Tuesday April 23, 2024

Future warfare

By Raashid Wali Janjua
December 28, 2021

After three percent of the global population of the world was wiped off in World War TT, humanity has not experienced that level of massacre, yet wars and low intensity conflicts continue to exact a heavy toll through an altered nature and character of war.

Some warfare experts claim that the nature of warfare is immutable wherein belligerents grapple with the primordial instinct of violence to impose their will upon each other while the character of war remains ephemeral, subject to changes in technology. The above notion has come in for criticism in view of the altered nature and character of warfare in the digital age.

Technology is changing not only the grammar but the structure and prose of war. Despite our current focus on a non-traditional notion of national security, traditional security remains the centerpiece of our national security due to our peculiar geo-strategic location and adversarial big power politics. Perhaps this has been the besetting sin of the fertile plains of the Subcontinent that attracted waves of predatory attacks by warlike invaders from the north. A lesson internalised from two millennia old waves of conquests and migrations in the Indus Valley is the need for a strong defence capability to fend off threats to human security.

The changes in the nature and character of war need therefore to be studied carefully in order to retain a capability to buttress human security. The nature of war, according to Martin Van Creveld, is shifting away from Clausewitz’s Trinitarian to non-Trinitarian warfare.

In Trinitarian warfare, the armed forces waged wars under direction of the government involving the will of the people. After the nuclear revolution, conventional wars – especially between nuclear powers – have been replaced by unconventional conflicts spanning a wide gamut of conflicts including guerilla wars, terrorism, limited conventional clashes, and hybrid wars targeting important elements of national power potential like economy, national morale and cohesion. The hybrid threats are altering the nature as well as character of wars by adding a non-kinetic dimension to the conflict that is more amenable to non-kinetic response options compared to the traditional kinetic response.

The primordial violence in future wars, unlike past wars, is not going to target the means of war or the industrial infrastructure alone but the people’s will to fight a just war. The wars of the future might be waged by non-state proxies on behalf of an alien power which in turn would raise the ethical questions of flouting the existing laws of wars to prosecute the just wars. The perception management to target the national will residing more in the public domain rather than in government and armed forces’ domain as in the past would pose unique challenges demanding the right skill sets in the armed forces as well as other national institutions. The character of the wars is also changing to keep pace with the technological and sociological changes shaping future wars.

According to British General Jonathan Shaw, technology is altering the nature of warfare by altering the balance between the controllers of the violence and the perpetrators of violence. The ability of Artificial Intelligence, quantum mechanics, and Big Data to reduce the OODA loop (Observe, orient, decide, act) and give a decisive edge to technologically superior adversaries by reducing the time to act decisively is creating new possibilities as well as risks. What if a modern-day Dr Strangelove lets slip the dogs of war without giving adequate time to human judgment to assess the potential impact of the offensive action? The portents are fraught with the risks of accidental nuclear conflicts and unintended wars if the technology is not reined in by human judgment.

The foretaste of things to come was experienced in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict where weaponised drones showed the power of automated weapon systems. The future versions employing swarms of nano drones, capable of seeking and destroying targets, autonomous of human control on ground as well as in space, point towards the perils of automated warfare waged through autonomous weapon systems. The need for ‘humanists’ instead of ‘technologists’ directing warfare therefore assumes the greatest importance in the modern panoply of means of war giving space to human judgment instead of AI’s phenomenal power to control the pace of warfare. New laws of war need to be crafted in response to the technologically-enabled autonomy and lethality of dehumanised weapon platforms.

Since the digital age is democratising access to technologies, the risks of non-state or rogue actors accessing lethal munitions highlight the need for digital technology’s amenability to human intervention. Perhaps a global consensus is de rigueur to build ‘kill switch’ technologies in the future weapon platforms, especially the lethal autonomous drone systems. According to a Rand study authored by Raphael S Cohen and others, the enhancement of information warfare capacity, especially in grey zone warfare against hybrid threats along with investment in human capital to provide leadership that can rise above the digital fog of war, is the need of the hour.

In view of the changing nature and character of war, the national security response needs to accord equal weightage to conventional as well as gray zone warfare tailoring national security response to counter kinetic as well as non-kinetic threats. The above entails a reappraisal of our leadership grooming regimen with the military leadership exposed to statecraft and gray zone domains and the civilian leadership schooled in military strategy and its dialectics with emerging technological trends.

Since the changing nature of future warfare and modified character demands skills spanning the entire gamut of national power potential, there is a need to establish advisory institutions at national level combining civil and military competencies to help craft wholesome national security and military strategies.

The writer is a security analyst and

a PhD scholar. He can be reached at: