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Confluence technology and a whole-of-government approach must lead to new strategies and tactics

While speaking recently to the country’s key military leaders in Gujarats Kevadia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on key commanders to develop the army 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 speeding up the speed of decision-making in addition to getting rid of the legacy system.

Changing the nature of war

Previously, wars were easy to define. We could say with confidence whether we were at war or at peace. We were able to identify with whom we were fighting and on what front. The character of war has been demonstrated in terms of societal norms and ideology, technology, and anonymity. Now new terms denote changes in the definition of modern warfare. These include hyper, hybrid, compound, nonlinear, fourth generation, new generation and contactless. Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz recognized the changeable nature of war incredibly early on when he declared war to be virtually limitless in variety. Such being unpredictability, how do you modernize a force and prepare it for the future?

Read also | Focus on disruptive dual-use defense technologies, says General Naravane

War, basically, is organized violence, carried out for political ends. The real goal is domination. If humans are naturally political animals, war will be the proverbial state of nature and peace, aberration.

For peace to prevail or be imposed, the development of the future capacity of the force based on a third compensation strategy was announced by the United States in 2014. It consists of cutting-edge technology, exploring new operational concepts to use this technology and in the brightest in human resources to achieve the goal of peace. Although still in its infancy, it focuses on promising technological areas such as robotics and systems autonomy, miniaturization, big data and advanced manufacturing. It provides for autonomous learning systems, collaborative human-machine decision making, assisted human operations, unmanned evolved systems operations, network-activated autonomous weapons, and high-speed projectiles. Technologies like these can be expected to cause unprecedented effects and disruption by affecting cognitive and perceptual domains through weapons, soldiers, robots and cyborgs. Tactical actions taken through them can be expected to have strategic effects.

Use of force

It will be how the effects are directed to employment that will most significantly change the war. Strategists brought up in Western-style liberal democracies, accustomed to thinking in terms of an ordered Westphalian world, are slowly being forced to contend with the anomalies of the existing paradigm. In India, the Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, is preparing the future force. He admits that the concepts of force on force are difficult to master, but that it is positive for the future.

What do military developments mean for political and democratic decision-making? Democracies work slowly. To prepare for future accelerated wars, they must harness the hybrid effect of warfare that our adversaries increasingly embrace. Operating below the threshold of open hostilities, the effects caused by anonymous threats bypass borders without calling into question national sovereignty. Our understanding of war has remained the same: organized campaigns, orchestrated by the domain-led central staff against an enemy who conforms to preconceived notions of logical and rational actions. Convergence technology and a whole-of-government approach, which are absent, must lead to new strategies and tactics.

Perhaps the most important political trend affecting armed conflict in the twenty-first century will be in the relationship between civilians and those who fight on their behalf. That is what the Prime Minister said had to be changed when he called for the elimination of civil-military silos.

Lieutenant-General Anil Chait is the former Chief of the Integrated Defense Staff and General Officer Commander-in-Chief of the Central Army

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