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Trends in Thinking about Warfare

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  • May 08, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: M. S Chowdhury
    Discussants: Rahul Bhonsle and Chandar S Sundaram

    “Trends in thinking about warfare” presented at the IDSA Fellow Seminar on 08 May, 2009 at IDSA New Delhi by Col. PK Gautam( Retd) was well received and critically reviewed by external discussant and internal peer discussants. The proceedings were chaired by Brigadier MS Chowdhuri, VSM ( Retd) Chief Instructor United Service Institute (USI) of India. External discussants were Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle, SM (Retired), author and analyst, and Dr Chandar Sundaram from the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, USI of India. Internal discussant were Wg Cdr Ajey Lele and S. Rajsimman.

    The paper identifies the following areas as unexplored or absent from Indian strategic community. The paper further argues that absence of these factors from Indian discourse may have its repercussion at both the level of research and policy making.

    • Understanding the various “ways” of warfare and status of the debate on strategic culture.
    • Invention of Fourth Generation War (4GW) and lessons from recent military operations including how the Chinese view it.
    • Neglect and trends in military history.

    The protracted nature of insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan compels one to think about the nature and character of war. While the nature of war continues to be enduring, the character has changed to that of a counterinsurgency campaign.

    The paper recommends strategic thinkers concerned with the military “use of force” in resolving “inter-state” and “intra-state” be sensitive to the available literature on the subject which debates whether modern war fighting capabilities enabled by hi-tech weaponry based on science and technology have ensured “victory”. The paper argues the importance for certain constructivist approaches to help research in this area. It begins its argument by stating that military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon have overemphasized modern military operations while ignoring other factors that may eventually decide the result of operations. The paper also stresses the “way of fighting” and highlights the “Maratha way” to underline this point.

    • Changing character of depth/ deep battle with hard and soft weapons (firepower and cyber power including EMP bombs). Overlap of force on force and spread of irregular warfare
    • Central role of contact battle( eye ball to eye ball) in India’s border deployment against China and Pakistan and also in counter insurgency war ( Chinese also claim : “China is strong in close warfare ; the enemy is strong in distant warfare” - Maj Gen Wang Pufeng )
    • In embryonic phases, partially due to ignorance, most Generals were against computerisation. Some warned against the perils of getting attracted to virtual reality at the cost of real world battle experience. Now most are for it and all know word processing and net use. Younger generation transmits culture of absorption of ICT to seniors. Wisdom of seniors under attack due to market forces and diminishing inter state wars and battle experience. Need for matching adult education.

    Observations by Discussants

    Brig Bhonsle recommended more references to Indian literature. He mentioned that the US has now achieved asymmetry in Iraq. Counter insurgency is always difficult in foreign lands and he recalled the Indian experience in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. As regards 4GW, he traced its origins to 1980s through the work of William Lind and others. Foreign literature he agreed was mostly about marketing products. As regards civil- military relations, he mentioned that one has to introspect within the services and noted that the Chief of Defence Staff was stymied by the Air Force. Blame thus is shared by all in lack of synergy in system.

    Dr Sundaram desired greater focus and suggested the replacement of warfare with warfighting. He traced how the British who were familiar with “guilds” where the concept of class had originated improvised to cement the regimental system in India based on its society, which rather cemented the units. One new and challenging area of research over the century was via content analysis of the USI journal which needs to be done for further research by scholars. The journal has been published since 1870- being the oldest surviving journal on defence issues in India – it would give a good idea on ways of thinking on warfare in the Indian context. Observing a tendency not to look at history, he also explained how political scientists have got the better of the topic than historians in general.. It is evident that historic lessons have been ignored – such as those of Vietnam, or of Iraq. Societies can not be treated as water, but as cultures. On the Chinese sources, they need to be treated with caution as they have very strict censorship laws. He lamented that in Indian democracy, there is excessive delay to get hold of even non classified historic papers which is counter productive. It is time that official war histories of 1962, 1965 and 1971 are made public

    Wg Cdr Lele suggested that ways of warfare are contextual – theater based, or guerrilla war or present state of asymmetric warfare. He opined that there is nothing Western or Eastern as regards RMA. In shock and awe and effect based operations he mentioned that winning war is not enough, but winning the peace is important . Subject is not only military, but involves policy makers, think tanks and academia. He noted that nanotechnology will usher in fifth generation warfare and we need to prepare.

    Mr. S.Rajasimman exemplifies on this aspect by arguing that the paper captures this phenomenon at two important levels. These are at 1) operational level 2) doctrinal level. Conceptualization at these two levels differs. The paper for instance does not assume a clear distinction between the both. Both “Iraq War” and “Afghan War” have been claimed and argued to be unsuccessful. The paper argues that the “protracted-insurgency based operations” in Iraq and Afghan has proven that Shock and Awe lost its sting. Here distinction needs to be made how the concept of “shock and awe” functions at operational level and doctrinal level. Operational success need not necessarily mean doctrinal success. In other words the overwhelming fire power and high-tech weapon systems used may have been successful at the operational or tactical level by achieving the “military objectives” against “political-social objectives” as part of the next phase in the war.


    Comments by E mail: Disagreeing on some issue such as 4GW, US performance and high end warfare capability, Colonel Peter Garretson, USAF concluded that the paper also manifests what is the central debates in the US which is :

    What is the future of warfare, and what should be our organizational emphasis

    Right now the forces to reform in favor of irregular prevail in power and noise

    But they are strongly checked by the services and existing budget

    Other concerns of Col. Garretson were about long-range conventional missiles, and cruise missiles, which he thought will change high-end warfare. Trends which he thought need to be highlighted since World War II were:

    An increase in examination of the future, at least organizational, from individual theorists, to VonKarman's New Horizons, to AF2025...

    The increase in capability of airpower, and the counters by those who don't have it

    The de-civilization of warfare by the disadvantaged

    Namrata Goswami wrote : “that unlike what George Tanham or Ashley Tellis would have us believe, Indian military is rather good at attrition warfare, if you take its long drawn engagement in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir as a success story - then the rather valid question would arise: why are they still there? . Therefore, I beg to differ with you on this aspect. I strongly argue that the growing militant violence in the North East especially Assam and Manipur is sign enough about the failure of countering insurgency effectively with devastating effect on overall way of life in these areas. Just managing violence between the security forces and the militants while turning a blind eye to extortion networks, social violence, and political instability tells badly on our military's way of warfare, if there is any at all”.

    Comments by Participants

    Commander Ranjit Rai (Retd) wanted more emphasis on strategic thinking. Dr Arvind Gupta, from his experience noted that much more coordination and work is needed including original Indian work on the Indian way of warfare including text books. Dr Uttam Sinha felt the need to pull out military writings of Indian authors which must include culture, history and trend analysis. Brigadier SP Sinha ( Retd) explained from his 1965 war experience on EBO as to how raw troops who were initially paralysed by artillery fire, got used to or inoculated to it after few days of shelling. Lesson was effect based must be understood in context and for time period. It does not last permanently. .

    Concluding Remarks of Chairman

    Chair highlighted the following

    • More work on India and other literature is needed.
    • Study of history is important to see how only use of air power as propounded by Douhet never succeeded.
    • On the point made by Dr Namrata Goswami via e mail, the chair said that he does not agree with her. In Nagaland the military has done an excellent job, but other organs of the state also have a role to perform which was found lacking.
    • The situation in Iraq is due to incorrect strategic thinking. Indian policy makers have done well to resist the temptation to send Indian troops to Iraq.
    • The implementation of the Kargil Review Committee Report is held up and must be speeded up.

    Over all observations

    All policy recommendations pertaining to study of war, theory building, nature of force employment study, more focus on conduct of war rather than just IR, not getting over awed by foreign literature, doctrines based on combat experience need to retain cultural values and renew debate on civil military relations. It was generally opined that the paper in terms of its idea was important in itself and also as a guide to future research in this area. Future research could benefit from the discourse analysis that this paper has attempted to highlight.

    Prepared by S.Rajasimman, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.