Book Review – Future Of Land Warfare: Beyond The Horizon

 By Medhansh Bhardwaj

In order to understand the complexities of the dynamic reality in which the field of defense and strategic studies works, it is necessary to understand the evolving spectrum of warfare. To this end, the scholarship of this book helps the reader to understand the technicalities of land warfare and its changing outlook on the basis of a multitude of factors. Its emphasis on the evolving Indian defense environment allows for a qualitative understanding of a very complex subject; co-authored and edited by Maj. Gen. (Dr.) P.K. Chakravorty, VSM (Retd.), this book does justice in characterizing these complex realities. A graduate of the National Defense Academy, his areas of focus include geostrategy, firepower, and defense procurement. In his decorated career, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Chakravorty served as Deputy Director-General of the Perspective Planning Directorate, Defense Attaché in Vietnam, and Deputy Director-General of Artillery at the Army Headquarters. Also, having served as an Advisor to BrahMos Aerospace, currently, he serves as a Senior Fellow (Veteran) at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). The profound prowess is brilliantly displayed by the author as the book attempts to analyse the future of land warfare and its evolution as projected till 2035.

These warrant the authorship of the book stemming from the meticulous proficiency of the author. The book brings together the experience and expertise of practitioners and scholars in the field to churn a repertoire of easily comprehendible, holistic, and expansive material to understand future warfare. The attempt is to analyse the same in the Indian context in the domains of land, sea, undersea, air and outer space, extending to use of technology in cyberspace and application of Artificial Intelligence. It is able to provide an accessible and comprehendible reservoir of security and defence knowledge, to experts and practitioners as well as the enthusiasts and budding scholars of the field. Since the book deals with the Indian construct from a geo-political outlook, emphasising on the defence and security domain, it provides an exhaustive knowledge of the current scenario in which Indian forces operate while drawing an in-depth road ahead for the Indian defence establishment.

Recent analyses suggest blurring constricted lines of difference between war and peace, conventional and unconventional, state, non-state and interstate, irregular and regular warfare. This leaves enormous scope for ambiguity and uncertainty (of the outlook of future wars) in the domain of defence studies and related academia. It is a void that the author attempts to fill in an explanatory manner. To effectuate better discourse on the future warfare, questions regarding its evolving nature and character need to be addressed. Set in a time frame of 15 years, the book in its recommendatory nature – in terms of both policy and capacity development – contextualizes the growing threats in the Indian subcontinent, giving centrality to the collusive threat posed by the two North Western and Eastern neighbours. It places focus on the hyper-modernization, changing character of conflict, asymmetric capabilities, hybrid warfare along with India’s readiness and preparedness to engage with the adversaries, while keeping intact its territorial integrity and national sovereignty. While analysing the changing global outlook of the defence capabilities and offensiveness, focusing on the Indian subcontinent, it not only deals with the historical context but through the process of examining India’s capabilities, it suggests reforming and restructuring of institutions to enhance adeptness.

The book starts with, “DEDICATED TO ALL THE BOOTS ON GROUND” which does justice to the premise that it is based on. Primacy to the changing context of land warfare is crucial to the way the book is oriented, as it commences from emphasizing on the normative value of ‘janpada’ or land territory, reviewed from a lens of imperativeness of foot soldiers or infantry in the 21st century and its addition to the Comprehensive National Power (“CNP”). The core metrics of approaching warfare have more or less been consistent as evident in the importance attached to the land territory by most of the forces operating in the current geo-political paradigm. The author of the chapter emphasizes as to how the value of land territory is an evolving dynamic notion, balanced on a scale of trade-offs and is key to a country’s CNP – both in terms of resources and influence. A key observation from the historical perspective does provide a context in which we currently view the modern infantry while attempting to crystal gaze at the evolving dynamicity of the territory and its importance.

From here, the book attempts to analyse the possible context of land warfare, including but not limited to pertinent questions such as the causal/ triggering factors, engaging actors, modality of engagement, the relevance of conventional means and forces, and the typology of such wars. It can be argued that a crucial extension is made in terms of predicting the larger themes and contours in which future warfare can be operationalized. The section commences to then ground the future operational environment of the Indian subcontinent to give better clarity in terms of the global security trends, regional aspirations in the Indian continent along with more nuanced complexities in conjunction with their implications. The analysis is thought-provoking as it views the engagements to be hybrid, the gaps between conventional and non-conventional slowly diminishing, different actors posing a collusive threat, and conflicts emanating in grey and asymmetric domains. The extension to this argument lies in the future doctrinal and reformative measures, drawn into broader contours of military orientation and security strategies. It analyses in detail India’s direct engagements with the most predictable adversaries along with a focus on the kind of engagements, thus being able to give clarity on the advised preparedness. In the backdrop of a nuclear overhang, the chapter that follows attempts to analyse the security challenges in land warfare. Through the course of changing geopolitical landscape and constant innovation, uncertainty and ambiguity are seen as the dominant characteristics of future warfare. Integration of services and fusion of technology have been viewed as important structural reforms in terms of the security challenges to India.

The section goes on to analyse the emerging and daunting technologies as seen in the land warfare across various domains; the three most important tenets of land warfare – organizational structures, doctrines, and technology – have been given greater impetus. It not only discusses the broader trends in the technological domain through a historical perspective, but also goes on to constructively characterize those in the future warfare drawing out a comprehensive way ahead for India, both in terms of challenges and opportunities. One of the most striking and unconventional accomplishments of the book is to very assiduously cover aspects of a complex and sensitive domain such as Information Warfare (“IW”) – as characterised across three contours of electronic, cyber and psychological – in the Indian subcontinent. It does so by not only providing a profound overview of the structures and attributes but also predicting deep insights into its future operational ability. Through its perusal of the effects of the IW set-up, it effectively can provide a constructive road ahead. The careful examination of the current set-up of the Intelligence that Indian defence system operates in paves way a rather exhaustive road that they may have to tread, with its own set of vulnerabilities and opportunities. One of the most important points that the book successfully asserts is the imperativeness of upgrading the intelligence structure in India with its emphasis on the threats posed by highly volatile adversaries in the current state of affairs – with changing themes and trends of warfare, the nature and character is likely to evolve. In that circumstance, disrupting a country’s civil, economic, social, or cyber basis could yield massive strategic advantage with lesser recognition and direct confrontation. In a scenario of future wars being quick, intense and time fluid, gaining asymmetric and strategic edge would go a long way in the engagement. To that end, having a strong IW base – both offence and defence – would act as a significant force multiplier along with providing remarkable advantage in a ‘no war no peace’ situation, as predicted by multiple scholars and practitioners which has also been evident and emphasized in the book.

In the commencing section, the editor’s focus on the use of ‘manoeuvre’ as a warfare tactic not only provides an interesting insight into the functionality of battle spaces but also functions as an important advisory for restructuring and training of forces to meet such requirements, to deal greater lethality and damage with minimum cost. Another highlight of the book, seen in consonance with the focus on land warfare is the constructive addition of Special Forces (“SF”) to the Indian context, plagued with proxy war through asymmetric measures. To meet the challenges of emerging hybrid threats, Indian SF needs to evolve from being just a support force in conventional warfare space, to be more effective in areas related to, amongst others, intelligence and covert actions, perception management and civil operations.  Building upon airborne operations make the study of land warfare far more coherent and expansive, as the future battlespace is no more going to be linear or one-dimensional. Thereupon, the use of such forces is not only going to be the norm, but also an important ‘force multiplier’ – an imperative of sorts. Henceforth, strategic benefits accruing out of such operations need proper analysis of the historical background, future vulnerabilities and fast transformation and modernisation for enhancement of the airborne forces – all as relevant to the Indian context – something that the chapter accomplishes effectively.

Conclusively, the chapter that follows contextualizes in detail People’s Liberation Army’s (“PLA”) penchant for military reforms and its quest for both modernization and integration. The most significant aspect of this restructuring has been the adoption of the Theatre Command (“TC”) structure serving the end of a joint command and control structure making PLA more lethal and combat effective. It analyses China’s attempt towards this ‘jointness’ – along with the envisaged organizational structure – and the kind of implications it can levy on India (focusing on the Western Theatre Command (“WTC”) and Tibet Military Command (“TMC”)). The relevance of the chapter can be sought through the mandate that the book attempts to build on – provide a contextual understanding of the Indian security landscape and a comprehensive way ahead. To that end, the centrality of China in India’s analysis of her future land warfare is not only justified but also extremely crucial.

In the penultimate chapters, the book reaches a meaningful conclusion as it moves to deal with the current state of Indian forces and the need to revolutionize it to meet the challenges across the spectrum of war. The future battlefield will employ cyber, social, psychological and even economic tactics while gaining a non-conventional and asymmetric edge over the adversary which entails force’s readiness to engage across distinct thresholds. Projection of future threats ranging from, inter-alia, external adversaries and maritime operations to insurgency and terrorism is important for realizing the revamping of technologies relevant to that construct. This would call for the inclusion of newer concepts and approach when dealing with subjects of doctrine and strategy, organizational structures and national policies. The chapter effectively engages with the said construct.

Finally, emphasizing on the logistics of the future battlespace, the book ends with the need for a dynamic and versatile adoption of logistics to deal with enormously diverse terrains that Indian defence forces operate in. While agility would be the trademark of future warfare, integration and time-coordination would be extremely desirable. Logistics must be able to deal with both kinetic and non-kinetic means, projecting greater preparedness of a country. The chapter can make the reader aware about the challenges in the current overarching structure of defence outlook while proposing significant reforms in reorganizing the logistics for the forces in the future battlespace – Distribution Based Logistics (“DBL”) being one of the most significant ones. Reformation at various organizational levels, indigenization, integration, and innovation are some of the broader means of preparing the forces for the future combats.

Overall, the book is – in a significantly comprehensible manner – able to do justice to the outlook of future warfare being operationalized across the spectrum of threats with conventional non-conventional means being employed to engage in domains of land, sea, air, cyber and information. It can chalk a plan in terms of advisory for the future battlespace, both preparedness and during-the-battle effectiveness for maximum deterrence and minimum casualty. In all humility, one of the areas that could be incorporated relevant to the future battlespace could be maritime forces (in terms of a dedicated chapter) and lawfare or legal warfare, both accruing their relevant and consequential effects on the land warfare space. The book can provide a contextual and elaborate understanding of the defence landscape and its evolving nature and character, making it a must-read for practitioners and enthusiasts alike.