To win one hundred victories with a hundred battles is not the acme to skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. - Sun Tzu

Combat Journal | Jul 1, 1996

Crystalgazing : A Peep into the Future

January 2015, 1000 hours. The mellow rays of the winter sun glinted off the drum major’s baton as the coloufully attired brass band marched past the Chief of the Army Staff to the stirring strains of “Deshon ka Sartaj Bharat” at the end of the Army Day parade. Departing from the prepared text in the speech that followed, the Chief exhorted the Army to be vigilant and to be prepared to resolutely face the challenges being constantly posed by the neighbour across the border. The speech was telecast live to the nation and to almost half a million men deployed all along the border and in strike corps concentration areas, following the breakdown of diplomatic relations. As the Chief walked across to join the foreign diplomats and other guests for tea, his Military Attache (MA) received a message on his secure cellular phone that the Command Information and Decision Support System had gone on the blink since 0945 hours and that the systems engineers were working furiously to get it operational again. The MA decided to keep the news to himself for the time being and posted a duty officer to keep in touch with the Military Operations Directorate at the Army Headquarters.

1030 to 1115 hours. A series of seemingly unrelated and unprecedented events shook the nation’s security, information, financial, trade, communications and transportation infrastructure. At 1030 hours, the Finance (A series of seemingly unrelated and unprecedented events shook the nation’s security. information, financial, trade, communications and transportation infrastructure.) Minister and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India were informed that the inter-bank operations computer network had collapsed and no business could be transacted. The computers were automatically crediting and debiting millions of Rupees from one account to another in an unpredictable manner. At 1045 hours, the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange screen-based online trading systems malfunctioned; trading was postponed till the fault could be rectified. A computer logic bomb, set to activate at a predetermined time, was suspected.

At 1050 hours, the Air Traffic Control national computer network began generating false tracks and had to be shut down. The controllers at Delhi Airport switched to manual control to assist flights circling overhead to land; take-offs and all other operations were suspended. At 1100 hours, the Telecommunications Minister was informed that the computers controlling the telephone networks were behaving erratically and that all telephone and videophone calls, fax and E-mail messages and telegrams were being corrupted and directed to wrong destinations; software engineers were analysing the problem. At 1115 hours, permission was sought to shut down the nation’s telecom networks and to implement the contingency scheme to provide limited emergency services on standby circuits so that the computer virus suspected to have zapped the automatic electronic switching stations could be isolated and purged from the system.

1130 hours. Suddenly, without warning, the Railways telecom and traffic control networks stopped responding to commands and electronic routers went on the blink, throwing into jeopardy the fate of thousands of passenger trains and goods trains hurtling over the rails. Trishul, the tri-service communications and command and control network also began spewing meaningless gibberish on all control console screens; the vital link between the Operations Planning Centre of the Chief of Defence Staff and the Agni-1 and Agni-II missile control and launch centres was broken. Simultaneously, the National Power Grid began to trip and the lights went out one by one in all the north Indian states. The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, who were formulating strategy for the impending elections at their party headquarters, could be reached only by a VSAT satellite phone, courtesy a multinational company providing commercial service over the Iridium satellite network. They were informed about the seamless crisis enveloping the nation.

1200 hours. Due to the extensive communications breakdown, only about one-third of the members could be rounded up for the hurriedly convened meeting of the National Security Council in the underground National Command Post just outside Delhi. The Crisis Management Cell had swung into action within minutes of the major national networks having crashed and a damage limitation exercise was well underway, as per well-rehearsed SOPs, except that the complete breakdown of normal communications was detrimental to the execution of considered responses. Even as the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister stood up to commence his briefing regarding the magnitude of the ongoing crisis, the extent of damage, the effect on national vital interests, the immediate vulnerabilities, the political, diplomatic and military options to deal with the emergent situation and his tentative recommendations, news came in that the Indian Air Force’s newly-installed, ultra modern Air Defence Ground Environment System(ADGES) had crashed, rendering the nation’s air defences prone to a virtually undetectable air offensive by the enemy.

It was in a sombre mood that the top brass of the nation’s security planning apparatus, including the Chief of Defence Staff and the three Services Chiefs and their Directors General of Operations, heard a visibly embarrassed National Security Adviser outline the contours of the pre-emptive Cyber offensive launched by a wily and ruthless enemy. Clearly, the nation had been caught off guard as the enemy had exhibited an unanticipated ability to wage war without a shot being fired. The electronic equivalent of the Pearl Harbour disaster had struck the nation.

The Megamedia Revolution

Mankind’s progress through history has invariably been measured in terms of technology. Today, as the world stands poised at the threshold of a new millennium, the fusion of the Information Superhighway characterised by the Internet and multimedia (the most powerful and pervasive technologies of the 20th Century), is giving shape to the Megamedia Age. Truly, the implications for industry, defence and security are astonishing and the potential possibilities appear to be limited only by the extent of the world’s collective imagination.

Tom Peters, author of “In Search of Excellence”, says, “You’d have to be an idiot not to believe that we are at the very beginning of something really big.”[i] Three excellent recently released books are pointers to the likely shape of the unfolding megamedia revolution. “Megamedia Shakeout” by Kevin Maney is the boldest, toughest and bravest track on the megamedia radar. It is “complemented by the visionary fervour” of Frank Koelsch in “The Infomedia Revolution”. And, Bill Gates’ “The Road Ahead” is undoubtedly a prophetic look at the uncharted turbulent waters of an uncertain megamedia future. The latest development is the explosive emergence of Java, a powerful new computer language, that has the potential  to radically transform the manner in which programmes are written and the way computers network with each other on the Internet.[ii]

Third Wave Warfare

Innovations in technology have invariably led to changes in tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and sometimes even in doctrine. Recent dramatic developments in surveillance and target acquisition (SATA) technologies and precision guided munitions (PGMs) have ushered in what has been described as a “revolution in military affairs”.[iii] Operation Desert Storm during the 1991 Gulf War epitomised this revolution. Indeed, the range, speed and lethality of conventional military weapons appear to have reached the outer limits of development and their explosive combination has led to the emergence of what Alvin and Heidi Toffler have described as Third Wave warfare in their recent book entitled “War and Anti-War”.[iv] In the Tofflers’ perception, war-forms through history have corresponded with the three waves of civilisation, described in detail in their earlier book “The Third Wave”.[v] They believe that the First Wave civilisation was represented by the agrarian society, the Second Wave by the industrial revolution and the present Third Wave is characteristic of the emerging post-industrial society.

Third Wave war will not necessarily be a well defined conflict between two or more contending nation-states. The member states of the United Nations will no longer have a monopoly on waging war. General Gordon R Sullivan, US Army Chief of Staff writes that, “Corporations, religious groups, terrorist organisations, tribes, guerilla (Future wars between contending protagonists are likely to be all-encompassing, perpetually ongoing conflicts. The distinction between peace and war will be blurred as not all military operations in future may be violent and physically destructive.) bands, drug cartels or other crime syndicates, clans and others  can wage war and have done so.”[vi] The ongoing conflicts in Somalia and Rwanda are symptomatic of this paradigm shift in the concept of war as understood at present. Hence, Third Wave armies will need to be more flexible and versatile in order to face multi-dimensional threats encompassing the entire spectrum of conflict from low intensity conflict (UC) to full-scale conventional and even nuclear war.

Cyberwars :  Conflict In the Fourth Dimension

Future wars between contending protagonists are likely to be all-encompassing, perpetually ongoing conflicts. The distinction between peace and war will be blurred as not all military operations in future may be violent and physically destructive. Since the aim will be to subdue the enemy without fighting, non-violent operations to cripple a society and to deny it the ability to wage war, may be launched to wreck its information grids and systems, banking and telecom systems, transportation and traffic control systems, power grids and computer networks, even (One of the primary dimensions of future wars will be the cyberspace medium linking computer and information networks. Such wars in the fourth dimension have come to be known as “cyberwars’.) during seemingly peaceful interludes. At the core of the new military doctrine for fighting Third Wave wars will be the concept that the control and manipulation of information and widespread knowledge of the, enemy’s military, industrial, diplomatic, political, civic and cybernetic assets, will be essential pre-requisites for success. According to an old German proverb, “Wissen ist macht” (knowledge is power).

Besides conflict at land, sea, in the air and in space, one of the primary dimensions of future wars will be the cyberspace medium linking computer and information networks. Such wars in the fourth dimension have come to be known as “cyberwars”. Writing a perceptive piece on the subject in “Defence News”, Pat Cooper states that, “The ability to wage war in cyberspace has a deterrent value that rates between the threat of a conventional military attack and a nuclear strike.”[vii] In the same article, Arthur Cebrowski, Director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is quoted as saying, The strategic landscape Is forever changed, like when nuclear arms (first) appeared.” Regardless of what term Is used to describe the war-form of the future — besides cyberwars, the other terms in vogue include knowledge warfare, information warfare, command and control warfare and Info-Doctrine — it is clear that an information and knowledge driven new type of war-form has emerged and its manifold nuances and far-reaching implications need to be studied and analysed in detail so as to derive a viable military doctrine to wage as also oppose it successfully.

Information Operations

Advances in information management and distribution, combined with developments in communications technology, will allow non-hierarchical dissemination of intelligence. This will facilitate the horizontal integration of battlefield functions. Writing about battle dynamics, Brig Gen Morris J Boyd and Maj Michael Woodgerd, US Army, state that, “Through shared situational • awareness, combatants can coordinate some actions better than a higher headquarters can by directive command.”[viii]

Information assimilation, through analysing disparate fragments of information and synthesizing them to form a coherent picture of the battle, will be immensely facilitated by information age command and control systems. Commanders will be better able to separate information that is critical to mission accomplishment from that which is of secondary importance. “Future information technology will provide the means to collect, process, disseminate and display information In an unprecedented  manner Protection of friendly information systems from myriad threats while exploiting and/or denying the enemy use of his systems will be absolutely Critical. In the future, information operations at strategic, operational and tactical levels must be fully integrated into the planning, preparation and rehearsal for every operation.”[ix]

The exploitation of information for own use and its denial to the enemy, will become a key tenet for the planning and conduct of cyberwars. Information operations will need to be organised as joint operations to include the platforms and systems of land, sea, air and space forces so as to achieve the synergetic effect of a force that is greater than the sum of its parts. So important will be the handling of information on the future battlefield that many military thinkers are recommending the institution of information as the tenth Principle of War.

Characteristics of Cyberwars of the Future

Cyberwars will have far more complex dynamics than any war of the past. Given the present nascent stage of the evolution of doctrine and concept of cyberwars, it is not (Cyberwars will involve continuous, high-tempo, lethal and non-lethal operations against both military and civilian high-value targets.) possible to predict with any degree of assurance the ultimate shape that the new war-form may take. Only an attempt can be made to surmise the essential characteristics of cyberwars. These are likely to be as follows:-

  •  Cyberwars will involve continuous, high-tempo, lethal and non-lethal operations against both military and civilian high-value targets.
  •  Non-lethal cyberwars, in particular, need not necessarily be initiated only by hostile neighbours across the national boundaries. inimical forces located anywhere on the globe will be able to invade a target country’s command and control systems, information grid and industrial infrastructure networks without being easily detected or even suspected.
  • Cyberwars will be politically and militarily complex and will involve the synergistic application of all elements of national and military power.
  • Due to their vast potential for destructiveness, they will be short and intense. By the same token of consideration, they will also be more likely to be decisive.
  • Cyberwars will seek to achieve victory through the exploitation of the principle of the concentration of effects rather than that of the concentration of forces.
  • They will be technology intensive and will seek to protect armed forces manpower from unnecessary exposure to the dangers of combat. They will also attempt to shield friendly civilian population from the ravages of war.
  • Cyberwar operations will be simultaneous, non-linear, multidimensional and seamless and will be characterised by immense flexibility in planning and execution.
  • Being non-linear and seamless, cyberwars will be conducted in considerably expanded battlespace. The spatial expansion of the future joint battlefield will result in service-specific functional battlespaces intersecting and overlapping.”[x]
  • Electronic attack will be the predominant method of crippling the enemy’s command and control systems, fire power assets and SATA and intelligence gathering and dissemination means.
  • Psychological operations will aim to target the commanders’ mind to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and, ultimately, their behaviour.
  • Defensive operations will need to concentrate on protecting own information, intelligence, command and control assets and communications networks by instituting passwords, sophisticated encryption techniques and several layers of anti-virus measures.
  • During the execution stage in particular, command will need to be decentralised and success will hinge upon the ability of commanders at all levels to take calculated risks and to seize the initiative.
  • Fighting in urban and semi-urban environments will demand the employment of non-lethal weapons, primarily though not exclusively, in order to minimise non-combatant casualties and collateral damage, in conformity with the increasing emphasis on the prevention of human rights violations.

Spectrum Supremacy and Cyberweapons

Cyberwar techniques will emphasise propaganda, deception, illusion and concealment. These techniques are predicated upon exercising spectrum supremacy. While control over the entire electromagnetic spectrum may be virtually impossible to achieve, the key portions relevant to each operation will have to be aggressively dominated for the required duration.

Non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse generators will be the weapons of choice for such operations. Such weapons cause no overt physical damage but can ‘fry the components of radars, electronic networks and computers.[xi] The extensive use of electronic viruses to infect enemy computer networks so as to gain access and plant false messages, alter records and engage in espionage, will be commonplace. Simulation and false target generation techniques will also be employed to confuse and even mis-direct missiles and smart/brilliant munitions.

Among other cyberweapons, a recent article in Time magazine lists logic bombs set to ‘detonate” at a predetermined time after lying dormant for long in an adversary’s computer network; electronic jamming and deception to generate false messages and information and the manipulation of a nation’s will by telecasting propaganda over normal satellite and terrestrial commercial channels, including derogatory references to its leaders and showing them in a poor light.[xii] Specially bred microbes which ‘eat’ the electronic circuitry of computers, are also likely to be employed to fight cyberwars. Space-based information acquisition and denial systems will also assist in the gaining of spectrum supremacy.

Neocortical Warfare

Colonel Richard Szafranski, US Air Force, has termed the subduing of adversaries without violence as ‘neocortical warfare”. (The expression “neocortical” is derived from cortex, the outer covering of the brain, and is related by association to the mind.) He believes that there are differences between the theories of cyberwar and neocortical warfare. According to him, ‘Neocortical warfare considers conflicts involving national security as warfare, thereby eradicating the grey areas between peace and war and the distinctions that could separate today’s armed forces form tomorrow’s national security forces. It views subduing  hostile will, or control over the adversary , as the aim of conflict, including war.[xiii] According to him, all hostile acts, which may be otherwise short of war, such as the abetment of and support to terrorism, are part of neocortical warfare.

Neocortical warfare concentrates on understanding the potential adversaries’ culture, world view and the “representational systems the adversary recognises, values and uses to communicate intent…This allows us to corelate values. The objective is to shape the enemy’s impressions as well as the enemy’s initiatives and responses, pacing the enemy through the cycle of observation, orientation, decision and action.”

Cyberwarfare : Dream or Reality?

The armed forces of the United States are at the forefront of evolving doctrine and TTPs for cyberwarfare. Douglas Waller writes that, “The Pentagon has wide-ranging plans to revolutionize the battlefield with information technology…….. By 2010 the army hopes to digitize the battlefield, linking every soldier and weapons system electronically.” While the National Defence University at Washington and the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, are conducting training courses on cyberwars, scientists at various laboratories in the US are busy designing and testing weapons for this new form of warfare. Simultaneously, a systematic force restructuring is underway, with a blurring of the distinction between soldier and civilian.

Answering a question on cyberwars in an interview with Frontline recently, General Shankar Roy Chowdhury, PVSM, ADC, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), remarked, “The efficacy of equipment and technology can be greatly enhanced by making use of cybernetics for integrating the transfer of information from the juniormost  field commanders to the highest level of decision making.” It is clear from the statement of the COAS that the concept of cyberwars has arrived in India. The evolution of (Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) remarked “The efficacy of equipment and technology….. can be greatly enhance by making use of cybernetics for integrating the transfer of information from the juniormost field commanders to the highest level of decision making.”) suitable doctrine and the requisite equipment and force structures can only be a matter of tie and the will to overcome budgetary constraints.

 Revolution in Military Affairs

The emergence of the Cyber battlefield  can be seen as both an evolutionary and a revolutionary development. In so  much as it utilises most of the existing military concepts weapon systems and organisations, it is evolutionary. It is revolutionary in that it seeks to provide new capabilities to commanders to influence and subvert the will of their opponent through mperceptible but nonetheless debilitating non-violent means as a prelude to more conventional operations, should they become necessary — a type of cybernetic intelligence preparation of the battlefield. However, the military is generally characterised as an extremely conservative force in society —a rigidly hierarchical organisation   which is resistant to change and is unlikely to take kindly to revolutionary new doctrines. It is in this context that the peep into future history, conjectured at the beginning of the article, is offered as a plausible scenario in the megamedia age ahead. Only forward looking and innovative armed force can take up the technologies into military operations to dominate the cyberwar battlefields of the future so as to subdue the adversary without fighting.

While much will change in the Megamedia Age, cyberwars will not be “remote, bloodless, sterile or risk-free.” There will be a marked reliance on knowledge and information. Preparation of the battlefield will involve gathering maximum intelligence about the enemy, while preventing him from knowing much about oneself. It will imply turning the “balance of information and knowledge in one’s favour, especially if the balance of forces is not.” The aim will be to dislocate, paralyse and incapacitate the opposing commanders’ minds to force the enemy to capitulate without fighting. The results which are likely to be achieved will be decisive and out of all proportion to the effort applied. However, fundamental military revolutions, particularly evolutionary ones, require detailed analysis, thorough study and meticulous experimentation before they can be absorbed into the doctrinal lexicon and implemented at the functional level. If the frightening 2015 scenario outlined in this article is to be avoided, the time to begin our odyssey on the road to cyberwars is now.

[i]               Tambe, Mohan, ‘The Emergence of Megamedia’, Computers Today, New Delhi, December 1995, p. 69.

[ii]               Bhatia, Vivek, ‘The Java Revolution’, Business Today, New Delhi, 7-12 February 1996, pp. 76-77.

[iii]              Saw, David, ‘Force )0(1 : Towards the Digital Army of the Future? Defence News (Marketing Supplement),    London, September 1995, p.6.

[iv]              Toffler, Alvin and Heidi, ‘War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century’, Warner Books,           London, 1994, pp. 79-103.

[v]                Toffler, Alvin and Heidi, The Third Wave, Ban-tam, New York, 1980.

[vi]              Sullivan, Gen Gordon R. and Col James M. Dubik, ‘War in the Information Age’ Military Review, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, April 1994, p. 54.

[vii]             Cooper, Pat, “Information Warfare Sprrks Security affairs Revolution’, Defence News, London 1218 June 1995, pp. 1 & 66.

[viii]             Body Brig Gen Morris J. and Woodgerd, Maj Michael, ‘Force XXI Operations’, Military Review, Fort  Leavenworth, Kansas, November 1994, p.21.

[ix]               Ibid., pp. 20 and 22,

[x]               Ibid., p.22.

[xi]              Toffler, War and Anti-War, p. 194.

[xii]             Szafranski, Col Richard, ‘Neocortical Warfare? The Acme of Skill’, Military Review, Fort Leavenworth,  Kansas, November 1994, p. 55.

[xiii]             Cherian, John, ‘Modernising the Force’, Frontline, Madras, 8 March 1996, p. 10.