Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

August 1999 (Vol. XXIII No. 5)


Warfare in Transition and the Indian Subcontinent
By Vinod Anand *


Warfare is increasingly becoming a complex phenomenon. Militaries and political establishments which can better manage the complexities of war are more likely to be on the winning side. For both military planners and political leaders who provide the political purpose for which a war is waged, it is not only necessary to understand the changing nature of war and conflicts but also it is essential to evolve precepts to meet any future challenges to the national security. The changing face of the international order and the erosion of the concept of nation- states is also affecting directly the context in which wars will be fought and conflicts are likely to arise. The evolution of India as a nuclear power has brought to the fore the complex inter-linkages between nuclear deterrence and conventional deterrence and the likelihood of war. It is also being increasingly accepted that the conventional form of warfare is giving way to the irregular form of warfare and, at times, certain scholars have even questioned the relevance of war for a modern industrialised nation-state. 1   A study of warfare, especially in the context of the subcontinent in the last 50 years, along with global trends in the nature and forms of warfare may indicate to us the nature and type of wars and conflicts we are going to face in the near future. We also need to reflect on the ongoing “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA). In the post-modern age, the militaries which are able to adapt quickly to the ongoing RMA, will become more effective and efficient. For all the complexities of modern warfare, the combination of jointmanship and information-based warfare is emerging as the essential element in the ability of nations to wage a modern and successful war.


Historical Perspective

The present century has not only witnessed dramatic developments in the international world order but also the infusion of a massive number of new technologies which have a direct impact on the way war is conducted. The emerging trends in warfare are being increasingly affected by geo-political, economic and technological factors. Various intellectual thought processes, ideologies and doctrines have also impacted upon the conduct of warfare. Increasingly, morality and concern for human rights are other issues which are influencing the prosecution of war. Violence in any form, though ingrained in human nature, is abhorred by any civilised society and especially when it is senseless.

However, occurrence of war and conflict has been a universal phenomenon during the evolution of various civilisations and societies. And warfare forms, over the centuries, have progressed from primitive wars between tribal societies to warfare between societies based on agrarian economy and further to warfare between industrialised societies. Historically, the purpose of war has been to gain control of resources in terms of territory and any type of means which contributes to generation of wealth. The Tofflerian theory visualised three waveforms which linked the way we make wealth to the way we make war. 2   He classified three waves based on energy forms and key resources used for creation and distribution of wealth. The wave theory is a helpful tool for moving towards an understanding of future war. The agrarian age was characterised by the energy base being muscle power i.e. man and animal; the generation of wealth was done through exploitation of land, manual and animal labour. The war form was feudal in nature. This age lasted for almost 8,000 years till the arrival of the industrial age. The second wave of historical change was considered to have begun with the commencement of the industrial revolution. The energy base shifted to mechanised power which in turn contributed to mass production. It also gave rise to social systems which were linked with massed production, mass education, mass communication, mass consumption and mass destruction. Mass production was paralleled by conscription of mass armies loyal to modern nation-state and mass production of weapons. Technological innovations were put to use to make new tools of war. Wars in turn gave an impetus to the rapid pace of industrialisation. The principle of standardisation was applied to military training, organisation and doctrine as well. Written orders replaced oral orders thus giving rise to the development of general staffs. Mechanisation in warfare with new kinds of firepower enhanced tremendously the scale and intensity of military operations.

The scientific and technological advances which were slow and gradual in the 18th and 19th centuries, were dramatic in the 20th century. Accompanying this progress of the industrial era were changes in the intellectual process and thoughts on war and struggle. In the 19th century, the Darwinian maxim “survival of the fittest” became the governing principle of peoples and states. The concept of nationalism was a late 18th century phenomenon emphasising on distinct nation-states due to their ethnicity, language and heritage. The idea that struggle was integral to a civilisation’s advance was merged with the concept of nationalism. War was seen as not only essential but, as some intellectuals argued, it was the highest expression of civilisation. Marxist thought, on the other hand, looked ahead to the withering away of the state, the destruction of capitalism and the creation of a classless society through class struggle and revolution. World Wars I and II largely represented the manifestations of nationalism whereas the Cold War represented the manifestations of these two competing thought processes.

Clausewitz talked of war as only a part of political intercourse, hence, by no means an independent thing in itself. He emphasised that war is continuation of policy by other means. “If policy is grand and powerful, so also will be the war, and this may be carried to the point at which war attains its absolute form.” 3   In his view, the subordination of the political point of view to the military would be contrary to common sense, for it is policy that has declared war. The former is the intelligent faculty, and the latter is only its instrument. On the other hand, the German General Lundendorff argued that for war to be total, the political order itself had to be subordinated to the military. This argument did not find much favour with intellectuals. This was a pre-industrial age rationalisation of the superlative order. However, the military implication of such theories was the maximisation of destruction. The true aim of war was destruction of the enemy’s main forces in the battlefield.


Concept of Total War

The appearance of tanks and aircraft during the period 1914-1918 added another dimension to the war-making machinery. With aircraft, it became possible to extend the war deep into the adversary’s territory and destroy his war making potential in terms of factories, logistical and civil infrastructure. World Wars I and II witnessed the concepts of total war, mass attrition and mass destruction. Towards the closing stages of World War II, the use of atomic bombs signified the ultimate in destructive power. Though these concepts, in some form or the other, carried on to the Cold War period (e.g. the war scenarios between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Warsaw Pact forces envisaged the ultimate war of attrition with nuclear weapons in the background and evolution of doctrines like mutually assured destruction), ironically, the use of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with their stupendous destructive power was a turning point for the concept of total war. The tremendous destruction caused and the resultant abhorrence for the massive loss of human lives was seen to put a restraint, one would like to believe, on the collective human consciousness. After World War II, though the means for waging total war were available to the superpowers, such an event did not occur and is unlikely to do so. Whether it was the Korean War, Vietnam War, wars in the Indian subcontinent and Middle East, Sino-Vietnam War of 1979 or Gulf War of 1991, the concept of total war had given way to limited wars.


Transition to a New Kind of War

In the aftermath of World War II, there was an increase in technological innovations and especially notable were the advancements in the fields of computers and exploitation of the electro-magnetic spectrum. The Gulf War of 1991 has been widely accepted as a transitional point which contained both elements of the past i.e. the industrial age form of warfare and elements of a new kind of warfare which exploited new technologies. Fleets of US aircraft which carpet-bombed the Iraqis in their bunkers and villages, and strafing of vehicle convoys signified the stress on mass destruction and thus had elements of the industrial age war. Simultaneously, the new kind of war was fought with precision weapons with minimum collateral damage and vastly improved means of real time information, surveillance and target acquisition. The objective sought was to cause paralysis in the command and control system of the adversary. Thus, this kind of warfare, when fully developed would be knowledge-based information age warfare characterised by manoeuvre rather than attrition. This is also being termed as post-industrial age/post-modern age warfare. Adopting the generation approach which is based on distinct milestones in the evolution of military technology, it is also referred to as the sixth generation warfare. 4   Nuclear weapons were depicted as having ushered in the fifth generation of warfare, while the fourth generation was introduced with automatic weapons, tanks, aircraft, enhanced transport capability and signal equipment. Earlier generations of warfare evolved from infantry and cavalry forces fighting without firearms (first generation), then with firearms (second generation) and then to rifled arms and tube artillery (third generation).


War, Conflict and Nation-State

In the present international order, the nation-states are facing multifarious threats, both from within and without. The dynamic changes in the international order have a bearing on the context within which a nation-state would be exposed to war and conflicts. The Westphalian concept of nation-states is increasingly under attack from the twin trends of integration and fragmentation. While the trend towards integration is reflected in the scorching pace of globalisation, the trend of fragmentation is represented by a rise in the prevalence of conflicts due to ethnic, religious, sectarian and various other reasons.

In the present economy dominated order, the transnational and multinational corporations controlling resources greater than the gross national product (GNP) of some nations, are in a position to influence the policies and politics of nations, thus, restricting the sovereignty of nation-states. The spread of market economies, the explosion of information technologies, the electronic speed with which money can be transferred across borders, and the formation of economic and monetary unions are pointers towards globalisation and integration. The economic prescriptions of the twin Bretton Wood sisters—International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank—have been instrumental in influencing the policies of many, and especially, Third World, nations. The creation of the monetary union in Europe without economic borders may lead to a politically borderless Europe. The greater the integration, the greater will be the role played by multilateral organisations. This would naturally contribute towards greater erosion of the traditional concept of nation- state.

The trend of globalisation and integration, ironically, is accompanied by an opposite trend. There has been an increase in fissiparous tendencies due to rising expectations generated by globalisation, economic liberalisation and promotion of democracy and humanitarian norms. The collapse of the Soviet Union not only gave rise to a number of independent states but also to a number of ongoing internal conflicts like the insurgency in Chechnya. The origin of the Balkan imbroglio lies in ethnic and religious divisions. The rise of non-state actors (i.e. organised crime syndicates, terrorist groups and drug mafias) along with weapons proliferation and easy availability of hi-tech weapons is posing a direct threat to the fabric of a nation-state. The inability of states or governments to meet the rising expectations of their people and lack of governance has also contributed towards the generation of fragmentary tendencies.

In a democratic state, it is the people who empower a state, thus, a state exists for the welfare of the people and derives its sovereign powers from the people. With stress on democratic values and norms and with the information explosion and unlimited access to knowledge, the awareness and emphasis on human rights has increased tremendously. A nation-state can no longer ignore human rights even if it is a big or powerful nation like China. Last year, Arundhati Roy, the famous author, announced her secession from the Indian nation- state in protest against India going nuclear. Though much of this may be characterised as rhetoric, it points towards empowerment of the individual. Along with the individual, a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with diverse causes such as environment protection are becoming increasingly powerful and are thus challenging the concept of a nation-state.

However, the state is still going to be the most important player in the future world and in many cases states will seek to resolve their conflicts through force, even though there is growing emphasis on morality and human rights. Besides multilateral organisations like the UN, there is recognition that other non-state actors can play an important part in international relations.


India as a Nation-State

The emergence of India as a nation-state can be traced back to the latter half of the 18th century, during the colonial period. In 1835, the British introduced the New Education Policy. 5   The English language became as necessary to the literate and secretarial class as Persian had been previously. This was the single biggest factor in India to promote liberal, democratic and intellectual thought processes. These processes gave rise to political parties and political awareness. The existence of the present Indian nation-state is largely due to the heritage from the British and not to linguistic or ethnic identity. In fact, linguistic, ethnic and sectarian divisions are the characterstics of the present nation-states in the subcontinent. The only common feature, perhaps, could be the cultural heritage. During the colonial period, the British exploited India for their race towards industrialisation for their own country. The vast Indian populace was seen as a market for the finished goods of their factories. The formation of a centralised Indian Army after 1857 under the Crown with a large number of Indian conscripts was used not only to curb internal insurgencies and hostilities on the borders of the British Indian domain, also in the industrial age wars of the Western world i.e. World Wars I and II. However, when the British left in 1947, India inherited a limited industrial infrastructure and a well-trained and organised army which had experienced two World Wars.


Wars in the Subcontinent

Historically, violence and conflict almost always accompany the evolution of a new state. So was the case with India and Pakistan in 1947. The attacks launched by irregulars with the support of Pakistani regular forces in 1947-48 resulted in Pakistan occupying a large portion of Kashmir. In 1962, the Sino-Indian territorial dispute led to China taking punitive action against India in order to “teach India a lesson”. In 1965, perceiving India to be weak (after having tested the Indian response in the Rann of Kutch), Pakistan again attempted to wrest Kashmir from India through infiltration supported by a bold conventional strike to cut off the Akhnoor-Jammu Road. In the Indo-Pak War of 1965, both sides claimed victory but the truth was that it was more of a stalemate rather than a clear win for either side. The Indo-Pak War of 1971, resulted in the creation of the new nation-state of Bangladesh and the emergence of India as a dominant nation in South Asia. However, after 1971, there has been no major war, the reasons for which can be easily perceived and have been discussed below.


Post-World War II Trends in Warfare

A review of the global scene over the past five decades reveals that potential nuclear warfare has given way to restricted nuclear deterrence; total war has given way to limited war; and there has been a rise in irregular warfare or unconventional forms of warfare. 6   There has been an increasing propensity on the part of nation-states to demonstrate their military power rather than actually use it. The use of military power for coercive diplomacy has increased without actually resorting to war. Thus, carrying out military exercises near borders (e.g. the Brasstacks manoeuvres by India in 1987 and Zarb-e-Momin by Pakistan subsequently) or firing of missiles across the bow of adversaries’ ships (like in the case of the China-Taiwan conflict) are pointers towards this trend.

In the post-1945 period, there has been absence of war of the scale and intensity of World War II. There has been peace between the industrialised nations of Europe (except for the Balkans imbroglio). This may have been due to their possession of vast quantities of conventional arms and the nuclear factor. However, there have been wars, which have been limited in nature. Whether it was the Korean War of the 1950s or the Vietnam War or even the Gulf War of 1991, they were limited in scope and objectives. It was either not possible to achieve total destruction of the enemy forces on the battlefield, or economically or politically it was not cost effective. It also led to the belief that the era of large-scale conventional inter-state wars is over and thus inter-state wars are no longer viable instruments of policy as espoused by Clausewitz.


Post-1971 Absence of Major War in the Subcontinent

In the context of the Indian subcontinent, there has been no major war since 1971. One reason could be that it would be difficult to identify political objectives that would justify a total war; also it would be difficult to achieve a decisive military victory. As mentioned earlier, even the US and the multinational forces could not achieve a total US military victory in the Gulf War. The increasing cost of weapon systems and tremendous amount of logistics infrastructure required would restrict the scope and direction of a future war. There has been a growing realisation about the futility of resorting to a total war over Kashmir with the concomitant impact on the economies of both nations. Besides the prohibitive cost of a conventional war, it is the lack of any significant military edge in the conventional capabilities of both nations and, thus, the inability to achieve a clear and decisive military victory which has contributed to the absence of a large-scale conventional war. In all the war scenarios which are painted during military training exercises (on both sides), the wars do not last more than two to three weeks followed by UN intervention and, thus, a ceasefire. This again points towards preparations for a limited war where clear-cut and decisive military victory, except for capturing some of the adversary’s real estate, may not be possible.

During the Brasstacks manoeuvres in 1987, when Pakistan had moved its armoured division opposite Ferozepur, it was, perhaps, the realisation that both sides possessed nuclear weapons which prevented a major armed confrontation between India and Pakistan. Thus, the need to avoid a nuclear exchange is another factor which has contributed to absence of war in the subcontinent.


Interlinkages: Nuclear, Conventional and Unconventional Wars

The overt nuclearisation of South Asia, and with China already being a nuclearised country, the future wars/conflicts in the subcontinent would be fought with the possibility of a nuclear exchange as the backdrop. However, it is also being felt that nuclear weapons have contributed more to prevention of a major war rather than warfighting in South Asia. The Western media and Pakistan are propounding the theory of South Asia becoming a nuclear “flashpoint” 7   for their own political ends. So far, no two nuclear weapon states have gone to war except in the case of the Sino-Soviet border clashes on the Ussuri River in 1969. Such border clashes or skirmishes are a normal feature along the line of control in Jammu & Kashmir and they are likely to continue. There is also a widespread belief that nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought, and in the case of India and Pakistan, neither side has such a high stake in the war and its outcome to risk a nuclear exchange.

While India has adopted the “no first use” nuclear doctrine, Pakistan’s fear of India’s large conventional forces has prevented it from adopting such a policy. It must be remembered that even though this nuclear doctrine of Pakistan is based on NATO and Warsaw Pact forces’ inter-relationships and battlefield scenarios, NATO forces had abandoned this in principle (though not officially) in the mid-Eighties. Gen. Donn A.Starry of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command had felt that nuclear weapons, especially at operational and tactical levels of warfare, have become non-relevant means of seeking political goals likely to be considered appropriate by modern nation-states. 8   He stressed more on manoeuvre and seizing of the initiative from the adversary, and moving away from the attrition warfare of the past. He was a proponent of the concept of Airland Battle and believed that it would be superior technology along with manoeuvre which would lead to success when outnumbered by, or when outnumbering, the adversary. Though India did explode sub-kiloton devices, it was more of a demonstration of technology rather than any indication of intention towards use of battlefield nuclear weapons. A combination of precision guided munitions, air strikes, multi- barrel rocket launchers and modern heavy artillery with high volumes of fire can produce effects equivalent to, and better than, those of battlefield nuclear weapons without the attendant risk of escalation to a nuclear exchange. Though such battlefield tactical nuclear weapons are presently held by our other nuclear neighbour, China, it is highly unlikely, for the reasons aforementioned, that these would be utilised. The stated Indian government policy is that nuclear weapons are not for tactical use. 9

Nuclear weapons being politico-strategic in nature are meant more for deterrence rather than for war-making, and especially so in the case of India. Nuclear weapons are not an extension of conventional warfighting weapons and mechanisms. They have a philosophy, an idiom and a life of their own. Nuclear weapons do deter nuclear weapons and they do affect the nature of conventional wars, albeit indirectly. The mere presence of nuclear weapons imposes caution on the adversary and has an impact on battlefield conduct. In order to avoid presenting a concentrated target, there is a greater stress on dispersion, which consequently requires an ability to concentrate quickly when required to do so for executing a conventional warfare mission. Therefore, this would translate into military structures and organisations with greater stress on mechanisation, mobility and improved means of command, control and communications.

The nuclear factor would also inhibit the attacker in planning for a deep objective in the adversary’s terrain lest the nuclear threshold is crossed, resulting in a nuclear exchange which should be avoided at all costs. However, if a conventional war does occur in the Indian subcontinent, it would have limited objectives and most likely would be of a very short duration. Apart from the sheer unaffordability of a protracted conventional war, it would also be in the interests of the Nuclear Club not to allow the war beyond shallow depths, as the conflict would affect regional as well as global security. If future wars are likely to be short with limited objectives, then the relevance of deep battle assets needs to be reassessed.

The operation in Kargil sector (in May 1999) is perhaps a harbinger of the likely nature of war in the subcontinent in addition to the ongoing low intensity proxy war in the Kashmir Valley. This can be described as a limited war or a major and intensive border battle where the air force has been brought in for the first time after 1971. This is unlikely to escalate into a major war due to a number of reasons, cited earlier.

As the presence of nuclear deterrence mitigates the possibility of occurrence of protracted conventional war, similarly, the presence of a credible conventional deterrence 10   also prevents the adversary from resorting to war. The world over, the true objective of military strategies is increasingly veering towards war prevention, which sounds somewhat paradoxical. However, this capability of war prevention needs to be backed by the ability to conduct and prosecute modern wars and conflicts along the entire spectrum of conflict. Since it was not possible for Pakistan to achieve success in a conventional war, it resorted to low intensity conflict. And in 1987, when it had covertly become a nuclear power, it decided to launch a proxy war against India. The low intensity conflict in Jammu & Kashmir has progressed from various stages of militancy and insurgency to a proxy war, and to the present conflagration in Kargil with the use of the air force which, as mentioned earlier, reflects elements of a limited war. It is not the intention to discuss here the subtle distinctions between militancy, insurgency and proxy war or the threat posed by subversion aimed at the Indian state. While reflecting on the likely nature of war and conflict in the subcontinent, it is quite evident that proxy war is the most viable option for Pakistan for the foreseeable future.


RMA, Military Strategies and Likely Nature of War in the Subcontinent

Are the militaries in the subcontinent adapting to changes in the nature of warfare due to the ongoing RMA, which is said to have commenced with the Gulf War of 1991? There is no doubt that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was the first off the block in studying the impact of the Gulf War and its lessons. Similarly, the implications of the use of new technologies utilised in the Gulf War and lessons learnt therefrom were educative to both Indian and Pakistani military establishments. Most of the new technologies, which contribute to RMA or MTR (Military Technology Revolution), are of Western origin and are very expensive to import and difficult to develop indigenously, or form part of technology denial regimes imposed by the Western powers. For China, there are a number of favourable factors which would help it to adapt to new technologies in an earlier time-frame than either India or Pakistan. China is witnessing an economic boom with average growth rate of 8 per cent in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It has a better military-industrial infrastructure compared to India and allots a larger proportion of funds for its defence budget. It started modernisation of its defence forces way back in 1979. Moreover, as the Cox Report of May 1999 reveals, it has managed to pilfer state-of-the-art technologies and weapon designs for development of satellites, various kinds of nuclear warheads and delivery systems. 11

The technologies associated with knowledge based information age warfare or more succinctly put “RMA technologies,” are unlikely to be inducted into the subcontinent at a scorching pace. Instead, the process of acquisition, either through import or indigenous development, is going to be spread over a very long time-frame. Seeing the past trends and projecting these to the future, it is quite evident that the process would be of “incremental gradualism” rather than a “leap ahead” process. And further, it will also be guided by the principle of “keeping up with the Joneses” i.e. there would be compulsion on the part of the potential adversary to match whatever one country acquires/produces. The prediction of a fully digitalised battlefield as envisioned by the Americans could become a reality for them by as early as the year 2010, but in the subcontinental context we may only see a few elements of a digitalised battlefield.

Before venturing into predicting the likely nature of warfare in the subcontinent in the light of the impact of RMA, it would be pertinent to examine briefly the military strategies of the main protagonists. The Indian defence forces, having recognised the potential of, and vulnerabilities to, the new technologies, have embarked on a process of modernisation, however gradual it may be. The ultimate aim is to have lean, mean and technologically oriented armed forces with a lethal punch. India’s military strategy revolves around a posture of “dissuasive deterrence” vis-a-vis Pakistan and “dissuasive defence” towards China. 12   The mountainous nature of the terrain along the Himalayas favours the defender. The nuclear deterrence also reinforces the dominance of defence while articulating the dialectics of the theory of offence and defence dominance. This may be the logic for the adoption of the policy of strategic defence against China. A strong dissuasive-deterrence capability against Pakistan implies maintaining a pro-active military posture with a significantly favourable force ratio. This translates into maintaining highly capable conventional defence forces, so that Pakistan is not emboldened to launch a major offensive alongwith its usual tactics of infiltrating insurgents and mercenaries. Pakistan’s military strategy revolves around only one singular aim i.e. to wrest Kashmir from India through a proxy war combined with a last blow in the form of a conventional military strike when it perceives India to be politically weak and indecisive, and with the threat of nuclear conflagration in the background.

China’s military doctrine, on the other hand, has been more broad based and has undergone a transition from Mao’s “People’s War” to “People’s War Under Modern Conditions” and thereafter from “Limited, Local War” to “Limited War Under High-Tech Conditions”. The Chinese believe that a major war is unlikely to take place, and limited local wars are more likely. The Gulf War technologies also made a deep impression on them, hence, their race for acquisition and development of these technologies. The PLA believes in implementing a military strategy of active defence, 13   improving its quality of human resource as well as equipment. However, China’s military strategy of active defence does not prevent it from “teaching lessons” to other countries like India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979.

Therefore, any future war in the subcontinent is likely to be a hybrid of the industrial age type of warfare and post-industrial age type of warfare, with emphasis on RMA/MTR technologies and information warfare. It is less likely that a major conventional war will occur and very likely that limited local wars and conflicts will continue to occur. The subcontinent is also witnessing internal conflicts due to sectarian divisions, insurgencies and proxy war where first wave actors are battling the industrial age state actors. The acquisition of third wave form of warfare weapons (i.e. precision weapons, information age weapons) by first wave actors (e.g. militants, insurgents, terrorists) would again add to the complexity of the nature of war and conflict in the subcontinent. Thus, the Indian political and military establishment needs to be prepared for a wide bandwidth of war and conflict ranging from highly intense hi-tech local/limited wars to low intensity conflicts and proxy war.


Information Age Warfare and Jointmanship

Alongwith information warfare, the other key aspect that is emerging as an essential factor for success in war is jointmanship. In the Indian context, it has always been recognised amongst the armed forces that jointness or jointmanship is essential for achieving synergies in defence, though very little has been done to move towards this goal. This military aspect appears to be getting less attention, especially when the nature of warfare is witnessing changes due to information age technologies. Paradoxically, the Gulf War of 1991 was instrumental in reinforcing and heavily influencing the proponents of Guilo Douhet, not withstanding the pronounced militarily asymmetric situation prevailing between the USA and Iraq. Even though the Americans are attracted to the concepts of “victory through air power” and “victory through sea power” due to their technological superiority and their need to avoid the human costs of land warfare, 14   their levels of jointness/jointmanship hold some lessons for our armed forces. There is enough evidence to prove that wars cannot be won with either air power or sea power alone —it is an effective and synergetic combination with land forces which will win wars.

It will be pertinent to refer to the future battlefield as “battlespace” since war would be fought in many dimensions and media. The wars would be fought not only in the air, on sea and land but also in space, in the electro-magnetic spectrum and also along information highways and information fronts. The use of outer space by military satellites for surveillance, communication and navigation would dictate to us the need for evolving streamlined, joint and integrated structures for efficient and effective exploitation of outer space based assets.

The future battlespace is likely to be dominated by a wide variety of precision weapon platforms with increased ranges using the media of air, land and sea. There is an essential requirement of coordinating their use across the three dimensions of battlespace. The requirement of interoperability and development of “system of systems” also suggests a joint service approach. There would be a wide variety of battlespace sensors in use by the different services to obtain real-time situation—their optimal use would involve cross-service connections between sensors and shooters, and questions of command, control and coordination. Thus, this new kind of warfare strongly supports a greater level of jointness and closer inter-services bonding.

The elements of the information revolution can be seen through the TV images of the Kargil conflict which are very powerfully conveying the human costs of war and a joint service effort between the air force and army to vacate the Pakistani aggression. The American and NATO role model of using strategic strikes against comparatively weak industrial countries with limited access to modern technologies and with the omnipresent threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries may not be applicable in its entirety to the subcontinental scenario. The subcontinental wars, whether border skirmishes or limited wars, would continue to be dominated by land warfare and, therefore, equal stress needs to be laid on air operations at strategic, operational and tactical levels. A single service approach in the era of information warfare and the current and future ground realities of the subcontinental scenario would be a retrograde step.



The nature of warfare is undergoing complex changes. Technological, geo-political and economic factors have a tremendous impact on the way war is conducted and the context in which it will be fought. Even though there are dynamic changes in the international order, and the concept of nation-states is undergoing erosion, the state actors will continue to be important players. The industrial age type of warfare is giving way to knowledge based information age warfare. The concept of total war has yielded to that of limited warfare. There are complex interlinkages among nuclear deterrence, conventional forms of warfare and unconventional forms of warfare. The role of military force is increasingly gravitating towards war prevention rather than war making. The ability to prevent war requires a strong conventional deterrence as well as minimum nuclear deterrence alongwith information warfare capabilities.

The overt nuclearisation in the subcontinent has contributed more to war prevention than war fighting. In spite of the Kargil conflict, it is quite unlikely that there will be a major war in the subcontinent. Nuclear weapons, being more of politico-strategic in nature, are unlikely to be used in a war. A war in the subcontinent will remain limited in scope and depth and may merely boil down to a border war. The information age technologies and state-of-the-art weapon platforms are likely to be inducted into the subcontinent at a very slow pace. A fully digitalised battlefield in the subcontinent may not be a possibility even in the next two decades. Therefore, a future war in the subcontinent will have elements of both industrial age warfare and information age warfare. The information age era dictates to us that we evolve integrated and joint structures for economy of effort and synergetic application of military force to achieve our national aims. Political and military establishments which can recognise the challenges of the complexities of post-modern age warfare and take adequate and timely measures to meet these challenges are more likely to succeed in a future war.



*: Senior Fellow, The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).  Back.

Note 1: See Michael Mandelbaum, “Is Major War Obsolete?”, Survival, Winter 1998-99. The author argues that one recurring motive for armed conflict has been economic gain and war was often thought to be a paying proposition. However, war is now becoming indisputably a loss making enterprise. Jacques-Yves Cousteau in a fax sent shortly before his demise stated, “There will be no big wars in the future: but a thousand deadly (small) tribal conflicts shaping up all over the world.” Back.

Note 2: Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century (New York: Warner Books, 1995), pp. 57-59. This is a general theme recurring in the book many times. Back.

Note 3: Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 87. Back.

Note 4: Lt. Cdr. Randall G. Bowlish (US Navy) “The Revolution in Military Affairs: The Sixth Generation,” Military Review, November-December 1995, pp. 26-27. Back.

Note 5: Vincent A. Smith (C.I.E.) The Oxford History of India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 718. Back.

Note 6: See n. 1 and Lawrence Freedman, “The Changing Forms of Military Conflict,” Survival, Winter 1998-99. Back.

Note 7: The subcontinent being a potential flashpoint for a nuclear war has been depicted in the Western media very frequently. See Stephen P. Cohen, “Nuclear Weapons and Conflict in South Asia, ”paper, 1998, on the Internet and his article, “South Asia Needs a Peace Process,” Asian Wall Street Journal, June 12, 1999. Also see Ashley Tellis, “Stability in South Asia,” Documented Briefing, RAND Corporation, 1997. For a fictional future war scenario in South Asia, see Col. Trevor N. Dupuy, Future Wars: The World’s Most Dangerous Flashpoints (New York: Warner Books, 1992), chapter 2. Back.

Note 8: Richard E. Simpkin, Race To The Swift (Oxford: Brassey’s Publishers Limited) Gen. Donn Starry argues this in the foreword to the book, written in February 1985. Back.

Note 9: Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes, in an interview to Jane’s Defence Weekly, July 1, 1998, stated that nuclear weapons are not for tactical use. Back.

Note 10: American and Western theories emphasise that nuclear confrontation is losing its momentum, and information superiority is becoming the goal. Smart weapons, with their precision strikes on targets, now make non-nuclear deterrence realistic. It is no longer necessary to cross the enemy’s borders, because it is possible to destroy the enemy without occupying his territory. The enemy’s communication, and control structure and transport structure can be paralysed or incapacitated so that he cannot retaliate. These concepts do have some lessons for the subcontinent but the information age is creeping very slowly in the subcontinent. Russian concepts of RMA are somewhat similar. See Jacob W. Kripp, “Confronting the RMA in Russia”, Military Review, May-June 1997, pp. 49-55. Back.

Note 11: CNN news story of May 25, 1999. Full text of Cox Report available on Internet http://www. CNN. COXREPORT. Back.

Note 12: Manoj Joshi, “Now Hyper War”, India Today, May 10, 1999. Also see “Army Seeks Ultimate Man Machine Balance”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 5, 1999, and the allusion to revision of war doctrine to that of limited engagement. Back.

Note 13: See China’s Defence White Paper, July 1998. Text of White Paper reproduced in Strategic Digest, vol. XXVIII, no. 9, September 1998. Back.

Note 14: For American concepts of warfare and implications of RMA on aspects of jointness, see Brian R. Sullivan, “The Future Nature of Conflict: A Critique of the American Revolution in Military Affairs in the Era of Jointery”, Defense Analysis, vol. 14, no. 2, August 1998, pp. 91-100. Back.