WAR IS CHANGING. ARE WE? By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

I got some great feedback on my earlier article in which I highlighted the concept of Multi Domain Operations (  and the requirement of Indian strategic thinking to align with this emerging thought process. The feedback suggested that it was a great futuristic concept.  Sorry folks. It is not a futuristic concept I was outlining. It is current, clear and happening now. It further led me to ask myself a question. War is changing. Are we? The short hasty answer would be – No. However, the issue needs deeper thinking and reflection. Let me attempt it.

Changing Face of War

In Jul 19, two oil tankers were sunk in the Gulf of Oman through use of mines. In Sep 19, two coordinated air strikes were carried out on oil facilities deep in Saudi Arabia by UAVs. Study them and one realizes that these attacks are co-related and well-coordinated highly lethal attacks through multiple domains. Suddenly, the world is suing for peace with Iran. International helplessness is indicated by the fact that they are reduced to use Imran Khan as a mediator. Iran has just won a war through Multi Domain Operations with minimal costs.

In Aug 19, India spikes up the deployment in J&K and abrogates Article 370 of its own Constitution. This simple action creates an international upheaval and evokes a huge reaction from Pakistan. However, the normally aggressive Pakistani Army is reduced to sitting on the sidelines twiddling its thumbs. It is left to a hyperventilating ‘Im the Dim’ to raise the nuclear bogey. However, it also shifts the spotlight across the LOC as never before. A huge info-media war is unleashed. The world is squeezing Pakistan through FATF. Pakistan is in internal turmoil with a regime change on the cards. It is a war we have won with Pakistan without fighting. Can you blame the establishment if it reduces defence budgets? After all, the Armed Forces were not the centerpiece of this victory.

The USA starts a trade war with China and that puts severe strain on a cooling Chinese economy. Pro-democracy protests start in Hong Kong. These two events combined with some internal factors in China put crutches on Chinese aggressive traits to dominate the world. Articles and analysis are emerging which indicate that Taiwan is an Island which is strategically too far for China. Do you really believe that these are uncoordinated events? 
India is the fourth largest target for cyber-attacks. China accounts for as much as 35% of these attacks. As we enter this mega dream of Digital India, our vulnerability can only increase. So?  Will Digital India make India strong or weak? Depends. How does Digital India protect the online pension of a retired government schoolmaster in Assam from being diverted from SBI Lumding to an offshore bank in Lithuania or Albania? Especially in a scenario in which the Government of India is providing incentives for digital transactions with very little guarantees. Are we prepared?  

Welcome to the World of Multi Domain Operations which I have defined as conventional and/or non-conventional ops carried out by state and /or non-state actors using hard and/or soft power in the domains of air, land, sea, space, cyberspace, nuclear space, information environment and electromagnetic spectrum  for specified outcomes in war or peace.  Analyze all these cases in their larger contexts. Do they fit into the definition of Multi Domain Operations? If you feel they do not, we are living on different planets. Thank you. Do not waste your time further.

Are We Aware?

The question which pops up is that; are we aware that we are into the world of MDO? Oh yes. In some undefined manner. Gen Bipin Rawat, the COAS, recently addressed a conference of DRDO Directors. He was quoted as saying “The next war will be fought with indigenous weapons and we will win it…. If we are looking at the contours of future warfare, it may not necessarily be contact warfare. So, there is a realm of non-contact warfare. We need to start looking at development of cyberspace, space, laser, electronic warfare and robotics… and, along with that Artificial Intelligence [AI], and if we do not start thinking on it now, it will be too late.” He is right. In a large sense he outlined MDO. We are aware. His statement also signifies what is outrageously wrong also in equal sense. It needs further analysis.

Are We Changing?

Just think. The COAS makes a very profound and futuristic statement. To whom? To the Directors of all DRDO labs. Let us take it further. Most of these Directors or their predecessors have a track record of ‘hit and miss’ on delivery of systems pertinent to the last generation conventional wars with last generation conventional technologies. Does the COAS expect them to deliver the goods for the next generation multidomain operations with next generation disruptive technologies? La La Land! The next generation of military technologies is all about young people with unstructured minds who can disrupt warfare with heir originality. It is about nimble and responsive systems which can grasp these straws of brilliance to weld them into weapon systems.  We need to face another fact. Atrophied and uneducated brains like mine cannot understand these technologies. The Armed Forces have minimalistic or no idea as to how to harness the power of these technologies. In the absence of core knowledge, we will end up with foreign OEMs who come with ‘ready to buy’ ‘one generation old’ systems which will cost us a bomb.  On the other hand, examine the Israeli Model. All next gen technologies are being harnessed for military use by start-ups created by ex-military personnel on a dual use basis. The start-up route is the only available option for the Armed Forces. They must take the lead and the government must take some risks. The bureaucracy is averse to risk since the holy grail of Defence Procurement – The DPP 2016 has no chapter on start-ups! Hence, we will continue to wallow in a sea of helplessness unless the Armed Forces take it upon themselves to do something about their situation. .

Let us look at the problem from a different angle. Operations have expanded much beyond the old domains of Air, Land and Sea. Military budgets have catered for conventional domains hitherto fore. Tomorrows budgets need to cater for all these additional domains. Hence budget expansion is mandated. But. Indian economy is edging downwards to those historic Hindu growth rates of the last century. Hence an era of stagnant financial allocations for defence is clearly on the cards. Far from increasing, let us prepare for a tightening of the military belt. The way the economy is crawling, any hope for an increase in the defence budget is dreaming like Alice in Wonderland. The net effect is that we must innovate to do more with less. There is no choice. The moot question is – Is that feasible?

Recently I spent time with a senior officer discussing how the Artillery modernisation plan was executed. He made an astute observation that the Artillery modernisation plan was moving so fast that it was necessary to put brakes on it. After all the Army needs other stuff besides Artillery. Absolutely correct. We need balance. Then how is this explained. When we are in the process of inducting four-gun systems and after having mastered Gun Technologies and achieved a high degree of indigenisation, why are we negotiating a contract with a foreign vendor for procuring a huge number of guns which I consider are of inferior technology. That too when the next generation indigenously designed artillery weapon is coming along nicely. In this deal we will also be paying a huge amount for a technology transfer which we do not need! After that we will be milked for life on exorbitant spares from abroad. We must not forget that our capacity to operationalise TOTs is poor. This affair goes against all grains. There is neither indigenisation or consolidation of capability acquired / developed through Make in India. It makes for a prime case of financial imprudence since we are going to pay for something which we do not need, and we will not have money for something which we need elsewhere! If this is what the NSA led high level committee to coordinate defence procurement is achieving, then we must look out for the swiss banker somewhere in the system.

Let us take another example. Why are we trying to increase the requirement of our AFV fleet and then trying to import it, when we can use them against Pakistan only; which is now an almost non-existent conventional threat. Is there a case to convert our three armour heavy strike Corps ranged against Pakistan into mountain capable reserves composed of Infantry and long-range but light (in weight) Artillery? There is. All we need to do is shed the armour component to the holding/ pivot corps to take care of Pakistan. The resultant will be four mountain capable dual tasked strike corps. The entire strategic dynamic and construct will change altogether. We have great scope to do more with less. (

However, some of us are not able to see things in their simplicity so that basic changes can serve the nation better. Let me highlight another case. The top priority development programme of USA is long range precision fires through Artillery. Indian Army has reduced its requirement for indigenously designed and developed long range precision vectors through a ill-considered and probably ill-motivated decision and substituted it with shorter range conventional guns! Some foresight! The decrease in range of engagement is in the order of more than half, the volume of engagement reduces by a factor of 12 to 20. The technology shifts from indigenous to foreign! In all these cases there is clear indication that we are not doing more for less but doing less by more. Our military leadership and Generalship is operating with eyes and head wide shut. Need some serious operational rethink with honesty at a national level. There are many more such cases which can be quoted. It only reinforces my views expressed in an earlier article. (

Time to Smell the Coffee

The clear indications are that while the nature of War is changing – We are not. The COAS has stated something profound. The national leadership has indicated and demonstrated that it is capable of strategic surprise through calculated risk. However, the disconnect which exists between the multiple silos of our security establishment is palpably more than a handbrake. It is time for the leadership to smell the coffee. The prospective CDS has a handful if he to be a little more than a coordinator. That friendly president who came to Mamallapuram has set China on the biggest military expansion the world has seen since the second world war. If one reads the last White Paper issued out by China on Defence, you will find all ingredients of Multi Domain Warfare nicely explained there. In the world of realpolitik, capability matters since intentions can change. Do  I need to say more?          

4 responses to “WAR IS CHANGING. ARE WE? By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Excellent -eye opener

  2. Undoubtedly it is the best explanation of the Indian education system. Moreover, education and schools in Bhopal are also booming at a great pace. The number of best private schools in bhopal are also increasing as many parents wants to give the best school in bhopaltheir children. The beneficial curriculum of CBSE becomes famous which influenced a number of parents to enrol their children in the best cbse school in bhopal Among them, all the best school in Ayodhya bypass bhopal are popular in Bhopal.

  3. Well put Sir. I had a question and a point to make. First, the question:Please can you point me to the origin of your statement: “India is the fourth largest target for cyber-attacks. China accounts for as much as 35% of these attacks. As we enter this mega dream of Digital India, our vulnerability can only increase”I am in the process of developing a paper on Cyber Security for India as part of my contributions to iSPIRT and would like to reference it. I will of course reference this blog post.Second: I agree with your point that we need startups to start moving on Def. Tech and I find the work you are doing with Shastra pretty interesting (I'm sure you are working with IDEX also). This interaction (and you are right about the Israelis) needs to be structured and a framework (including a sandbox) needs to be put in place. I am not sure if IDEX does that completely. I'm hoping your work will do that.I look forward to watching the progress your team is making with interest.With warm regards,Rinka Singh(rinka a.t. ispirt d.o.t in)

%d bloggers like this: