Multi-Domain Warfare, Cross-Domain Deterrence

The concept of wars is growing ever more complicated, including all-pervasive information warfare, to applying multi-functional and multi-domain military capabilities below the threshold of armed conflict or the coupling of economic power with militia and irregular forces.  Indeed, ‘…the very rules of war have changed.  The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and in many cases they have exceeded the power of force of weapons and their effectiveness.’[1] This implies that wars in future could well remain unannounced in non-kinetic format and may even be successful in achieving political goals with or without transcending to force-on-force wars. Use of kinetic means in stand-off forms such as precision-guided munitions, missiles, and rockets or space warfare, can supplement to achieve the political aims in a short timeframe.  To achieve political goals, the force-on-force battles henceforth may be finality and not the initiator of the conflict. This highlights the hybridity in which many forms of belligerence are usable disaggregated or aggregated in tandem, as per political aims and military end state sought. The COAS of Pakistan Army wrote thus, “…the environment continues to get complex with introduction of terms like Lawfare, Cross-Domain Deterrence, and the lines keep getting blurry between different kinds of warfare from conventional to SCW, Hybrid, Grey Hybrid, 5th GW, Non-Contact Warfare etc”[2].

Contextually, hence, conventional operations of the force-on-force variety become part and parcel of the larger bouquet of options that amalgamate into multi-domain warfare. Multi-domain warfare hence implies creating an effect in one domain that produces an effect in other.  Multi domain-specific capabilities can be leveraged to defeat a capable foe in another domain, or the ‘force-on-force’ operations would supplement the creative ways.[3] The admixture of domains applied, can be different and as considered essential for achieving political and war aims. As an example, like in Georgia 2008 were conventional, Special Forces, Cyber and Influence operations; Ukraine 2014 saw SF, cyber and Information and Estonia 2007 only cyber and information. The armed forces are hence at crossroads. Reliance on attrition, firepower and mechanized warfare had led to our past successes, but they alone cannot win tomorrow’s wars. Our adversaries are analysing and testing our capabilities in multi-domains, and would adopt and adapt their doctrines, strategies and capabilities to take benefit from our vulnerabilities.  To arrive at the future, we have to be prepared and ready to dominate the fight and need a concept to guide convergence and integration of capabilities across air, land, sea, space, cyber, and electro-magnetic spectrum.

Deterrence has been around for a very long time. Hence its purpose, logic, and effectiveness are well understood. Bernard Brodie, the famous strategist had theorised that “…thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.Deterrence is the practice of discouraging, preventing or restraining an adversarial nation from taking inimical actions. The all-embracing lesson is that deterrence must primarily be able to shape the thinking and perceptions of an adversary, in that he accepts that alternatives, to aggression or inimical activities, will be more attractive. There are two fundamental approaches to deterrence. Deterrence by denial seeks to deny an adversary the ability to achieve its military and political objectives through aggression and deter him with the risk of catastrophic loss and the infeasibility of success.  Deterrence by denial is largely defensive in character and is not limited by military balance alone. Deterrence by punishment threatens of imposing severe penalties or wider punishment, like all-out force-on-force war or even nuclear escalation. The focus of deterrence by punishment is not a direct defence but rather threats of wider punishment to impose unacceptable costs, such as the destruction of an adversary’s strategic and high-value targets, in response to unwanted actions. Most classic studies suggest that denial strategies are inherently more reliable than punishment strategies. Steps taken to deny, such as placing significant military capabilities directly in the path of an aggressor, speak loudly and clearly. An aggressor might doubt, on the other hand, a defender’s willingness to impose punishments.[4]

Indian Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine 2018 (LWD), “…refers to a “multi-front environment” … with a hybrid (defined in the LWD as, “a blend of conventional and unconventional, with the focus increasingly shifting to multi domain Warfare varying from non-contact to contact warfare”) and state-sponsored proxy war. Whereas the LWD calls for deterrence by denial against China based on multi-tiered defenses and strike forces suitably poised, it wishes to enhance deterrence by punishment against Pakistan by launching swift offensives to take out Pakistan’s center of gravity—its military—and secure “spatial gains” in the event of war.”[5]  Against a collusive threat, it argues for a “strategic defensive balance” on the secondary front, while the primary front is being dealt with. The evident implication is that Indian Army is intimating mostly force-on-force – offensive or defensive – to deter the adversaries, in all scenarios of conventional, unconventional, contact or non-contact, kinetic or non-kinetic warfare. This, being a political decision, is less likely to be acceptable.

 “Cross Domain Deterrence” requires that the effects generated through one domain are translated in other domains. These effects generated in various domains such as information, economics, politics and diplomatic should equate the weapons effect – nuclear, conventional, space, cyber, missile defense, chemical and biological etc on the overall strategic space of military action...[6] Cross-domain deterrence implies use of capabilities of one type, to threats or combinations of threats of another type, in order to prevent unacceptable attacks. Examples might include using air power (like in Balakot) to retaliate for terrorism or cyber disruption. While nations have employed a variety of means such as military and nuclear forces as deterrent, the multi domain capabilities makes deterrence particularly challenging.

The most important vulnerabilities in the Information Age are critical national/ information infrastructure. This newer realm of warfare have been utilised in the last two decades; it was a cyber-weapon “Stuxnet” that destroyed numerous centrifuges in Iranian nuclear facility of Natanz. Given the ‘non-attributable’ as well as ‘asymmetric’ characteristics of cyber-attacks, the concept of deterrence in the cyber domain takes on a different flavour. It is evident that there can be no effective cyber defence strategy based purely on a protection/ resilience/ response paradigm. Therefore, India too needs to incorporate cyber deterrence in its national cyber security strategy and develop capabilities accordingly.[7]  One aspect of this predicament is that the cyberspace has provided enormous manipulation ability for cyber weapons as elements of coercion, and as plausible deniability.

In the light of the above, India, needs to re-examine and redefine deterrence with proliferating multi-domains of warfare.  As the sub-areas of warfare are split, terrorism (especially in J&K), the ambit of grey zone warfare[8], hybrid warfare[9] including conventional war and nuclear war, it is imperative to fathom if cross-domain deterrence will be effective. As an example, hence only an indicative and not exhaustive, an attempt is made to co-locate competing deterrent strategies with domains of warfare, which means can be planned as necessary: 

Domains of WarfareEndsWaysMeans
Counter Terror proxy war, especially in J&K – Peace in J&K.

-Erode confidence of adversary in pursuing policies of sponsorship of terror

-Update Doctrines

-Clear Signalling

-Counter Narrative Warfare, influence/ information operations

-Cyber offensives (non-attributable)

-Non-kinetic, non-contact operations

– Offensive strikes/Quid pro-quo operations

Grey Zone Warfare – in peacetime, including limited conventional operationsAssurance of national security (including cyber/ infrastructural), and atmosphere of sustained socio-economic development
  • Update Doctrines
  • Negate Grey Zone Warfare, in all manifestations by aggressive action
  • Erode confidence of adversary in resorting to grey zone warfare
  • Effective Cyber defensive and offensive operations.
  • State of Art ISR
  • Non-kinetic, non-contact operations
  • Focussed multi-domain limited offensive operations
Full Conventional War (Hybrid in nature)Political and military victory/ Success in War

-Update Doctrines

-Undertake ‘modern, technological war’

  • Effective Cyber defensive and offensive operations.
  • State of Art ISR
  • Focussed multi-domain offensive/ defensive operations
Nuclear WarEarly cessation of hostilities, minimum cost. The capitulation of an adversary.
  • Update Doctrines
  • Massive retaliation
  • Assured second strike capability
  • Triad

The landscape of deterrence has much expanded; it has become too dynamic, too complex, and without guarantees that it will work. While lack of response to Surgical Strikes of 2016, indicated that deterrence worked, the Pakistan Air Force response post-Balakot can lead to questioning of deterrence. The stand-offs at Daulat Beg Oldie, Demchok, Chumar, Pangong Tso, and Doklam cannot be judged on the altar of deterrence.   Mistakes in applying deterrence have come from misunderstandings and lack of clarity, faulty threat assessments, forgetfulness about history, and short-sighted policymaking/ doctrines.[10] It will be apparent that the common feature of Cross-Domain Deterrence is the use of technology as part deterrence. In deterring an adversary India will have to create and exploit strategic advantages to deprive an adversary of the capability to pose a threat. Intimation of national will and threat to use any, several, or all multi-domainal strengths in the repertoire is imperative to influence the adversary’s strategic choices. For this to succeed, the adversary must be forced to choose the path of compromise. It has to be understandable, that multi-domainal strength is an assurance of war-winning strategy against the adversary to whom deterrence by punishment is applied.  Alternatively, cross-domain deterrence must be aimed at avoiding war with an adversary, against whom deterrence by denial strategy is applied.

The world of deterrence has become complex in the contemporary world, more so in our backyard, that makes understanding is more important than ever. The greater the deterrence’s salience and clarity, the greater will be its potential credibility.



[1] Valery Gerasimov, The Value of Science Is in the Foresight, Military-Industrial Kurier, February 2013

[2] Qaamr Javed Bajwa Gen, Pakistan Army Green Book 2020, GHQ Pakistan Army, Islamabad, pI.

[3] Rakesh Sharma, Ideating Future War Fighting: Multi-Domain Warfare, Indian Defence Review, 0 Jan 2018, accessed at

[4] Michael J. Mazarr, Understanding Deterrence, Perspectives, Rand Corporation, USA, 2018, accessed at

[5] Ali Ahmed, UNDERSTANDING INDIA’S LAND WARFARE DOCTRINE, South Asian Voices, 26 Feb, 2019 accessed at

[6] Maria Sultan, Cross Domain Deterrence, Pakistan Army Green Book 2020, GHQ Pakistan Army, Crystal Printers, Islamabad, p75.

[7] Panwar RS, IW STRUCTURES FOR THE INDIAN ARMED FORCES, Future Wars, 21 April 2020, accessed at

[8] Rakesh Sharma,  Grey Zone Warfare in the Indian Context-Building Capabilities, Synergy, Journal of Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, New Delhi, 26 Feb 2020, accessed at

[9] Rakesh Sharma, Contextual Evolution of Hybrid Warfare and the Complexities, CLAWS Journal, New Delhi Winter 2019, accessed at

[10] Michael J. Mazarr, Understanding Deterrence, Perspectives, Rand Corporation, USA, 2018, accessed at