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Beware China's ability to strike beyond the battlefield

April 08, 2021 09:52 IST

Future conflict will involve bypassing of frontiers to strike at critical vulnerabilities directly and in the hinterland at the appropriate time, explains Lieutenant General Anil Chait (retd), who served as chief of the Integrated Defence Staff and Central Army Commander.

IMAGE: Traffic lights shut down in Mumbai after a grid failure resulted in massive power outages across the city, October 12, 2020.
The outage was reported caused by a Chinese cyberattack on Mumbai's power facilities in retaliation for the India-China military standoff in eastern Ladakh. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

So just as China has employed coast guard-backed civilian fishing boats for expansionist forays in the South and East China Seas, it appears to be sending herders and grazers ahead of regular army troops to nibble away at Himalayan territories, one pasture at a time.

The South China Morning Post, citing a Chinese government document, has reported that China intends to build 624 border villages in disputed Himalayan areas.

Chinese infrastructure across friction points continues to pose problems. Reports do not indicate substantive withdrawal of Chinese forces from the plateau either.

China's militarised village-building spree has renewed the regional spotlight on Xi Jinping's expansionist strategy.

China's Exponential Strategy

The exponential strategy pursued by the leading hegemony of Asia, in its quest for 'imposing its will' or making others do its bidding, goes beyond the exercising of military power.

A mix of kinetic and non-kinetic strategy under the perspective of comprehensive national power for global reach is underway.

Its relevance needs to be appreciated in the context of the geo-economics, associated with the Belt-and-Road Initiative to control the markets and resources, which lie far and beyond the national frontiers.

Misuse of power and defying of 'Just Cause' principles, needs to be seen in the context of the use of water as a weapon in the Brahmaputra Basin, trade wars for coercion and threatening of cyber and space domains without breaching frontiers and national sovereignty.

The People's Liberation Army as an 'information-aliased and intelligent force' is adapting fast towards the new concept of integrated warfighting for the New Period.

Peter Vincent Pry, who served on the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, recounted on March 18, 2021 the lessons of the China-India Blackout war when he observed: 'China blacked out Mumbai by cyber-attack thinking that blacking out India's national electric grid is less escalatory than a shooting war in the Himalayas.'

Pry suggested that it was similar to China threatening an EMP attack over the US navy in the South China Sea as one of the less escalatory options.

The Maharashtra government earlier had alleged that the power grid failure that led to a blackout on October 12 last year was due to a 'malware attack' that came from abroad.

Over 26,100 Indian Web sites were attacked in 2020.

Unrestricted Warfare

The 20 years post the publication of Unrestricted Warfare has demonstrated the prescience of the authors in respect of new types of conflicts today.

The current trajectory of technological change is making this visualisation more plausible and bringing it closer to fruition.

While the speculative line of enquiry on Unrestricted Warfare was conceived mainly in the context of State-based conflict between the then asymmetrical powers, their central thesis remains relevant across all types of wars and peace, everywhere else.

South Asia

South Asia has been a key epicentre of conflict and instability in the world.

It has rarely seen true political unity due to the accompanying clash of civiliSations.

Territorial disputes, religious nationalism, fundamentalism, radical extremism, ethnic tensions, and socio-economic disparities remain prevalent.

Non-kinetic and Kinetic tools incorporating the strategy of dissuasion, deterrence, coercion and 'compellence' are employed by adversaries to target the cognitive and perceptional domain of the people, who reside here.

The threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of non-State actors and groups such as THE jihadis continues to be a cause of spiralling instability in this conflict-ridden region.

China and South Asia

China as a rising power lying to the north of South Asia has developed a comprehensive industrial base over the last three decades by implementing Four ModerniSation themes.

China has reportedly been testing space-based quantum communications technology along with applications for electromagnetic drives.

A next-generation Artificial Intelligence (AI 2.0) plan stands published. It has already made rapid progress in hypersonic glide vehicle technology.

Visualising 'Future Warfare'

Technology has the potential to guide the destiny of nations in international power relations.

It not only governs the lives of people, but controls the levers of economic and military power.

Modern and disruptive technologies through unconventional tactics, which are irregular in form, have the potential to be exploited by asymmetrical tools.

An open confrontation between nations may be a thing of the past.

Warfare in such a visualisation is likely to go beyond military ideology and conventional capabilities.

This construct for 'War Making' and Integrated Joint Warfighting will incorporate fused kinetic and non-kinetic means.

Future wars therefore will be fought and won on the fields, which lie before, and 'Beyond the Battlefields'.

This will be through the synergistic application of resources, overt or covert, as necessitated by wars of choice.

The synergy and interdependency of means and for power to exceed limits will therefore involve bypassing of frontiers to strike at critical vulnerabilities directly and in the hinterland at the appropriate time.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

Lieutenant General ANIL CHAIT (retd)