Future Wars: Emerging Perspective

The 21st century has witnessed a tectonic shift in the character of war because of technological advancements, geopolitical shifts, emerging players, and evolving doctrines. The line between war and peace has blurred, the notion of short swift wars with decisive victories has been replaced by never-ending wars with the notion of victory diffused by perception management and information warfare. Now, it requires not only a whole-of-nation approach but a whole-of-society approach in which citizens need better empowerment to be the front-line stakeholders. Raksha Anirveda will publish a series of articles twice a week on TANK WARFARE. Presenting the first article of the series

Lt Gen Ashok Bhim Shivane

Opinion

Wars in the 20th century were fought to ensure peace. Wars in the 21st century are fought to shatter peace resulting in unwinnable never-ending wars. The 21st century has witnessed a tectonic shift in the character of war. While the nature of war remains enduring, its character has been reshaped by technological advancements, geopolitical shifts, emerging players, and evolving doctrines. The line between war and peace has blurred with overlapping boundaries and new players. War in peace with cyber-attacks, orchestrated pandemics, information warfare and economics wars are silent killers.  The lexicon of war and conflict too has blurred and its boundaries transited from the battlespace to society. It thus requires not only a whole of nation approach but a whole of society approach.

ads

The Larger Dimension of War and Conflict

Contemporary wars have witnessed major changes in the causes of war, the goals of war, the rules of war, the players and the target of the war, reshaping its character. Culture, history, geography, technology, society, geostrategic dynamics, doctrine, economics, trade, and nationalism all combine to shape the modern battlespace. The social media battle space and information warfare have also created challenges of shaping not only the enemy but also the domestic and international audience perceptions of a favourable narrative. In the twenty-first century, strategic advantage will emerge from how we integrate all elements of national power, people and social networks that complement military strength.

War has two critical outcomes, one winning the war and the second winning the peace. The latter remains more challenging. Military history has repeatedly demonstrated that winning battles does not assure winning the war and winning a war does not necessarily lead to winning the peace. This is the reality India faces on its turbulent borders. Tools of conflict prevention, conflict management and conflict resolution have lost their sheen giving space to endless wars and expansive conflict domains with little regard for a rule-based order. As a result, the world is now in persistent and pervasive conflict with undefinable boundaries and tools of warfare. Their outcomes are ever more chaotic and merely a strategic pause before the next storm. Hence, chaos and order are essentially two sides of the same coin.

Directed Energy Weapons, Nano Technology, Quantum Computing, Big Data Analysis, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will have a transformational impact on the planning and conduct of warfare and will revolutionise traditional notions of force projection and force application. These disruptive technologies have in turn forced a rethink on the foundational character of warfare

Future conflicts involving state and non-state actors could be particularly violent from the outset, yet often protracted and inconclusive. The notion of short swift wars with decisive victories has been replaced by never-ending wars with the notion of victory diffused by perception management and information warfare. The central problem is that large armies heavily invest in a twentieth-century way of war involving overwhelming force, firepower, and technological superiority. While they may not be winning without fighting, they also have been fighting without winning. Large losses galvanise a nation to carry on the fight, regardless of the cost in blood and gory, as is happening in the Russia-Ukraine War 2022 and the Hamas-Israel War 2023.

The Changing Character of War and Technological Advancements

The 21st century has witnessed technological changes and disruption in all sectors as the norm today. Possibly the most disruptive changes have been driven by the emergent technology and revolution in military affairs signalling the rise of a military-techno culture in which time, space, force, information and other fundamental conditions have radically impacted the decision cycle.

big bang

Directed Energy Weapons, Nano Technology, Quantum Computing, Big Data Analysis, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will have a transformational impact on the planning and conduct of warfare and will revolutionise traditional notions of force projection and force application. These disruptive technologies have in turn forced a rethink on the foundational character of warfare. Further, diffusion in technology will not only make it affordable and accessible but difficult to distinguish foe from friend. Technology in the hands of non-state actors is no longer a fallacy.

The future character of war will be driven by changes seen across three distinct aspects of warfare: hardware (the weapons systems and new kinetic technologies), software (the non-kinetic domain, doctrine, training, and innovative leadership), and skinware (the states or non-state actors employing these weapons and doctrines). In the next two decades, new and emerging technologies will disrupt warfare in four broad areas: connectivity, lethality, autonomy, cyber warfare and sustainability.

huges

The networked nature of contemporary warfare makes them vulnerable to disruptions and manipulation by cyberattacks. Cyber tools can be used offensively to degrade communication networks, disabling the enemy’s capacity to coordinate and execute operations. Integrating cyber and AI strategies will create a multifaceted approach to war, where dominance within the virtual realm will be as important as supremacy on the ground, sea, or air

Connectivity: The future of warfare will focus on network connectivity and real-time situational awareness. Digit, Digitisation, Digitalisation and Disruption (4 D’s) are revolutionising the battlespace with seamless connectivity. This has resulted in long-range precision engagement both kinetic and non-kinetic, enabled by rapid decision-making and the concurrency of action made possible by leveraging sensor shooter technology, artificial intelligence and machine cognition.

Lethality: The integration of AI into weapon systems like hypersonic systems will further enhance their lethality, enabling them to identify and engage targets with minimal human intervention. Although still unproven in combat, directed energy weapons may revolutionise the future provided miniaturisation, energy consumption and replenishment challenges can be overcome.

Autonomy: Autonomous systems and robotics, ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), will revolutionise future conflicts and lead to integrated MUM (Manned Unmanned) systems in combat. Their range of employment can be for C5ISR, armed combat and logistic support. Attacks by small swarms of UAVs are a reality of present times. Larger swarms in the future will cover extra ground, take in greater harm, and execute complex missions. The ability to handle huge quantities of information and ensure coordination amongst a wide variety of drones is critical to the effectiveness of these huge swarms.

Cyber Warfare: The networked nature of contemporary warfare makes them vulnerable to disruptions and manipulation by cyberattacks. Cyber tools can be used offensively to degrade communication networks, disabling the enemy’s capacity to coordinate and execute operations. The integration of cyber and AI strategies will create a multifaceted approach to war, where dominance within the virtual realm will be as important as supremacy on the ground, sea, or air.

Sustainability: Advances in logistics and supply chain management, driven by AI and automation, will permit militaries to better sustain their operations within the area. This will encompass the usage of autonomous vehicles for resupply missions, as well as the development of new substances and technology to improve the resilience of military equipment.

The use of AI, robotics and autonomous systems has altered the battlespace dynamics. While the man behind the machine as a techno warrior will be all pervasive, AI-driven analytics and other disruptive technologies can make it harder to hide, difficult to survive and faster to kill. Yet the era will be of MUM systems emerging on the battlespace to adapt and prevail to dynamic situations in real-time. This would need a cultural change in our professional military education

Strategic and Tactical Implications

The technological revolution, geopolitical shifts, emerging players, and evolving doctrines will have profound strategic and tactical implications. At the strategic level, the ability to initiate kinetic and non-kinetic vectors seamlessly at short notice with greater ambiguity and precision can alter deterrence cum war-waging dynamics and influence geopolitical security. The complexities and web of future conflicts will thus demand combat leaders to comprehend the strategic picture and develop operational options therein.

At the tactical level, the use of AI, robotics and autonomous systems has altered the battlespace dynamics. While the man behind the machine as a techno warrior will be all pervasive, AI-driven analytics and other disruptive technologies can make it harder to hide, difficult to survive and faster to kill. Yet the era will be of MUM systems emerging on the battlespace to adapt and prevail to dynamic situations in real-time. This would need a cultural change in our professional military education and thought leadership training.

The solutions are cultural, structural and execution levels. At the cultural level, the military must encourage strategic awareness and open discussions on national security challenges, future operational environment, force transformation and doctrines to foster analytical, intuitive, reflective and creative skills. At the structural level, militaries should consider adopting non-hierarchical rigid organisations to encourage critical thinking and creativity. At the execution level, the need is for a knowledge base and a culture of encouraging nonlinear thinking to adapt to contemporary warfare and emerging threats. Unfortunately, as an organisation, it has not kept pace with the struggle between ‘forces defying change and change defying forces’.

Conclusion

The last two decades popularly have been stated as the “decades of the mind and transformation”. The mind is igniting yesterday’s fiction into ideas for non-linear changes resulting in 3 c’s – competition, confrontation, and conflict. The transformation has altered the global security canvas through technological disruptions. Ironically legacy national security structures, processes and doctrines are increasingly at odds with emerging realities. Similarly, societies need to be better empowered by a citizen’s security culture to be the front-line stakeholders. Thus the armed forces and society will need to adapt and evolve culturally and structurally to face these challenges.

-The author is a PVSM, AVSM, VSM has had an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades. A distinguished Armoured Corps officer, he has served in various prestigious staff and command appointments including Commander Independent Armoured Brigade, ADG PP, GOC Armoured Division and GOC Strike 1. The officer retired as DG Mechanised Forces in December 2017 during which he was the architect to initiate process for reintroduction of Light Tank and Chairman on the study on C5ISR for Indian Army. Subsequently he was Consultant MoD/OFB from 2018 to 2020. The Officer is a reputed defence analyst, a motivational speaker and prolific writer on matters of military, defence technology and national security.The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda