Tenets of Information Warfare in Indian Context
Vol 11 Issue 5 Nov - Dec 2017
The write up details with lucidity as to why the prosecution of IW cannot be Service-specific
Monday, December 4, 2017
“The only thing harder than getting new things into the military mind is to get the old ones out.” - Liddel Hart
Even when the Indian military leadership was early in its appreciation of the modern concepts and practices of Information Warfare (IW), this form of warfare has not found the expected level of assimilation into our operational planning and battle procedures as commensurate to its salience. India being a recognised reservoir of expertise in information systems, which must be a matter of concern. To analyse the problem of lagging infusion of IW capabilities, it would be necessary to start at the roots of its relevance in the Indian context and proceed to examine the conditions under which these capabilities had been sought to be developed.
This paper seeks to delve into this matter and offer certain key recommendations to overcome the hurdles that stymie the progression of IW in our military planning and conduct.
Doctrinal Development of Information Warfare
Tenets of Information Warfare (IW) have been intrinsic to warfare ever since it developed into an organised struggle of extreme consequences. Its assumption of centrality in the art and science of warfare during the past half a century or so however was occasioned by the emergence of three deciding factors. These factors are listed as follows: -
a. Accelerated innovations in military science and technology that led to expansion of the combat zones in terms of space and time under which modern war is to be prosecuted. Prosecution of warfare in such expanded space and accelerated tempo required application of more powerful and precise tools as well as methods of controlling the military forces deployed thereabout.
b. Kinetic energy weaponry and mechanical modes of manoeuvre had more or less hit a technological ceiling with regards to range, accuracy, time and cost. The sensible course to enhance the overall effectiveness of fire and manoeuvre was therefore to enhance the capabilities of what were treated as enabling components of the war machine. The brief therefore was to achieve real-time and longer range surveillance, sweeping collection of information inputs, faster preparation of intelligence situations, precise command and control, precision engagement of targets and optimum manoeuvre of force elements.
c. Quantum developments in automatic data processing capability at the one end was complimented by high capacity communication network at the other. Even if these are but two distinct fields of military-scientific innovations, technological commonalities permitted these to be dovetailed in order to orient the war machine in a manner which would avoid dissipation of combat power and converge it at the point of decision. Further, wider accessibility to these two facilities elevated the level of exploitation of available war wherewithal, thus enabling military planners to achieve more with less.
Doctrinal germination of IW can be traced back to the Russian strategic thinkers of 1960-70’s era when they propounded the idea of ‘Military Technological Revolution’ (MTR) and Psychotronic Warfare. Subsequently, by-products of the pre-closed
‘Star-Wars Programme’ caught attention of the United States Military leadership for them to develop IW as a strategic concept. That was sometime in the mid-1980’s. In 1990, IW-enabled formations played a landmark role during the Gulf War-I. Admittedly, even if innovative IW practices were fielded under ideal conditions – against weak and exposed enemy over open terrain – the results were remarkable even then. Immediately, most advanced militaries started investing on IW – Russia, United Kingdom, Germany, France, China mainly. The United States led the path, of course.
Defining the Components of IW
From the time definitive steps to outline IW in India-specific context had been taken in Year 1999-2000 under the initiative of the Army Headquarters, with the Army Training Command propositioning a way forward, the definition and scope of IW stand amplified over the years. It is therefore appropriate to elaborate the ambit of IW to consist of the following components: -
a. Information Operations (IO) – Offensive and Defensive;
b. Command and Control Warfare (C2W);
c. Intelligence Based Warfare (IBW) – Operations and Logistics;
d. Net Centric Warfare (NCW);
e. Electronic Warfare (EW);
f. Psychological and Psychotronic Warfare (Psy W); and,
g. Cyber Warfare (CW).
Needless to state, each of the above listed components of IW would have their sub-components to function through the medium of dedicated, and when necessary shared, data communication networks, hardware, algorithm and software, trained and dedicated manpower, management tools and defined procedures to connect all the elements of military forces into one composite web. The medium however is just one, and the simpler part of the IW systems. The other, and arguably a more salient part would be the primary (or basic), as well as specific (or services and arms dedicated) information data banks to aid in operational and logistic planning and orchestrated execution of military activities. For example, terrain geo-spatial information system (GIS) would provide for primary (or basic) inputs while weapon and equipment characteristics, force deployments, logistic inventory etc. would constitute specific (or services and arms dedicated) information; tenets of IW would be met when these two parts are dovetailed into each other to build a comprehensive operational picture. Obviously, the range and depth of such primary and specific information banks would need to be virtually unlimited for these to be able to respond to any combinations of operational commanders’ and staffs’ command and control requirements, spontaneous queries, decision making aids, dissemination of operational and logistic instructions, monitoring and feedback, and finally, course correction.
Indian Military’s Stake in IW
Salience and practice of IW is more pronounced in offensive oriented strategies when effectiveness of Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Integration, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4I2SR) becomes more imperative at the preparatory stages of war itself. To a nation which repudiates the use of military power in achievement of its national goals, and when it comes to unavoidable recourse to that power, prefers to profess defensive orientation and attrition warfare in order to maintain status quo, as indeed India prefers to be, the call of IW can have but secondary attraction. IW therefore caught serious attention of the Indian military establishment only in the mid-1990’s, particularly during 1995-97, when it found that having been choked of the usually accommodative and thumb-rule budgetary support, it was unable to maintain even its ‘bottom line’ operational capabilities, and as a consequence, faced an existential threat to its salience in the scheme of nationhood. The Indian military leadership thus considered covering their shortages of weapons, ammunition, transport and equipment by leveraging faster and focused performance of the intelligence cycle, accuracy of available fire power, crisp utilisation of existing mobility capabilities and optimisation of logistic inventory and transportation.
IW thus appeared in focused contention of the Indian military hierarchy only during the late 1990’s. That degree of alacrity however soon lost its steam once operational as well as fiscal priorities changed in the aftermath of the Kargil Conflict. Even then, the Indian Army’s stakes in IW has since been going up steadily. However, given the time and resources committed to IW – in terms of funds, equipment and training – the Army could have done much better than the stage it has managed to reach so far.
To the advantage of the Navy and the Air Force, a dedicated form of IW has ever been intrinsic to their organisation and battle procedures; however, they too have much to invest to optimise their IW capability. Point to note here is that prosecution of IW cannot be Services-specific; unless it is integrated across the tri-Services domains, it is no IW at all.
A Matter of Conceptual Disorientation
Much before the Army’s process of assimilation of IW alternated through periods of stall and slow progress, a forward looking Corps of Signals had launched on a quest for modernisation of signal communications and geared itself according to the dictates of the new era communication warfare. Despite much resistance from a frigid and partisan military bureaucracy, they had managed to bring about a quantum upgrade in data communication, networking and EW capabilities of the Indian military. Furthermore, being rooted at fundamental electronic science, overlapping technology and common usage, that upgrade spilled over to cover the development of automated information processing and management systems at various levels. That was a fine achievement indeed.
However, advancements in just two among many other components of IW led to obfuscation of the larger ambit of IW by confining its scope just to electronic communications and its complimentary wherewithal for automated data processing; emerging concern regarding cyber warfare was a fallout of that development. Thus, one on the one hand accrued the advantage of two components of IW – namely, the communications and data processing assets - keeping pace with modernity, while on the other hand that advantage was stifled, by default, by letting those two components to subsume the larger ambit of IW. Consequently, even two decades into the commitment towards IW, the situation is such that: -
a. We have efficient communication networks and automated data processing wherewithal but remain inadequate in terms of terrain, operational and intelligence data bank, and robust, fail proof algorithms to fully exploit those two assets for the prosecution of modern warfare. Consequently, apart from somewhat better performance of administrative and logistic functions, the communication networks as well as data processing capability remain relegated to mundane functions – certain exceptions notwithstanding.
b. Commanders and staff, after eulogising IW related rhetoric and contrived case study demonstrations, have to revert to their post-World War II battle procedures, aided albeit by modest level automation facilities, to conduct their operational and logistic functions in tried and tested, but archaic nevertheless, manner. It is indeed a worrying fact that military commanders, and particularly the staff, have not developed that degree of professional confidence which would allow them to perform their tactical functions according to the profound tenets of IW - in the face of the enemy. That the institutionalised proliferation of the keystones of IW - viz. C2W, IBW and NCW - have remained stymied, should be a matter of concern for Indian military planners of 21st Century Warfare.
Distinguishing CW from IW
In a parallel domain of civilian cyber space, dependence on cyber systems became unavoidable due to popular demand of the times. It was no longer possible to administer the state through manual means – management of railways, power, communications, banking, revenue etc. As dependence on cyber system supported communication and data processing went deeper and deeper, there was the concern for security of civilian cyber infrastructure. Given the Indian State’s passive ideologies, infliction of cyber attack, intrusion or sabotage was not a motive. The focus therefore rested on the necessity of ‘cyber security’ which actually implied defensive protection of own cyber space and critical information infrastructure. But since protection of cyber infrastructure must have in-built elements of invasive cyber operations so as to forestall inimical agencies from damaging that infrastructure, minimalist features of cyber attack had to be incorporated into India’s doctrine of cyber security.
Subsequently, the fraternity of Indian cyber experts started to refer to that combination as ‘Cyber Warfare’ (CW) - just as the Americans do, though the situation in United States (US) is entirely different. They seem to be distracted in following the US, or for that matter the Chinese or Russian models where exclusivity of military and civil control mechanisms are not as pronounced and the military hierarchy is frequently called upon to manage and synergise civil-military dual institutions at the national level. That however is not the case in the Indian dispensation where, as stated above, military power remains but sequestered till it is activated only as a reluctant, minimalist and emergent resort. In India therefore, unless military capabilities are, as far as practical, made exclusive of the civil domain, as indeed it is in nearly all matters of military administration, the Indian armed forces would be constrained in responding to calls for emergent activation of robust military IW action.
In fact, the term ‘CW’ by itself is inappropriate for the civil domain, for ‘warfare’ is defined by destruction, bloodshed and overturn of political equation, none of which the so called CW can achieve. Indeed, cyber operations can cause severe disruption and great harm, but it cannot make a nation bow to the dictates of the aggressor. The right terminology in the civil domain may therefore be more appropriately adopted as ‘Cyber Security Operation’. In other words, while common aspects of cyber protocols, procedures and properties at the national level must be regulated across the board, military IW, with its intrinsic CW component, must be distinguished from the civil Cyber Security Operations. Maybe, to avoid ambiguity, civil CW, in line with its thrust on passive security, could be formally termed as ‘Cyber Security Operations’ rather than CW; the term ‘warfare’ is actually a more excruciating term after all.
In contrast however, with military IW stagnating and civil cyber security programme inching ahead, even the armed forces’ experts, spearheaded by its communications professionals, have joined the chorus of mixing up the two distinct terminologies, and are choosing to describe ‘Cyber Security Operations’ as ‘Cyber Warfare’. Thus, in the Indian dispensation, civil parameters of what is being described as CW seems to be obscuring the larger ambit of military IW. Today, even the military is asking for a ‘Cyber Command’ whereas it is an IW Command or some similar set up that they actually want.
Systemic Hurdles against Robust Development of IW
The moot question therefore arises that as to how might IW make progress commensurate to the time and resources allocated, and advantages expected. The answer lies in defining IW, elevating it from the confines of electronic communications and EW, distinguishing it from Cyber Security Operations in the civil domain, and conducting military affairs according to correct tenets of tactically and scientifically tempered IW. But before discussing possible steps to invigorate the assimilation of the tenets of IW into India’s military doctrine, it may help if the causes of slow progress so far on this matter are addressed: -
a. Indian military leadership of the day, being inadequately trained in scientific temper, overlooked the institutionalised delineation of the various components of military IW. Tactical command and staff elements satisfied themselves by leaving IW, a tri-Service and all-arm operational concept, to the sole devices of signal communication experts. A propensity among the cyber experts to inflict complex and wholly unnecessary terminologies upon the hapless fraternity, to describe what are but simple meanings, complicates the issue further.
b. Resultantly, as already mentioned, electronic communication networks and instruments of automated data processing, duly modernised of course, became the sole actionable components of IW. The greater ambit of IW was thus subsumed by what were actually two of its subordinate sub-systems – communications and its related data processing assets, to reiterate.
c. With the civil administration’s mounting stakes on security of cyber space, the need to protect the nation’s critical cyber infrastructure against ever looming threats of disruption found better appreciation. Cyber security measures thus found better structural and fiscal support from the Government.
d. Cyber space is the medium through which IW has to be prosecuted, and therefore, it includes a substantial component of CW – military CW, to wit. However, better appreciation of security needs for civilian cyber space led to even the military establishment falling for the expediency of focusing on cyber security operations, or ‘CW’ as it is being termed. What actually is defensive and offensive Cyber Security Operations, and is being referred to as CW, has thus pushed military IW into the background.
e. In sum, IW and various derivative capabilities of its components, including its intrinsic CW component, having remained formally undefined, the resultant ambiguity has led to obfuscation of the specific purpose of ‘military IW’ by that of the civilian ‘Cyber Security Operations’.
Needless to emphasise, these are the matters which need to be addressed to bring right focus on the issues of military IW and its relationship with its civil counterpart, the nation level Cyber Security Operations or civil CW. Even if the two domains of IW and civil CW have distinct purposes, there are many commonalities in terms of training, equipment, processes and protocols which have to be managed jointly. Further, the military component of CW must be integrated into the Cyber Security Operations or civil CW. In so doing, distinction of the goals of military IW and civil Cyber Security Operations – or civil CW - have to be understood and its sanctity maintained.
The Way Forward
In order to incorporate the sublime tenets of IW into the Indian military doctrine, the beginning would have to be made by instilling among its personnel, particularly among the officer corps, the understanding of pure sciences and military technological application of these in warfare. Gone are the days when warfare was just an art, to be expressed through induced experiences, native ingenuity and native insight among officers and men who were trained on ‘non-science’ streams and deployed on general duties of various descriptions. In this context, it needs to be appreciated that learning by rote or familiarity with cell phones, communication switches and computers are not enough to exploit the profound tenets of IW. Having been grounded in scientific fundamentals, it would be possible for the military establishment to broad-base the presently truncated, communication-centric form of IW across to all the arms and services, and so propagate IW through all its aforementioned components.
The next step would be to define IW and delineate each of its components for the dedicated practitioners to focus on. Having met that requirement, the battle procedures would be tailored in tune with the tenets of the tactical components of IW - viz., IO, C2W, IBW and NCW - leaving the technical ones – viz., EW, Psy W and military CW – for the domain experts to perform.
Unlike weaponry ex-import, hardware and software for IW are useless if not produced according to indigenous designs and algorithms. Harness of the nation’s military technology-industry potentials in general and IW in particular requires a convergence of tactical visionaries from one end and scientists, engineers and industrialists from the other. To bring these two extreme forms of specialisations to common understandings and commitments, there is a need for a dual stream of formally trained officers who would translate the capabilities and constraints of these two exclusive specialist groups and thus act as interface between the two. This is a universally proven recourse to get the best out of the humungous potentials of IW.
One stumbling block in deeper institution of IW is our antiquated policies on personnel management, in which build-up of specialisation and experience is stifled in the name of field-peace and command criteria. This needs to change by incorporation of appropriate compensatory measures if military ingenuity and innovation are to be meshed with modern tools of war. In similar vein, we have to accept that restructure for IW has to be preceded by disruption of the existing organisational matrix and overcome of the fixation with status quo. This acceptance is necessary since institution of IW would revise hierarchies of command and control, institute new battle procedures and practices and demand scientific orientation to the training curricula.
The Indian military establishment has the benefit of tactically and technically competent officer corps; it is also backed up with research, development and industrial fraternity in public, private and foreign domains. Yet, when it comes to fruition of military sciences and technology at the soldiers’ hand, the results are rather uncomplimentary. It cannot be a matter of comfort that this situation is but a fallout of policy disorientation at the Government as well as military levels. Comfort would accrue when that debility is overcome.
The Indian military establishment needs to prepare a sound and suitable ground to accelerate its assimilation of the profound tenets of IW.