Review: In Hard Times; Security in a Time of Insecurity edited by Manoj Joshi, Praveen Swami and Nishtha Gautam
A new collection of essays outlines a security strategy to address the challenges of China and Pakistan
Given limited defence budgets and turbulent geopolitics, In Hard Times by Manoj Joshi, Praveen Swami and Nishtha Gautam promises to elucidate a smart strategy to address the challenges of China and Pakistan while also creating a strategic space for India’s aspirations in the Indian ocean region and beyond.
Extrapolating the changed character of war or how it will be fought from the Ukraine operations between Russia and NATO, it is clear that modern warfare will involve the extensive use of drones to ensure the effectiveness of long-range missiles and artillery. Drones will be guided by nerds capable of protecting radio links for communications, overcoming adversarial electronic warfare, and localising Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for reconnaissance and strikes by establishing enemy coordinates within minutes. Sensors with major powers are cheaper, smaller, smarter, and available in large numbers on land, sea, air, and space. There is no place to hide from these sensors. They have made fighting at night and day just the same. Smart sensors process data into meaningful information at the source itself to close the kill chain (sensor to shooter loop) fast. China already has “slaughter bots” or mini drones with facial recognition technology which will undermine Indian soldiers’ bravery by hitting and killing them without human combat.
Modern warfare is about “look deep and round the clock” and “hit deep and quicker”. The People’s Liberation Army is at the cutting edge of these technologies and war concepts (how to fight to optimise the use of technologies). Moreover, air and naval drones are progressively supplanting traditional aviation and the navy. The size of a platform will matter less than the capabilities it has. The age of software-driven robotic war is upon us with the PLA having the capability to fight in seven war domains (land, air, sea, outer space, near space, cyber, and the electromagnetic spectrum) against the Indian military’s three physical domains of land, air, and sea. Instead of the attrition strategy followed by the Indian military, the PLA has honed itself for cognitive confrontation. The latter involves assaulting an enemy nation’s political determination by combat through cyber and counter-space capabilities to bring civilian life to a standstill. The idea is also to hit communication nodes of the enemy’s military in the combat zone to destroy and disrupt its command and control.
Since the PLA has been identified as India’s primary threat, I was hoping the writers in this volume would share ideas on the prioritization of technology acquisition for asymmetrical war concepts. Their focus, instead, remains on the traditional threat: Pakistan. All of them believe that the PLA threat can be met by strengthening existing land, air, and sea domains with emerging technology as force multipliers or enablers. No one has suggested the need to develop new war domains of cyber, space, and electromagnetic spectrum where the PLA will fight to win the cognitive war with a minimum loss of lives. Worse, Lt General DS Hooda writes that “India has a 4,056km long-contested border with China,” whereas external affairs minister, S Jaishankar is on record saying that India’s border with China is 3,488km long. The reader wonders if this is carelessness or non-seriousness about the Chinese threat.
The opening chapter India’s World by Sanjaya Baru appears out of sync with reality. He writes that in a bi-multipolar world, “India by not getting drawn into the bi or G-2 (US-China) conflict can widen its strategic space, preserve its strategic autonomy and address its near-term economic challenges.” This is a faulty premise for three reasons. One, since India is now a part of US’ integrated deterrence (military power) for Indo Pacific region, it has lost its strategic autonomy. Two, since India has not invested in its own research and development for technologies of the third and fourth industrial revolution, its economic challenges will be met only partially. And three, since the balance of power does not work in a multipolar world, global geopolitics seems to be moving excruciatingly slowly towards bipolarity.
The chapters on the Indian Air Force talk about making air power into aerospace power. This entails two essentials: networking and the utilisation of space assets by manned aircraft. While Group Captain KK Khera laments that the “process of development of airborne data link (networking) is moving at a snail’s pace”, AVM Manmohan Bahadur rues the dwindling strength of combat aircraft. The writers miss the transformational changes in air power. The concept of aerospace power was relevant when space was militarised and not weaponised. Now, space is a war domain. Drones powered by jet engines (WZ-7 Soaring Drone with AI enabled networking and sensor fusion) and land-based missiles (to attack IAF fuel and ammunition dumps in main and diversionary bases) will be the PLA’s preferred weapons against the IAF. Since there will be no dogfights of Rafale with J-20 aircraft, operational surprises in the campaign could lead to early cognitive defeat. The PLA Air Force’s fourth and fifth generation aircraft will likely be weapons of choice in tactical battles with a peer competitor: the US Air Force. Loitering and precision-guided munition will be the mainstay. Lethal autonomous weapons will debut for first mover advantage.
The chapter on India’s Neglected Maritime Domain is a good read. Written by former naval chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, it focuses on the maritime domain and commercial shipbuilding rather than naval operations. He writes that “in the list of top 50 container ports worldwide, 14 are Chinese, while India has only two, at nos 33 and 38.” Similarly, the chapter on Women in the Armed Forces by Nishtha Gautam is well researched. Women can play a critical role in virtual war domains and Artificial Intelligence enabled unmanned war, which require multi-tasking.
The chapter on limited defence allocations reads like a general complaint, since monies will always be finite. For instance, the 2023 defence budget of the US is US$816 billion against China’s US$230 billion. Yet, the 2022 national defence strategy of the US has listed the PLA as its peer competitor, for the simple reason that the PLA has a smart cognitive warfare strategy. India needs a similar strategy. In Hard Times could have taken the road untravelled by outlining that strategy. Sadly, it chooses to follow the safe and well-trodden path, ending up as one of many such books already on the market.
Pravin Sawhney’s recent book is The Last War: How AI Will Shape India’s Final Showdown With China.