey zone warfare
While China’s claims of regularly testing multiple military technologies should be taken with a pinch of salt, there is no doubt that the neighbouring country has managed to project itself as a massive military power without actually firing a single shot or facing an actual enemy.
Conventional warfare has given way to the grey zone warfare, like the Balakot air strikes, which doesn’t cross the threshold to become a full-scale war.
“Conventional military weakness is no bar as cutting-edge technologies are becoming available to state and non-state actors. As Andrew Krepinevich put it, there is a democratisation of destruction. Cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, attempts to influence election outcomes and even destructive attacks like the one on the Saudi Aramco oil facility have blurred the lines between war and peace,” Lt Gen D.S. Hooda, the former Northern Army Commander under whose leadership the 2016 surgical strikes was planned and executed, wrote.
Army Chief Gen Naravane surprised everyone present at the sprawling Manekshaw Centre, where he was addressing a CLAWS seminar, by saying that battle tanks and fighters are on the way out just like Sony Walkman.
And he is not away from the mark. He said the last large tank battle took place in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. “In the five odd decades since – in Iraq, Lebanon, Georgia, Chechnya and Syria, armoured formations have either followed or supported the application of airpower and artillery, or else their units and sub-units have been committed in smaller tactical groupings as part of infantry – armour assaults in urban terrain,” Gen Naravane said, while noting that 78 per cent of tank-related casualties since 1994 have occurred in urban warfare.
Lessons from a Russian attack
The most recent example of a battle involving the mechanised battalions happened on 11 July 2014, when Ukraine’s battalions engaged separatist forces close to the Russian border.
US officers Colonel Liam Collins and Captain Harrison ‘Brandon’ Morgan have written that the Ukrainians were assembling before what was planned to be a final push to the border to cut off the supply lines of the paramilitary forces from their Russian sponsors.
“What started as a fairly normal day soon took an unexpected turn. It started with the buzzing of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) overhead and cyberattacks against Ukrainian command, control and communications systems.
“The Russians then launched an attack consisting of short-range BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system rockets from across the border,” they wrote. This attack, which lasted about three minutes, killing around 30 Ukrainian soldiers and injured several hundred more.
Military strategists across the world have focussed on the Russian cyberattacks against Ukrainian command, control and communications systems. What the Russian cyberattack did was make the Ukrainian mechanised columns sitting ducks with no inkling of what would happen next.
India needs to revamp its outlook
Army chief Gen Naravane is 100 per cent right when he says that India should start focussing on the capabilities to operate below the threshold of an all-out war while also preparing for conventional war, which is going to be drastically different from what the world has seen.
He has spoken about the need to focus on future weapons like laser – something that China is already developing even as we are merely waking up to the idea.
In the age of cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, swarms of tactical drones, and hypersonic missiles that will render existing air defence systems useless, the Indian military needs to revamp its outlook and do it very fast.
Some ‘feel good’ advancement
The recent big-ticket purchases include six new attack helicopters for the Army – the Apaches.
The attack helicopters, which are undoubtedly one of the best in the world, are meant to provide the much-needed close air support to the infantry and the armoured columns. However, the six Apaches are nothing but just show-pieces for the force and a feel-good factor.
Even if we add the 22 Indian Air Force (IAF) Apaches to the list and also the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (yet to be ordered) to the firepower, the reality is that attack helicopters work best in an environment of complete air dominance, something that cannot be guaranteed as of now.
Even then, downing low-flying helicopters equipped with the best of defence and attack capability is not a tough task anymore with the advent and spread of man-portable air defence systems, or MANPADS, that can take down an aircraft flying at 30,000 ft.
Who would know this better than the Houthi rebels who shot down a Saudi Apache helicopter last year?
This is not to say that attack helicopters are passé; just that the money can be spent more judiciously.
India needs to focus on its ability to strike enemy targets from standoff ranges, surveillance, unmanned combat drones, artificial intelligence, diplomatic power and the strength to cripple the enemy without firing a shot by targeting their banking, power and defence systems.
The IAF must focus on capability rather than just pure numbers. Focusing on submarines for sea deniability instead of aircraft carriers, even if required in the long-term power projection play, is not affordable at the moment.
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