Transformations Required in Military Domain for Current & Future Conflicts

Sub Title : Technological advances and changing geopolitical constructs have made it imperative for militaries to transform

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2023

Author : Lt Gen KS Brar

Page No. : 32

Category : Military Affairs

: March 25, 2023

Technological advances and changing geopolitical constructs have made it imperative for militaries to transform. The lines between strategic, operational and tactical domains have blurred-military transformation must therefore be aligned to this nuance in the character of warfare. The articles outlines the way ahead


Current global geo-politics and power struggle dynamics amongst major nations has once again highlighted the need for military supremacy as defining factor for a nation to achieve its rightful aspirations in the competing comity of nations. However, the military capability of nations is itself being impacted by rapid advancements in technology: Cyber War, Info War, Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) due to new concepts & weapon systems such as Unmanned Aerial Systems, drones, artificial intelligence, satellite communications/ surveillance etc. Hence, it is important that various aspects of military doctrine & strategy also evolve in accordance with changing dynamics and so that military capabilities as envisaged /developed have the requisite intellectual wherewithal to ensure security of the Nation & facilitate achievement of National aims and objectives.

Need for Review: Military Constructs

If strategic and operational constructs do not evolve or are reviewed periodically, it may result in drawing wrong conclusions. Proponents of military history cite the need to draw lessons from history. As Winston Churchill paraphrased George Santayana – “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”. However, an even greater good would be done if the future scenarios are visualized correctly and we are well prepared for them rather than learning retrospectively.

Recent conflicts and especially the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has opened floodgates for the media/think tanks including social media to comment, express opinions, and even pass judgements on aspects of the conflict. Most obviously it is to steer public & world opinion, but the so called lessons now being espoused (some right) – were they not known or could have been predicted. Did it take a conflict to learn?  It is better to be prepared for the worst case scenario – and being prepared  will likely deter what will otherwise certainly come.

The general tendency to be a status quoist also hampers the ability to foresee the future and visualize scenarios, thus making our responses reactionary to adversarial situations. It is essential that military constructs are examined and reviewed / modified for developing effective pro-active response(s). Some of these are discussed.

Changing Dynamics: Need to be Prepared to Fight Battles at Strategic & Operational Levels Also

The three levels in military domain i.e. strategic, operational and tactical have had more or less clear functional demarcations in that – there is a strategic objective/direction, which is translated by operational commanders to decisions/guidance / military plans referred as operational art for the tactical level who execute it. Hence, broadly the plans are made by higher levels and the execution is at tactical level i.e. units ensure victory and this can be seen in our context through wars of 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and even Kargil. Thus, so far battles fought at tactical level have sufficed. However, with conflicts now in non-contact domain and other paradigm changes taking place, the strategic & operational levels also now have a charter to execute and battles would also be fought at strategic and operational levels before descending on to tactical level. This is a big change.

  • The demarcations between strategic, operational and tactical levels will merge and diffuse. And, merging of these gradations is evident from the oft quoted statement nowadays – “a tactical action has resulted in a strategic implication”.
  • Strategic & operational level battles would befall in conduct/execution of cyber war, information war, electronic warfare, etc. and/or other such elements of warfare which require higher interventions.
  • Strategic and operational levels would have to synergize tri-service resources, information (ISR), procedures, etc ~ a la Theaterisation. Conflicts now require a whole of nation approach, likewise within the military domain, all elements of military power will have to be harnessed to ensure victory & no single arm or service can have a lien in this regard.

Net Centricity : Pre-requisite to Harness Technology for Military Effectiveness

Net centricity would be sine qua non for current and future technology enabled environment. In simplistic terms, net centricity can be considered analogous to internet, wherein it is the internet which has harnessed power of computing (computers)

and has revolutionized every aspect of human development – global economy, business, transportation, banking, science, etc. In a standalone mode, computers have limited abilities. Likewise inducting the force multipliers, UAS, AI enabled system, etc into the armed forces would not achieve the desired outcomes if they are not a part of Net Centric Operations (NCO).

There also exists some misconception about NCO in some quarters, which needs clarification. NCO is not about technology alone but more so pertains to methods and means to harness & synergize all information and resources for greater combat effectiveness. Technology acts as an enabler and assists in achieving this by ensuring communications, generating common operational picture and faster computation thus enabling Effect Based Operations (EBO).

Technology Proliferation to the Lowest Level – Will Enable

Centralization of military resources (force multipliers, strategic assets, etc.) has generally been considered a good option, whereby operational employment can be optimized and prioritized. Whilst, this still holds true in most cases, but this concept needs revision in context of some military technology enablers which are now coming in especially non- contact warfare related/ information related.

  • Technology and information only empowers when decentralised. Mobile phone proliferation which has enabled this aspect has revolutionized many aspects. Thus, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), Unmanned Ground & Sea Vehicles and such other enablers have to be proliferated to all for maximizing outcomes.
  • As an example – ISR resources have traditionally been centralised and information so collated is disseminated to the combat forces as ISR role is divested centrally. This has a drawback regards timely dissemination & disseminated information in any case is second hand and not available for timely decision making. While with technology now available, combat forces can be enabled with assistance of net centricity to be part of the ISR network and in addition have their own ISR resources and not be dependent elsewhere. This would facilitate a faster OODA loop and decision making thus enhancing combat efficiency.

Technological Force Multipliers are Enhancers and are not Replacement to Existing Warfare Means

Infusion of technology & force multipliers have in some sense also created a sense of déjà vu. However, technology infusion will only supplement and enhance the existing war fighting machinery, it will not lead to doing away with the same.

  • Man & man behind the machine matters and will always matter. Warfare concepts since Mahabharta and expounded by Chanakya, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Chatrapati Shivaji etc are true even today. With changing dynamics more concepts or newer weapon systems are added and do not replace the earlier ones, though they may get modified.
  • Numerous western media articles and opinions in the initial phases of Russia – Ukraine conflict hyped performance of drones and missiles and there were suggestive articles that they can replace Tanks. It has to be understood that Tanks role is capture and control of land (which they did to the tune of 161,000 Km2 in initial phases and now also more than 80,000 Km2 territory is in control of Russia) and this role cannot be performed by drones/missiles. It is not much of brainer that Ukraine is looking for western tanks to retake territory captured by Russia.
  • Therefore, drones and missiles have enhanced the destruction of tanks by aerial means which was being done by attack helicopters, aircraft, Artillery PGMs etc (hence their numbers can be reduced if drones and missiles are better & cheaper option). Tanks on the other hand have to increase their survivability against aerial threats (which was not considered important earlier), and already numerous counter measures have been developed.

Spectrum of Conflict

The “spectrum of conflict” is largely defined till now in military teachings all across with some minor variations by graph given at Figure 1. It states that the scale of warfare is graded (sub-conventional to nuclear) with increasing intensity (y-axis) and decreasing likelihood (x-axis).

In the changing military dynamics, some of the major flaws in this are highlighted: –

  • This spectrum of conflict definition apparently suggests that conflicts are only in physical domain. Whilst currently conflicts in cyber, information warfare domain including intelligence surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) with hybrid and grey zones operations are on 24 x 7 amongst conflicting nations (i.e. other than physical domain).
  • The ‘decreasing likelihood of conflicts’ has been negated by recent conflicts/tensions in Central Asia, Middle East, Russia-Ukraine, Taiwan, Korean peninsula, India-China etc. This assumption of ‘decreasing likelihood of conflicts’ has also lulled many to complacency that conflicts are not likely to take place. Resultantly, nations are finding themselves ill prepared for contingencies and are now making an effort to revamp them.
  • The escalation of conflict as shown in the graph gives an impression of it being graduated and hierarchical and there is an initiation of conflict. This would tend to give an impression and often expounded that there is a “reaction time” & “time for preparation”. This is hardly true anymore and there is a need to be prepared for all the likely contingencies always.

In the current and expected future conflict scenarios, a spectrum of conflict as given at Figure 2 may be more applicable.

  • Capability Blocks for various effects need to be developed & made functional. Some of these capabilities are listed below, more need to be added and thought of (more than the adversary)
  • All capabilities are synergized through net centricity functionally and organizationally through Theaterisation (as and when initiated) alongwith suitable linkages to other similar organs of the Nation for the whole of nation approach.
  • It is essential these capabilities are existing and there is no ambivalence “due to a likelihood of conflict syndrome”. There will be no reaction time.
  • The Nations are in constant state (or preparation) of conflict, wherein the X-axis would define what capabilities need to be exercised (some like cyber, ISR would be 24×7 functional) & Y-axis would assist in Escalation Control to be exercised by increasing or reducing intensity of each block including to act as a deterrent.
  • It goes without saying, all this has to be totally on a self reliance mode – “Atam Nirbhar”.


Above suggestions for review of some military doctrinal constructs are by no means complete. There are many more aspects which would require review or examination and there would be a requirement to have a mechanism for review, implementation and monitoring.

An important aspect in the required transformation very evident is human resource. It will require the right training methods to prepare our soldiers for future conflicts. But a more challenging aspect will be to ensure that all in leadership role will have to be more techno-operational to be able to imbibe and execute these changes.

Capabilities need time to develop, however intentions (situations) can change overnight. Hence, any stated security strategy will not be able to achieve much if the capabilities are limited. On the other hand, if a Nation has the right military capabilities to address security challenges of future conflicts (catering for the worst case scenario) it can handle any contingency, unforeseen included and cater for all contingencies of the strategic paradigm faced by the Nation.