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9th Y B Chavan Memorial Lecture on Addressing the Challenges of Hybrid Conflict in the 21st Century

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  • General Bipin Rawat, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, ADC, Chief of Army Staff
    November 28, 2018


    1. Good Morning. It gives me great pleasure to be here today. I consider this a privilege and I thank IDSA for inviting me to deliver a talk on the topic, “Addressing the Challenges of Hybrid Conflict in the 21st Century”. Given India’s context, this topic is very apt and contemporary.
    2. Hybrid Warfare is a form of war fighting which is all encompassing. Rather than focussing on destroying an enemy’s military capability, it focuses on population and infra as the centre of gravity. It covers the full spectrum of warfare by combining the vigour/lethality of conventional warfare with fanatical fervour of irregular warfare and untapped spectrum of technology for cyber and info warfare. It also entails creating acts of criminal disorder, law & order issues and public disorder in the target country during peace. It embodies the age old saying ‘All is fair in war’!
    3. Origin of the Term

    4. The use of the term ‘Hybrid warfare’ in the military lexicon is relatively new. Some academics opine that it was coined after the 2006 Israel Hezbollah conflict, (US Maritime Strategy mentioned it in 2007); some opine that the beginning was made in Afghanistan when the Taliban and the Mujahideen were employed, with state patronage, against the erstwhile Soviet Union; some others associate the term in connection with action by Hezbollah and Al Qaeda where non state actors were pitted against far superior conventional forces. However, while the means by which state and non-state actors conduct hybrid war today have changed, the fundamental principle of utilizing a combination of conventional and irregular methods to achieve a political objective is consistent with older forms of conflict. Chanakya’s articulation in ‘Arthashastra’ highlights the various variants of warfare. Mantrayudha is the use of diplomacy to wage and win wars followed by Prakasayudha or conventional warfare under the laid down norms of warfare. Kutyudha refers to concealed warfare which is an amalgam of treachery, deceit and other irregular means and finally Tusnimyudha; silent warfare where in war is waged without declaring it and fought by proxies and collusion. In the modern context, the various components of hybrid warfare were articulated by Chanakya and Sun Tzu several thousand years ago. Closer to our age, around two centuries ago, Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz had noted that, “War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case”. Similar statements have been made by many great thinkers. Indian Army operations in 1971 combined with indigenous ‘Mukti Bahini’ in erstwhile East Pakistan were also Clauswitzian in nature of fighting a people’s war. Thus, I opine that Hybrid warfare has existed since the history of mankind.
    5. Over centuries, ‘Hybrid Warfare’ or more broadly conflicts which could not be easily justified or classified have been known as ‘New Wars’, ‘Fourth-generation Warfare’ ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ or the recent Russian articulation of Garisimov doctrine in 2012 which alluded to ‘ambiguous warfare’. Ancient Indian history is replete with examples of seeds of dissent being sown amongst populations by warring Kings, as are tales of treachery, bribery, connivance and subversion. In contemporary context, India has been a victim of this form of warfare since independence about which I shall speak later. In the 21st century, what has changed is the phenomenal technological leapfrog which has added greater asymmetry to Hybrid Warfare. Today’s irregulars, surprise conventional forces by use of hi-tech gadgets and weapons such as rockets, surface to air missiles, very sophisticated communication and the near instant reach back to their state sponsors. Small but tech savvy teams with intricate local knowledge and some support can thus cause big disruptions. This asymmetry has always existed in Hybrid wars.
    6. Hybrid Warfare Vs Asymmetric Warfare

    7. Sometimes, the term Hybrid warfare is confused with Asymmetric Warfare. However, the two terms are not really the same. While asymmetry can manifest from asymmetry of force, technology, methods, battle space, goals, organisation, morality & threshold; Hybrid implies employing regular and irregular means in tandem to include terrorists, criminals, counterfeit currency, economic means, assertive diplomacy, private hackers & other non state actors. The connection between the two terms lies in the fact that asymmetric techniques can be employed within Hybrid Warfare. As an example, the dropping of an atomic bomb is asymmetric but not hybrid.
    8. Like I said, the manifestation of Hybrid warfare can be in multiple forms; terror attacks, diplomatic intervention, political pressure, economic sanctions, economic disruptions, intelligence ops, propaganda and cyber attacks all intertwined with the employment of conventional forces in the background. This includes disruptive techniques like stone throwing, mob protests and school burning. As is well known, Hybrid operations tend to last a long time and their prime intent is to maintain deniability. This is what we are experiencing in Kashmir.
    9. Since the ‘minds’ of the leader and the population are the Centres of Gravity, belligerents seek to use ‘mental munitions’ along with hardware munitions. They would continue to aim to create frenzy by terror accompanied by psychological warfare of propaganda just remaining below the conventional threshold. Thus, technological superiority, precision weapons and a networked approach of a conventional force are often inadequate tools to deal with it. It may be recounted that these modern tools did not allow the US coalition operations to achieve swift overall and ultimate victory in the 2003 Iraq War or in Afghanistan, as it had done in the 1991 Gulf campaign. The physical manifestation of this conceptual dilemma is that we are always or almost always incorrectly prepared for a conflict, to colloquially state it, is to arrive for a cricket match with a hockey stick in hand.
    10. The Tools

    11. Having seen the issue, and before addressing the ways to address this challenge of Hybrid Warfare in the 21st century, I would like to delve a little deeper into what it takes for this form of warfare to succeed. That is so to say; think from the enemy’s point of view. As is reasonably evident, the synergistic application of force across multiple domains needs a very good organisation and network to thrive. Never can the various manifestations of ‘Hybrid threats’ succeed in isolation from each other. As an example, the whole world is aware that the terrorist training camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are being run by their government agencies that also plan disruptions in India in other forms. Undeniably, almost all trouble in Jammu and Kashmir is state sponsored. This synergy between centrally controlled agencies is important to understand because only then can we “address the challenges of Hybrid conflict in the 21st century”.
    12. Conduct of ‘hybrid warfare’ also faces some vulnerabilities, which can be exploited. First, decentralization of command structures makes it hard to achieve and exploit its successes. The instigators constantly risk losing control of the choreographed plan. Second, and more importantly, hybrid warfare as a concept runs into serious trouble while defining as to when would the aims of hybrid warfare be achieved? What does winning mean, and what would be the desired end state? In other words, owing to its internal inconsistency, the concept of hybrid warfare seems difficult to operationalise into a coherent line of effort for purposeful gains. The effectiveness of a ‘strategy’ that leaves no room for defining its own parameters of success in time, space and end state is thus doubtful. States practicing this often fall victims to these tactics internally. Also, each of these Hybrid Wars are contextually different.
    13. It is important to set the context because a counter strategy is always context-dependent. The presumption that any set mode of warfare or doctrinal approach will lead to military victory irrespective of the circumstances neglects the fact that the success of a strategy is always and always context-dependent. Our tools may not fit another threat and vice-versa.
    14. There is no denying the fact that any hybrid threat needs some support by local, social and ethnic contexts. However, there is no doubt that in Indian context, it can only thrive by the designs of our Western neighbour who perpetrates terror in India and has a rich experience in the use of irregulars. A little while ago, I said that India has been subjected to this challenge since our independence. Pakistan has used irregulars repeatedly since 1948 when irregulars reinforced by the Army captured some border areas of Jammu and Kashmir. Irregulars were also launched in 1965 by Pakistan before the main offensive and in more recent memory, their Kargil misadventure was also an example of Hybrid warfare. Fine calibration of terror activities adapted to the local context and supported by regular forces which can remain non attributable has been Pakistan’s modus operandi against India for very long. Through the combination of modes of action, our adversaries aim to attenuate our capabilities during troubled peace while lowering their accountability.
    15. Hybrid Warfare is Here to Stay

    16. In our context, the militaries of our neighbours enjoy primacy in their internal affairs. This makes them use all governmental agencies in coordination against us when they feel like. Therefore, this form of warfare is likely to endure. Remaining just below the conventional threshold, our neighbours may try to innovate their designs in the future to foment trouble in India and disrupt our path of peaceful progress. This type of coercion is here to stay.
    17. The question which arises is what should be our ideal response to an adversary which is erratic, aggressive and possesses a terror mentality throughout the state machinery?
    18. Overcoming the Challenge

    19. Before I put forth my views on how to overcome this challenge in contemporary terms, I wish to compliment the heartening resolve being displayed by our officers and men in combating the proxy war being orchestrated by our adversary in Jammu & Kashmir. The professionalism in our pursuits is reflective of the collective efforts of all government agencies operating in the Kashmir Valley.  The synergy between all elements of national power is essential to defeat the Hybrid War.
    20. This form of warfare is difficult to deter with conventional means alone. Therefore, force profiling for future must have the requisite balance and dynamism to transition from one mode of conflict to another. Though clichéd, this one size has to fit all. In case it is decided to focus on one factor more than the others, the adversary would be quick to learn the kink and change the playing field again to capitalize on asymmetry. Supremacy in one front/ mode of warfare cannot be at the cost of the other, it is not an either/or situation but sadly an ‘and’ situation wherein preparation to manage the spectrum of conflict has to be complete.
    21. Like I said, our enemies are employing hybrid techniques against us to their advantage. These nations continue to exploit and incite the people by spreading propaganda & violence, coupled with mainstream military backing. Cross border firings are also very common.
    22. We have two options with us. One is to engage in offensive Hybrid Warfare as a nation and the second is to defend against this threat proactively. In weighing these options, our standing in the global strategic framework, our reputation, our nation’s sensibilities and training and organisation of our agencies need to be looked at comprehensively.
    23. Offensive Option. In as far as the offensive option is concerned, some of us may opine that activation of offensive Hybrid Warfare, will force our enemies to look inwards. In the long term, offensive Hybrid Warfare will create standoffs in the sub conventional spectrum itself by attacking their internal dynamics, conflicts and fault lines without us having to jump to the conventional spectrum and this would not invoke the pressures of large-scale wars. However, as a nation we have never been expansionist. We also believe in fairness. India strongly believes in living in peace and harmony with its neighbours. The well being and development of its people, through sustained economic growth remains our continued focus and our core national interest. Thus, creating unrest in our neighbour’s territory should not be the first choice. Moreover, as evidenced in Pakistan, there are no good or bad terrorists. Sooner or later, such use of irregulars as a strategy destabilises the country internally. Also, it takes the focus away from development. Thus, in my opinion, in our case, we should prefer the proactive defence option against Hybrid war, through ltd Hybrid in sp of proactive defence is advisable. This will involve the whole of government approach.
    24. Proactive Defence - The Preferred Option.           Currently, agitational dynamics in Jammu and Kashmir, triggered by nefarious elements in the form of violent protests interfere significantly in the operations of security forces. Radicalisation efforts and proliferation of social media, targeted killings of civilians, political leaders and security forces personnel by terrorists are challenges which need to be addressed earliest. This mandates a new integrated response strategy which is focussed on governmental outreach, political dialogue, good governance, situational awareness, domination and intelligence based operations.
    25. Militarily, this starts with the broad domain called ‘intelligence’ that encompasses Space, Cyber, Electronic and Human vectors. In order for it to be effective, it must be multi-modal and therefore requires adequate resourcing. The Indian Army endeavours to separate the few anti-national elements from the local populace and target terrorists, while keeping local public sentiments and perception in mind.  I am sure that our extensive experience in counter terrorism will stand us in good stead in this endeavour.
    26. Perception in J&K  

    27. So, the question is how do we address the perception mosaic? In recent times, the tolerance levels of the public in Kashmir have reduced and perceived alienation is indicative of a definite aspirational deficit amongst the local youth. The Kashmiri youth is being indoctrinated to act irrationally. Proliferation of social media has further compounded the challenge and contributes towards the spread of an anti-establishment narrative.
    28. Perceptions in J&K vary, based on whose ‘story’ you are listening, thus making each narrative different. These narratives are built around the constructs of radicalisation, alienation, agitation, religious fundamentalism and anti nationalism on one hand and the perception of a Kashmiri common man on the other. Like I have said, this merits a co-ordinated approach and response.
    29. I advocate three Lines of Action: Firstly, ‘Work Together’. This applies to inter agency cooperation within India and working with our international friends to blunt the hybrid advantages of terror states. Secondly, we must effectively ‘Communicate The Right Narrative’ to our people and thirdly we must be able to ‘Harness Technology’ and make use of it optimally. This would require both offensive and defensive technology options especially in the cyber domain.
    30. Working Together. Coming to first part i.e. Working Together. All government agencies are working in synergy. Diplomatically, given India’s soft power, we can utilise a strategy for ‘non-violent compellence’ to isolate Pakistan internationally. Already, the world is seeing the truth behind the veiled state which encourages terrorists on its soil. Economically, we should not shy away from projects which are beneficial to our economic progress. One example which comes to mind is to use our own share of Indus water as legally available to us under the treaty. Political dialogue and governance also need a push. Water as tool of war.
    31. As far as Indian Army goes, we continue to share our core expertise, experience and training facilities to augment the capabilities of Central Armed Police Forces. We are training Central Armed Police personnel in Counter Terrorism operations. Selected CAPF and State Police Battalions undergo pre induction training prior to deployment in disturbed areas. It also entails Counter Improvised Explosive Device training and attachment of CAPF personnel with infantry battalions. So far we have trained 28,141 personnel in Counter Terrorism operations. 83 CAPF/ Police Battalions have undergone pre induction training. 6724 personnel have been imparted counter IED training. In addition, 1350 CAPF officers have undergone attachment with infantry battalions. We will continue working with all agencies which work for peace in our country.
    32. Communicate the Right Narrative - Psy Operations.     Infiltrating the minds of youth and the civil society (whatever little exists in Pakistan) with what India represents vis-à-vis Pakistan, would go a long way in securing the desired geo-political objectives. Psychological munitions are difficult to counter instantaneously and thus require advance preparation and constant updation. Our narrative is superior. What can be better than a vibrant democracy for a human mind and human aspirations to thrive. This narrative needs to be propagated better.
    33. Harness Technology.     In the future scenario, cyber domain will emerge as the real battleground. Some of the tech savvy and more sophisticated belligerents are using this already with great élan. Belligerents could jam important industrial infrastructure of opponents temporarily. As this audience may be well aware, this has been done in the past. India has advanced capabilities in the field of space technology and GPS systems in South Asia, which can be used to liquidate our recalcitrant adversary in the cyber domain. We are close to establishing the Defence Space Agency and the Defence Cyber Agency. This would deepen our integration and synergy between the government agencies.
    34. Way Ahead

    35. Before closing, I would like to share some thoughts on the way ahead. Modern hybrid war that simultaneously combines conventional, irregular, and terrorist components is a complex challenge that requires an adaptable and versatile military to overcome. Thus, our response and strategy needs to be congruent to the complex and changing dynamics. There is a need for highlighting the correct narrative and strongly negating the false propaganda being propagated by the separatists/ terrorists. Army has always been acting professionally in providing a sense of security to the population while operating within the laid down rules of engagement. However adequate measures need to be enforced to control the agitators. The Army is for the Kashmiri people.  We are separating the few select anti-national elements from the Kashmiri people and dealing with them as per laid down procedures. At the same time, the Army is alive to its responsibilities and continues to keep in mind local sentiments during the conduct of operations.
    36. Aspirations of the youth in Kashmir have changed and the same need to be considered in our response strategies. There is obviously a need for greater positive engagement with the youth to motivate them to remain off the streets. Our strategy needs to address issues at systemic level and behavioural level – both individual and collective, and take into account aspiration of the youth in psychological, social and economic domains.
    37. There is a need to positively engage educated and tech savvy youth and channelize them away from the fascination of stone pelting & gun. We need to harness the youth through economic development and increasing employment opportunities. To be able to effectively counter the perceived alienation of the populace, there is a need to create a stronger counter narrative as part of the comprehensive long term strategic vision. All efforts should thereafter be focussed towards achieving this vision. Army has been carrying out perception management operations as part of Operation Sadbhavna in J&K for the last two and half decades, but the actions of all the agencies operating in J&K need to be integrated towards achieving our Strategic Vision. A sustained, concerted & coordinated effort with all stakeholders synergised towards the greater good of the nation is required. The battle is for the minds of the people of Kashmir. This important endeavour needs to be proactive, steady and consistent in order to achieve the desired outcomes.
    38. Lastly, I must emphasize, that a concerted effort towards a synergized response is essential. Each act of cowardice by our enemies will be rebuked and rebutted with more vigour than imaginable. No soldier’s sacrifice will go in vain. Each and every uniformed person, is committed to this integrated response and that is the way ahead for addressing Hybrid Wars.

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