Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Indian Army, Air Force and Navy must work out a joint media policy for information warfare

To excel in the information warfare, India’s defence forces need to see the media as a force multiplier, and not as a necessary evil.

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Information is the new oil, and the Indian Army has realised this, albeit a little too late. The Army is finally in the process of changing its 15-year-old media policy. In the age of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Tik Tok, the Army has to find new ways to stay nimble and on top of the information cycle.

The previous policy of 2005 was formulated before the boom of TV channels, and hence, does not take into account how to really use the electronic and digital media space. It’s shocking that all current policies are officer-driven and ad hoc.

It is time the Indian military has a joint media and information warfare policy. The Services cannot and should not be allowed to work in silos, thinking that digging their head into the sand is the best way to fight the information warfare.

Also read: How the IAF plans to get the edge back from Pakistan on air-to-air strike capability

IAF and Navy are no different

It is not just the Army. The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) media policy dates back to 2011. Anyone who covers the defence beat or is associated with the defence set up knows that the IAF is a tough nut to crack when it comes to information or interaction with officers or visit to airbases.

What is sad is that many senior IAF officers reading this will actually feel proud about the fact that they are the most opaque among the three Services.

This is foolhardy because information always has the ability to flow out even if slowly and in an incomplete way.

The Navy, the fastest to really take advantage of social media, is the better of the three wings when it comes to media policy. An analysis of media, be it newspapers, TV or digital, will show that Navy gets much more attention than its larger sister Services — Army, which is easily 10 times bigger and the IAF, which is about three times bigger.

How social media can be used effectively for information warfare can be seen in two tweets by the Indian Navy on 17 April 2018.

The tweets by the Indian Navy sent out a very subtle but powerful message to the Chinese PLA Navy: You are being watched in the Indian Ocean region.

However, the recent espionage scandal that rocked the Navy has forced it to take drastic measures. This clearly shows that the force had not taken into account earlier the true dynamics of social media while formulating its overall policy.

Also read: Gen Naravane’s Chanakya neeti for future wars will require India to spend money smartly

The Balakot tragedy

While every force will claim that they have a robust media policy, the fact remains that the biggest and most successful operation ever carried out by the Indian military in the 21st century — 2019 Balakot strikes — also exposed the chinks in India’s ability to tackle the information warfare from Pakistan.

Pakistan was able to create doubt in the minds of many about India’s success of the Balakot strikes even before India woke up.

Two days after the Balakot strike, a joint press conference was held by the three Services. Rather than holding it in a formal manner, when the whole world was watching, the presser was held in a haphazard way on the lawns of the South Block. The event established again the need for a new media policy.

At times it is also laughable. Sample this: In many briefings, a camera is allowed but not mobile phones or dictaphones. Believe it or not, annual press conferences of the Service Chiefs are not allowed to be broadcast live. While reporters can tweet the information out and channels can break the news on TV, the press conference cannot be shown live.

Also read: Tanks, fighter aircraft will soon be on their way out like Sony Walkman: Army chief

Need for joint doctrine

The Narendra Modi government has appointed a Chief of Defence Staff whose primary job is to break down the silos that the armed forces work and operate in. He should work towards breaking down the information warfare silos.

He should also focus on bringing in cohesion in the media policy of the armed forces and it should not matter which officer is in the chair.

Defence forces across the world like the US, UK and French, have adopted a common policy which is dynamic in nature. The Indian Services should do the same.

Also read: IAF to focus on bombs & air-to-air missiles for edge over Pakistan

What can be done

Media and information warfare should be made a compulsory course for all from the junior level itself. They should be constantly updated.

It is also important to set up concerted and dynamic information warfare cells in each of the Services, which work in tandem with each other. They should be able to launch full-fledged information warfare, rather than merely countering claims of the other side.

It would be a good idea to see how Pakistan military’s propaganda wing, ISPR, functions. While one can ignore the lies and devious methods used by the ISPR to fool their own public with disinformation, a lesson or two can be learnt about how they operate against India.

The Indian military has always shied away from the Western media treating them with suspicion while Pakistan has adopted them. While this is slowly changing in India, it needs to be codified rather than making it an ad hoc practice.

Each Service has a Public Relations Officer (PRO) who reports to the defence ministry. Services also has a separate department that controls information and publicity. This dual office is at times helpful but can become extremely difficult when egos come into play. PROs of all three Services should actually come under the ambit of the CDS or the Department of Military Affairs.

Another important step that needs to be taken is to see the media as a force multiplier and not as a necessary evil. The Commanding Officers should be empowered enough to speak on their own to the media on an operation or issue facing them rather than await clearances from higher-ups.

It is important to give both senior and junior officers with regular media exposure. Moreover, the red tape around permission to visit bases or interaction should be cut down so that the information flow is constant.

Lack of information is what causes the maximum problems for the defence forces as well as the media.

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  1. Please get into the nuances of warfare before making such a broadly sweeping assertion over the subject. Some academic background will be helpful for journalists rather than tagging every item on the earth with the suffix of WAR

  2. The op-ed writer thinks IW and media management is the same thing which is the typical narrow and misplaced view of a media person with little knowledge of warfare. IW also encompasses many other elements e,g, Electronic Warfare especially Information Denial, PSYOPS (eg leaflets being dropped on an enemy/enemy population) and Civil ops like the Sadbhavna type of ops in J&K – on ground activity that is then used to earn PR/goodwill and change perceptions. IW is not pre and post op it is part of every Op.

    So this op-ed is actually about media management which of course the Indian military sucks at. But analysis needs to be factual. There are multiple PROs in each service not only Delhi-based PROs where all defence journalists have chai biscuit regularly. There are multiple twitter handles run by the Indian Army, which sometimes do a far better job than the main handle- the awkwardly named ADGPI. All the websites are pathetic, but on the other hand the quality and quantity of documentaries by private players is on the upswing.

    What is even meant by the statement that the US, UK, France have common and dynamic policies? Lets come to the point. The US has a specialized job description and cadre called PAO – Public Affairs Office/r across Army Navy Air Force and Marines.. None of the Indian services has a specialized cadre. Mind you it is Public not Press and that is an important differentiation. While the India media cries about not getting access they would be very happy if they had a monopoly on it. A “Public” Affairs Officer also would give the military crazy Indian public a better experience and engagement than the pathetic and limited access and engagement they have with the military they pay for. That is true force multiplier stuff now with SM’s rise.

    Balakot is a whole other level of discussion and complexity which reinforces the fact that you cannot divorce operations from IW or media management. Unfortunately, neither Indian media, public nor the military is mature enough currently to have that kind of a grown up conversation.

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