Letter from the Editor | January 2024

Happy New Year!

The first edition of 2024 is a special on the Indian Army as the Indian Army celebrates the Army Day on January 15. A good time to reflect upon the challenges it faces. The Indian Army leadership should be aware that the PLA is at the cutting edge of technology and war concepts for hot war and excels in grey zone operations in peacetime. The latter will involve cyber-attacks; information warfare comprising synthetic reality, disinformation, misinformation, and use of wolf warriors; non-kinetic counter-space operations; assault on undersea cables; and extensive use of electronic warfare in the combat zone.

Regarding hot war, the Indian Army, which is the most visible physical force, will need to contend with PLA’s five forces and seven war domains. The five forces include its army (PLAA), air force (PLAAF), navy (PLAN), rocket force (PLARF), and the newly created near-space force (PLANSF). The PLAAF will employ its bombers and various drones/UAVs/UCAVs in the first wave of employment rather than its traditional air power for asymmetric engagements with the IAF. The PLARF has an impressive inventory of missiles of all hues which can, helped by China’s Baidu satellites constellation, hit targets deep in the hinterland with precision. The PLANSF has been raised for use of hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles to cover the altitude from 20km to 100km from ground level. The PLA’s seven war domains are land, air, sea, cyber, electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), near space, and outer space (altitudes above 100km).

The PLA’s war concepts are evident from its organisations for combat. For example, its Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) has under it cyber, electronic warfare (EMS), and outer space and reports directly to the Joint Staff Department under the Central Military Commission. The SSF’s capability combination is meant to disrupt communications by non-kinetic means while the PLARF will be used to destroy and disrupt command and control headquarters by kinetic means. The Indian Army is not prepared for the combined use of PLASSF and PLARF.

Moreover, given the huge capabilities gap between the Indian military and the PLA, the latter will conduct operations at the campaign level and bypass the tactical level which is the strength of the Indian Army. The contention of Indian generals that land war is necessary for capture of territory is misplaced. Once the command, control, and communications of the Indian Army are destroyed and disrupted, the PLA is expected to use its hundreds of mini drones with facial recognition capability (Artificial Intelligence aided computer vision) to hit to kill Indian soldiers with precision.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Indian Army and the military will be its inability to match China’s defence industrial complex capable of supporting surge operations. This will assist the PLA in waging an intense campaign firing salvos of specialised munitions. As if all of this was not daunting enough, a war with PLA will bring the Pakistan military too in the campaign. Clearly, the army needs some hard thinking and tough decisions.

End of 2023 saw three books in quick succession on the state of India’s largest minority. A sobering end to a tumultuous year. All three are featured here. Have a better 2024!



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