Multi-Domain Warfare in the Indian Context

Sub Title : The advent of cyber and space domains has changed the character of warfare

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 5 Nov/Dec 2019

Author : Air Marshal Ramesh Rai, VM

Page No. : 40

Category : Military Affairs

: December 9, 2019

The three traditional domains of warfare have been land, sea and air. Rapid technological advances have led to creation of two more domains viz cyber and space. The advent of these two domains has changed the character of warfare. Multi Domain Warfare aims at closely integrating the five domains to exploit the strengths of each and gain kinetic as well as non-kinetic advantages over the enemy. The author articulates the fundamentals of the same in the Indian context

Capturing the exact character of a future war with definite certainty is extremely difficult, but it could be assumed that a future war will be multi-domain and multi-dimensional. With cyberspace having emerged as the fifth domain, we can safely postulate that cyber threats will combine with other domains to enhance lethality. Our adversaries will tend to blend conventional, asymmetric and hybrid capabilities across all domains compelling us to re-examine our military concepts and doctrine. Domination in a future war will no longer be attained through domination in a single domain and focus will need to shift to cross domain synergy. Cross-domain synergy implies employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the other. The idea of operating across domains isn’t very new as each service, for example, has been using the space and cyberspace for information sharing and air force operations are routinely employed in other domains. However, these would need to move further and transform to making domain integration a norm rather than an exception.

India sits in the throes of immense security concerns, between its Western and Northern neighbours. Pakistan has mastered the art of employing regulars and irregulars along with non-state actors and insurgents. It is already waging a hybrid war of sorts in Jammu and Kashmir. China’s doctrine of unrestricted war conceptualises “Cocktail Style” methods of combining different forms of warfare. Chinese doctrine for a future war conceptualises that war would no longer be about using armed forces alone and the whole nation and the society would become part of the battle given the penetrability of cyber, space, information, and economic warfare. We face an environment of a rising China, and an ever belligerent Pakistan, that will bring integrated multi-domain approach to war fighting to try and counter our conventional strength. In this backdrop, India would have to contest a multi-domain war and formulating a credible multi-domain warfare capability would be a prerequisite for victory.

Our military forces have been structured as three domain-centric Services i.e. the Army, Navy and Air Force and these translate to the three kinetic domains e.g. land, maritime and air. The Army and Navy were formed when conflict was possible only in the land and maritime domains. The Air Force was created after WWII when impact of warfare in the air domain was significant. The emergence of ‘air’ as a domain had led to the evolution of the Air Land Battle Concept for battlefield coordination between surface and air forces. In future battles, as use of space and cyber domains increases, their battlefield coordination would likewise become imperative. At its very core, multi-domain warfare concept would entail combining capabilities across all domains and employ them jointly or combined to achieve the desired effects.  It is in this realm that the three services will have to evolve the multi-domain concept i.e. by first understanding how space and cyber domains will contribute to war fighting and then identifying the doctrine and capability required for their integration. Thereafter, redefine concepts of operations, command and control approaches, organisational structures, force structures and support structures. Once identified, an institutional process would be required to put it all together and define the required reforms or changes/adjustments. The institutional question looms large here, as at one end each service desires to form separate space and cyber functionalities and at the other is the need for combined space and cyber to be shared across services much like sharing airpower. Irrespective of which model is followed we will have to lay down enabling policy, structures and communication networks to fight as a joint team.

The absolute essence of multi domain warfare is combining all five domains. Just like the Air Land Battle had led to the creation of battlefield coordination between surface and air forces through respective commands, Cyber and Space Commands would have to be established to conceive and co-ordinate operations in respective domains. These commands would then need to generate, control, integrate and synchronize their operations to accomplish the assigned mission in concert with other domains. Thus, at the very outset there would be a need to establish space and cyber commands for multi domain warfare to actualize.

The complexity of integrated military operations across domains argues for laying down a foundation to include multi domain operational concepts, infrastructure, communication networks and inter domain connects. There would be issues of structures, command and control from a functional, organizational or operational standpoint. These would have to be resolved. The challenge would be to readapt from domain-centric focus to the multi-domain environment at all the three levels of war. Since the operational level is responsible for the integration and alignment of tactical level missions to achieve strategic objectives, a conceptual framework at the operational level would be needed once enabling policy, operational concepts, structures and procedures are in place. Multi-domain expands the targeting landscape based on the extended ranges, lethality, integrated air defences, cross-domain fire support, and cyber/electronic warfare systems. There would be a need to understand these expanded battlespaces and how our capabilities in each domain can combine at the operational level. Various approaches would need to be explored and experimented to arrive at viable solutions. Once the operational level commanders understand the future battlespace, they can begin to assess command and control relationships and how they will execute multi-domain missions and how to train for them.

Multi-domain war fighting entails knowledge of what is happening in various domains that could affect the operational situation. Hence a multi-domain connect is necessary if we are to integrate and exploit information from multiple sources, including sensors, databases, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance to formulate an integrated response. Best suited tool for such a task would be an encrypted data link architecture for net-centric warfare across each domain. The architecture should provide connectivity within the domain and with other domains. Such a network system would need to have a high degree of connectivity to take the least time to establish an accurate common operational picture to facilitate information sharing for enhanced situational awareness. Thereafter, comes collaborative targeting for which a targeting and decision grid would have to be appropriately conceived and created in the network.

To build a connect between sensing and targeting across domains we would need to combine aspects of network-centricity, combat cloud and combined fires. This a tall requirement which will call to bring together the operational, technological, technical and analytical ingenuity of the entire nation so that we develop our very own military data distribution system. For this, we will have to conceptualise and articulate the nature and characteristic of our approach to a network centric war and then define the entities and combine their capabilities. We will need to define the grid construct of the sensing, information, effects and command grids and layer them to receive, process, store and communicate information over the network i.e. quick and secure exchange of tactical data like pictures, text messages, imagery and digital voice in real time to be used by combatants/platforms /entities in each domain. Sensing and Information grids would form the basic construct to amalgamate the big picture. Sensing grid could comprise every sensor that can be hooked on to the net. The air force already has in place its integrated air defence system (IADS) with the most dominant sensor i.e. the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) intermeshed with air borne and land-based radar networks. The IADS would need to be extended to other battle field and ship borne sensors and made more robust with ground-based air defence systems such as Surface-to-Air Missiles and Anti-Aircraft Artillery, along with fighters at airbases all around the country. The combat cloud would be the repository of sensed information from which any combatant could extract the combined ‘big picture’ for improving situational awareness. This would not be an ordinary task since sharing the right information with the right person at the right time would be a tough challenge.

Manned or unmanned platforms, from each domain would form the effects grid. They will combine to engage targets and create the desired effects. The combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, surface-to-air missile systems, surface to surface systems, ship borne systems, electronic jammers and cyber systems will have to be thus well conceived. For example, we could carry out a SEAD attack on the enemy air defence system either by using the ‘air’ domain (aerial bombing) or CYBER domain (cyber-attack on routers, data base, computers or displays) or a combination depending on the effects a commander desires. In this grid, the prime function would be of passing instructions to the field commanders to actualize the combine of various fires. However, separate combat models for a conventional war and an irregular/hybrid war would be required since these come with disparate operational concepts and course of action analysis.

Multi domain warfare will have to rely profusely on data and connectivity for success. Hence, a robust network, with high band width and full interoperability within and with other domains would be necessary. In warfare terms, it would imply heavy collaboration between information sharing and combining capability across domains which calls for a well-conceived and developed network, network support, information sharing infrastructure, the combat cloud operational construct and the decision-making loop. It is apparent that such an arrangement would be highly complex and complicated requiring extensive technological and operational agility in weaving them together. The Chinese are known to be developing such a network with the four multi-domain grids. We will have to not only match up to the battle field complexity in terms of systems, but our training would have to lay great emphasis on orchestrating a multi domain network centric war. Fundamentally, once networked, own decision-making must get faster to stay within the enemy’s OODA loop cycle. In this will lie the key variable that will determine success or failure. In networked warfare, the time compression in decision making and consequent force application is pivotal to winning a war. Our commanders will need training for this important dimension of conducting warfare and be better trained in using networks.

India has been the target of the irregular and unrestricted warfare capabilities of Pakistan and China. The hybrid threat will be more pronounced in the future as China consolidates on its new operational concept of fighting an informationalized war. In a two-front war, the hybridity could vary from a mix of regular forces using conventional weapons intermeshed with irregular forces using irregular tactics with support of terrorists and insurgents, cyber intrusions, and possibly some dimension of social and economic warfare. While the armed forces would be called upon to tackle the regular war component and portions of the irregular war, the cyber intrusions, economic, industrial or social dimensions would need a whole of nation approach. This would call for the war to be centrally orchestrated at the highest level after understanding it in its entirety to evolve a cohesive response for each threat or a combination. Core members of a future war team would need to include military experts, cyber experts, technologists, terrorism and insurgency experts along with decision makers from within the government at the highest level. Their task would be to develop a conceptual frame work to orchestrate coordinated warfare in every domain. This would be required urgently to put our capability building and organisation in the right perspective.

Hybrid war is amorphous in nature, the trajectory it takes is difficult to predict. It has the potential to transform into conventional or a multiple sub-conventional war. India would have to stop seeing a future conflict through the prism of a conventional military response only, since a hybrid war would need a hybrid response. In this complex scenario, our armed forces, which have been equipped, trained, and structured to fight conventional wars would have to readapt. While retaining their conventional capabilities, they would have to adapt to engage the irregular and sub-conventional components in the cyber back drop/multi domain construct.

Air forces are already well versed with multi domain operations but the aspect that becomes critical for air forces is to fly and fight in cyberspace. The key doctrinal update would be to integrate the cyber domain into its war fighting doctrine and operational concept. Air forces conduct and win wars by maintaining full spectrum capability i.e. control of the air, strike, air defence, air mobility and ISR to facilitate the surface forces to operate without undue interference from enemy air power. This full spectrum capability would have to be effective in regular and irregular wars in, from and through cyber space. Since cyberspace will get increasing vulnerable, a cyber defensive operational construct would also be extremely critical so that own operations are not inhibited or disrupted. Air forces will require to intermesh their operations with other domains to fully exploit the third dimension of the operational environment. From a multi-domain perspective, this implies that the air force would have to train to fly and fight across the strategic, operational, tactical levels of war and simultaneously control the tempo of operations in our favour in concert with the surface forces.

Threats of the future will compel us to change the way we must fight. Our adversaries will leverage technological advances to blend space and cyber operations as the battlefield acquires a multi domain complexion. This invokes us to evolve a multi domain response combining fires across domains and create the desired effects. A multi domain warfare capability would have to be structured through a Net-Centric War structure and orchestrated like so. Structuring a Network Centric War will not be easy and will require defining the roles and responsibilities, nature of information to be exchanged, connectivity and the degree of coupling of capability across domains. There will also be challenges at the policy, organisation, structures, communication and thinking level. These will have to be overcome. As with any new military concept, success will depend on the leadership’s commitment to change and to accord a forceful direction to bring disparate Service interests and functional areas (space, air, sea, land and cyber) together to function through a common network. All stake holders will have to come on board shedding respective domain biases and endeavour to understand what is of importance in multi domain operations to prioritize then break domain stove pipes and integrate. Above all, it will require a cultural change by broad consensus and acceptance of the whole idea.