GP-ORF SeriesPublished on Nov 14, 2022 PDF Download
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Future Warfare and Technologies: Issues and Strategies


Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, ed, Future Warfare and Technology: Issues and Strategies, (New Delhi: ORF and Global Policy Journal, 2022).


The purpose of war has remained constant since time immemorial. Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously stated, “War is merely a wrestling match on an extensive scale, an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”. Nevertheless, the ways and means to achieve such goals have transformed through the course of history, spurred mainly by evolution in the technological realm. There have been attempts to capture and categorise these changes through different analytical frameworks, but the influence of technology and geopolitics forms a deadly mix, making future warfare far more complex.

With global and Asian balance of power in a state of strategic flux, competition, rivalry, and conflict—whether violent or otherwise—are again taking centre stage. Further, driven by technological innovation and with the advent of emerging and critical technologies, there are also possible changes in tactics, strategies, and mediums of war. The growing importance of cyber warfare, weaponisation of space, warfare by proxy and influence operations, and misinformation campaigns denote that modes of warfighting are changing. Future battlefields might be unrecognisable with the growth and advancements in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum, cyber, space, and biotechnology.

Militaries around the world, policymakers, and strategists are confronted with enormous challenges driven by this transformation. Issues such as attribution and deniability pose additional challenges in arriving at suitable policy responses and dispensing justice of, in, and post-war. Further, these challenges are expected to become more complex as states aim to devise new ways of leveraging technological change to wage war.

Governments worldwide have had to understand and adapt as well as come up with appropriate response measures in recognition of the changing nature of warfare. This compendium aims to understand what future warfare might look like, what are the different theatres and domains where the wars will be fought, and the role of critical and emerging technologies in aiding the goals of future warfare. The essays included in this volume have been written by expert authors from across the globe on a variety of themes, including autonomous weapons and AI; cyber weapons; space and counter-space technologies; biotechnology and biowarfare; data analytics and behavioural science; the role of nuclear weapons; quantum technologies; the interplay between different domains or technologies involving space, cyber or nuclear; and the impact of quantum technologies on cyber, space, and nuclear security.

Key questions examined in the volume include the who, what, where, when and how of future warfare, and the implications.

Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam examines the broad contours of conventional war and the future of joint operations with an infusion of emerging and critical technologies. He argues that even as India embraces these technologies, for the Indian armed forces to manage the challenges of a two-front security conundrum over the next decade against the backdrop of a fragile and unstable global and regional security environment, its leadership needs to remain doctrinally nimble, resource-conscious, technologically- savvy, and flexible enough to remain grounded in India-specific operational realities. While many strategists in recent years have given up on the idea of states fighting a traditional conventional war, Sameer Patil argues that high-intensity warfare has returned, as can be evidenced through several contemporary conflicts, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, developments across the Taiwan Straits, India-China conflict, or the South China Sea. Patil discusses how major militaries worldwide are having to adapt to this, with the addition of disruptive technologies and how that distinguishes the present high-intensity warfare from its previous incarnations. With the intensification of great power politics, high-intensity warfare, and the acceleration of the US-China technology competition, sanctions are also making a comeback. Kazuto Suzuki explores the importance, usefulness, and effectiveness of sanctions, especially by looking at the current US, European Union (EU), and Japanese sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Suzuki also brings in the limitations of its effectiveness by considering the current situation. The EU importing 40 percent of Russian oil and gas is bringing into question the effectiveness of the sanctions on Russia. That the EU does not present a united front on this issue further demonstrates the limited efficacy of sanctions in today’s interdependent world.

Next, Wilfred Wan and Nivedita Raju examine how different technologies intersect with each other to impact strategic stability. The authors highlight how the defining trait of hybridity, which is the interplay across domains, affects the strategic context, considering ramifications for nuclear deterrence, related risks, and arms control and disarmament. Maj. Gen. Amarjit Singh assesses the future of warfare in the context of grey zone operations, which have become extremely prevalent in the last few years. However, Singh is quick to point out that the advent of the new generation of warfare does not make obsolete the lessons of earlier generations. In fact, even in the current Ukraine conflict, one can see all the generations of warfare simultaneously except for the first-generation of warfare. In this context of changing warfare patterns, Ashok GV examines a crucial question of attribution in cyberattacks against space objects to determine the impact, if any, of international space law on the subject of attribution and the consequential questions of state responsibility. Gen. Raj Shukla explores the theme of changing warfare, and the evolution of warfare and the salience of the technology dynamic in the current generation of warfare. He argues that the embrace of technology along with agile doctrinal adaptation and organisational restructuring is what is needed if militaries are to exercise “a sharp, calibrated edge over competitors and adversaries alike”. Further, he tries to answer important questions of how national security institutions and global militaries should prepare for the future; what are the necessary attributes of a future-ready military, and finally—and possibly most importantly—how we design and nurture an ecosystem that will facilitate our capacity to address better the challenges that come along with the new paradigm of digital combat. Looking at the trends in warfare, Lt. Gen. Ravindra Singh Panwar outlines some key issues related to AI, autonomy, and human control. While AI-based applications can bring enormous benefits in the civilian sector, AI-enabled weapon systems are concerning because of their dangers to human lives. The essay also outlines the host of legal and ethical issues associated with AI, thereby underlining the need for global regulations that could suitably address the threats posed by these systems.

Next, Manpreet Sethi examines the continued role of nuclear weapons in future wars despite the changing nature of warfare. She asks pertinent questions like whether the risks of actual use of nuclear weapons will increase due to new doctrinal or technological developments or if the weapons will continue to have a restraining impact on wars in general. She argues that the answers to such questions can never be definite but adds that two doctrinal and three technological developments related to nuclear weapons will likely impact future wars. Bart Hogeveen examines a key new form of warfare—cyber warfare—and the emerging cybersecurity landscape in the Indo-Pacific. Hogeveen does this by outlining the changing contours of cybersecurity in the regional security context, listing the growing military cyber warfare capabilities and establishing cyber-specific defence institutions that have sprung in the Indo-Pacific, all of which are indicative of the securitised cyber domain. To mitigate the risks and threats from such activities and capability development, Hogeveen makes a case for global dialogues and engagements involving the multiple stakeholders engaged in this domain, including political leaders, officials, civil society advocates, technicians, and industry. This will develop a ‘common operational picture’, which is essential for developing appropriate policy interventions that has adequate oversight, checks and balances.

Noëlle Van der Waag-Cowling examines the intangible nature and the secrecy around the development and existence of cyber weapons that adds to the difficulties associated with their potential and usage in the changing context of warfare. Beginning with conceptual perspectives on cyber weapons, she provides an overview of cyber operations in armed conflict, the limitations and affordances of cyber weapons, and the proliferation of cyber offensive capabilities. The essay concludes with an examination of cyber weapons and international law, especially the various global efforts that have been in play but also the limitations of developing global cyber arms control measures. Next, Michal Křelina looks at another novel development—quantum technology. The author points out that quantum technology is variously described as a disruptive or an emerging technology of strategic significance, especially in the context of China, providing Beijing with “a decisive advantage in future peacetime and wartime competition alike”. Like many other emerging technologies, quantum technologies are dual use in nature, with both civilian and military applications. Krelina provides a careful perspective of how and what impact of these technologies may have on future conflicts and war. The author does this by outlining the various military applications of quantum technologies, including the application of quantum computing in cyber operations that can break the current asymmetric encryptions, quantum-enhanced machine learning for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and situational awareness, faster and better wargame simulations (leading to better decision-making), optimisation of military logistics and supply chain for missions, and enhanced analysis of radio-frequency spectrum. But to avert any unpleasant surprises, Krelina argues for the need to generate greater awareness of the technology and its direct and indirect consequences.

Next, Shambhavi Naik assesses another important technology—biotechnology—in the context of changing warfare. Naik provides both tactical and strategic implications of biotechnology and biowarfare in future warfare. While bioweapons have been considered a weapon of mass destruction, the global community has shunned these weapons. But the emergence of new technologies and a fractured international political situation have pushed for the development of “targetable bioweapons” that may be developed and “used without attribution”. Such a scenario, the author argues, calls for a review of existing international mechanisms such as the Biological Weapons Convention.

The next two essays look at the outer space domain in the context of changing warfare. Outer space was immune from terrestrial politics and had maintained sanctity for several decades, but that is not the case anymore. Malcolm Davis argues that space has never been a global common for peaceful purposes alone, as the rhetoric generally suggests. Davis argues that space has been militarised since the beginning of the space age, with both the US and erstwhile Soviet Union using satellites for gathering ISR data, satellite communications, and for strategic functions including nuclear command, communications, and control, and missile early warning services. The role of space has only expanded manifold over the last few decades, and the threat of counterspace technologies is real. Nevertheless, with a divided global space community, Davis argues that “the best solution to meeting the threat posed by adversary counterspace capabilities is to promote a dual-track solution by enhancing and strengthening space law and regulation to establish new norms of responsible behaviour in space and working to get all major space powers to agree to these new arrangements – together with investment in resilient space capabilities and a means to ensure effective space control that strengthens space deterrence”. The pursuit of space deterrence and resilience appears to be inevitable, but it will likely make space a lot more fragile. The second space-related essay by Almudena Azcárate Ortega examines the critical importance of space and the current threats to space systems. This brings out the urgency in dealing with them or facing the reality of space being “a new theatre of conflict, with devastating consequences for humankind”. Ortega argues that the existing space legal regime has several inadequacies, including “a permissive and open-ended language, which has allowed the emergence of different interpretations when it comes to the use and exploration of space”. She argues that arriving at a common understanding of what connotes space security is possibly difficult “because of the complexity of space systems, the multiple uses and users of space system, and the lack of space-specific regulations that focus on space security”. Despite the bleakness of the situation in space, she ends the essay on an optimistic note with the current work undertaken by the UN Open-Ended Working Group (on space security norms and principles.

Kubo Mačák and Laurent Gisel explore cyber operations in armed conflicts from an implications and international humanitarian law (IHL) perspective. The authors make a strong case for the applications of IHL principles and rules to cyber operations, citing the reports of the recent UN Open-Ended Working Group and the UN Group of Governmental Experts, but they are also mindful of the challenges that come along with it through issues including the notion of attack, and the importance attached to civilian electronic data protection. Jyun-Yi Lee examines the role of technology in China’s hybrid warfare against Taiwan, stating that “the threat posed by the interplay of China’s lawfare and technological warfare to Taiwan has been growing”. Lee identifies technology use in four scenarios to make warfare more effective while creating legal uncertainties. The final essay in the volume by Samyak Rai Leekha, Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, and Pulkit Mohan looks at the implications of some critical and emerging technologies, including space, cyber, nuclear, and AI and automation. The authors take us through the major developments in each of these technologies, especially as it relates to military and security contexts. Despite many past and ongoing efforts, geopolitical developments, including the changing balance of power dynamics, have impeded the development of consensus on the global governance of these technologies.

The Future Warfare and Technologies: Issues and Strategies, a collection of 18 essays, explores the challenging path ahead in terms of technological interface with emerging trends in warfare. There are issues of uneven technological development trajectories, which have influenced global governance debates on critical and emerging technologies, the insufficiencies and vagueness of existing governance measures, and the integration of many of these technologies in conventional military operations, all of which are examined in a nuanced manner. This volume is merely an attempt at unpacking some of the critical technologies in the context of changing warfare.

Read it here.

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Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Dr Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan is the Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.  Dr ...

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