India must prepare for a multi-domain war

This is a defining moment in the history of India and its actions could well dictate its standing in the world,  writes Lt Gen PR Kumar (retd) for South Asia Monitor

Lt Gen P R Kumar (retd) Jul 03, 2020

China’s confrontation with India is not all about the boundary issue, but a political act to offset its present challenges, and demonstrate its rising comprehensive national power (CNP). The Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership that increasingly relies on nationalism for its legitimacy will not find it easy to make the compromises necessary for a boundary settlement. India's armed forces are more than capable of handling whatever the Chinese PLA throws at us in the traditional ground, sea and sky domains (envisaged maximum threat) in Eastern Ladakh. India has planned, prepared, trained and have the combat experience, professionalism, will and resolve to ensure that the Chinese strategy of hegemonistic creeping will be defeated, by causing it much more attrition than he is ready to accept. China's geopolitical, strategic and national loss will far outweigh any gains he makes, if at all, during the conflict.

The CPC’s offensive manoeuvres will come with the grave consequences of setting the world - and hopefully, its  own people - against it and could start the beginning of the end of the CPC. If it chooses to continue his belligerent actions, one would not be wrong to predict that the CPC is fighting an existential battle. For this India and the armed forces will have to credibly demonstrate its intent, will, resolve and act to ensure that the PLA returns to the status quo ante before this crisis started, being non-negotiable. 

This is a defining moment in the history of India and its actions could well dictate its standing in the world. And this is the time, when against a stronger adversary it will have to stand firm and unyielding, stand tall without brinkmanship, expect some pain but tell China through actions that this time the red lines have been crossed.

India must be prepared to go it alone. However, assistance except in the physical/kinetic domain, from other nations could well be forthcoming, ie, diplomatic, material, information and intelligence, and moral support, which will weigh heavily on President Xi Xinping, CPC and his military commanders.

Dangers of escalation

In case, China expands the present localised crisis to other sectors, and the escalatory ladder of conflict is exercised, which will naturally be reciprocated, then India must be prepared to fight a multi-domain war (MDW). MDW calls for a change of thought process, a transformation and not just modernization. Simply put, MDW envisions the military and non-military; everything from political to diplomatic, fighters to destroyers, space shuttle to the submarine, cyber to satellites, tanks to attack helicopters, electromagnetic to electronic, media to information influence operations, economists to MNCs, para-military forces to think tanks, intelligence agencies to ISRO, munition factory worker to hacks -  working together intrinsically as one, to overwhelm the enemy with attacks from all domains: land, sea (including sub surface), air, space, cyberspace, network, big data, information including media and social media, electronic and even legal. The span of operations addressed simultaneously is from the political, national, strategic, operational to the tactical domain. 

An illustration of how China will wage MDW during the confrontation stage mainly using non-kinetic/cognitive domains are given below: Conduct information influence operations including psychological operations on our polity; public and armed forces (fake news, rumours- vast scope) to spread the bogie of the invincible Chinese dragon and fracture the social structure and political will; wide-ranging economic operations to further weaken our economy; during the COVID crisis hold onto pharmaceutical and other critical products like ventilators and products (the base chemicals); sudden and broad-based cyber-attacks from the strategic to the border troops (tactical) to include our national media, logistics chains, air and rail communication systems, degradation of  our active C5ISTAR (command, control, communication, computer, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) systems; attack our electromagnetic spectrum and even satellite systems with an attempt to blind us;  network and data-centric operations which paralyse our databases, intelligence, financial and logistic networks; all or some of these actions before, during and post-conflict (mobilization and reinforcements including the strategic lift would be hampered) to just name a few effects.

Start preparing for a MDW

The above scenario may appear like sci-fi, but numerous countries like the US and its allies are now preparing to wage such a war and they visualise that their peer competitor/adversary China (the US has officially named China as her adversary) has the capacity and capability for MDW. In fact, the US has officially said that actions like cyber and space attacks will be constituted as an act of war. 

Probability of Pakistan jumping into the fray must be factored in as it could very well be part of the strategic plan. Similarly using land and maritime routes through other immediate neighbouring states cannot be ruled out. China is waging such a war, and trying to impose his will with increasing tempo, focus and lethality just prior to the conflict to try and achieve his political and military aims, without fighting. 

India has one of the most battle-hardened troops in the world, but the intangible effect of psychological operations and internal political and social dynamics, isolation, lack of situational awareness, operating in a degraded environment coupled with a 360-degree conflict with no front, rear and flanks will certainly impact them. We need to create better capabilities and capacities to counter and negate his design of conflict at the national and military level.

However, just as a stalemate for India is considered a defeat if we launch pro-active operations against Pakistan, China too will aim to achieve his political and military objectives swiftly. This is where  our political will, the resolve of the people and professionalism of our armed forces must prevail. 

While we hope that the current impasse will be resolved using all elements of DIME (diplomatic, informational, military and economic), we must concurrently start preparing for future confrontations and conflict (two and half front war) to wage an MDW. War is a national effort involving all dimensions of CNP, and it is imperative that we build capability and capacity to fight and win the future confrontation/war. Armed forces will remain the ultimate weapon to impose the will of a State.  

Capacity building across multiple domains takes commitment, time, dedication, finances, synergy, integrity and will.  The good news is that we know how our adversaries could wage an MDW, but we need to urgently create better structures, create synergies and train at the national, strategic and armed forces level.  The conventional soldier, his section and platoon, squadron of armour or artillery battery, a fighter squadron or naval frigate will always continue to remain the final arbiter in conflict and we must empower the soldier and armed forces to fight a multi-domain war. 

India has no choice but to be ready for a multi-domain war. Adopting and implementing the MDW concept will improve our deterrence capability and prevent wars.

(The writer, an Indian Army veteran,  was Director-General of Military Operations. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at 

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