The gaming of warfare | OPINION

By Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya

For ages immemorial, adversaries have engaged in warfare without direct military confrontation, what is now popularly referred to as “kinetic war”. With creating a special term for conventional way of warfare, it is now widely accepted that kinetic warfare is only one kind of warfare. There are myriad other mechanisms of warfare.

So, what are these non-kinetic warfare mechanisms?

When a nation is made to suffer by means other than direct military actions, it is known as non-kinetic warfare. A recent classic example was the retaliation to Malaysia by the Indian government for Malaysia’s undiplomatic comments on India’s internal affairs. The Indian government signalled that it might ban palm oil coming from Malaysia into India.

Palm oil is a major export of Malaysia, with thousands of jobs dependent on it, and India is a major buyer of Malaysian palm oil. In alignment with the WTO (World Trade Organization) agreements, India did not actually ban the imports, but the signal was strongly picked by the Indian importers, and they promptly stopped any purchase of the Malaysian palm oil.

This was classic play of the ancient Indian warfares doctrines application as captured in the well-known upayacatustaya which elucidates the concepts of Sama (conciliation), Dama (price), Danda (punishment), Bhed (discord). Diplomacy and non-kinetic warfare precedes as well as complements kinetic warfare.
Even when conventional kinetic warfare is fought, the non-kinetic aspects become critical. This is what happened in the 1757 Battle of Plassey, where the significantly superior army of the Bengal nawab was brought down by a much inferior British army, through bribing the generals of Siraj ud-Daulah and ensuring that they do not fight the battle at all, in exchange for promised riches (which were also not provided, once the battle was over).
If we look at our unsettled neighbour in our west, it has a doddering economy with 45 per cent of its exports dependent on textiles. Textile industry supports 20 per cent of all organised workerforce in that country. Fifty per cent of the textile industry is concentrated in only one city.

So, why do we need to pick up the issue of non-kinetic warfare now?

Over 10 years ago, I used to start almost all my sessions at the National Conclave on Technological Sovereignty with examples of some of the non-kinetic warfares, including economic warfare, water warfare, germ warfare, narration warfare (also known as propaganda), cyber warfare, digital warfare and so on. It is now imperative to urgently ensure how we can defend ourselves from such warfare.

We, as a nation, are fortunate to have one of the finest military forces in the world, with the best of personnel, who are feared and respected by peers across the globe. Such respect comes from interactions during the war games between militaries of different nations.

India has already been victims of social media warfare, such as the ones that targeted Bengaluru, where north-easterners were targeted through social media. But imagine that India is in a conflict situation and our train signalling undergoes a cyber attack and we cannot push heavy equipment and battle tanks to the borders on train. Or, financial systems that are not local in ownership and are operating in the country are stopped by their respective governments as a means of retaliation to India, and hence our e-commerce and procurement and supply-chains across the country get disrupted.

When we used to take the example of what happened to Iran and then to Edward Snowden, where all US based payment systems, including Visa, Mastercard and Paypal were blocked, the response was that US would not do that to India.

Bulk of India’s indigenous payment system, UPI, runs on foreign last-mile platforms such as Google Pay, Phonepe and Amazon Pay among others. These payment systems are subservient to the national laws of the country of their ownership and will have to follow what is dictated to them by their national laws.

Payment is only one aspect. Access to energy becomes another issue for a nation that is highly dependent on imported energy. If the world is able to limit the export of energy from Russia, then it would find it much easier in comparison to stop the export of energy into India. And if we do not have our strategic petroleum reserves, we could be in a situation where we have military hardware such as tanks and helicopters, but no fuel to run them.

And what if our telecom network is brought down at the time of conflict, based on the foreign embedded systems in our telecom network?

The same holds true for many critical imports such as semiconductors, electrical machinery, batteries etc.

In tandem, a highly digitalised India will find itself in a situation where its data, whether localised or otherwise, is locked out from data centres that are controlled by players who operate under the legal framework of other nations. As we see in Russia, critical enterprise data on the cloud has been locked out.

In many instances, the data has been backed up and given back to Russian entities, but that data is useless without the application that created the data, such as ERP’s that run companies. Localisation of data is not a solution for mitigating such situations.

India can potentially also get locked out of streaming platforms, OTT’s, video conferencing platforms needed for e-education and healthcare and even judiciary as we see advanced courts such as the Tamil Nadu courts using video conferencing platforms for delivering justice.

As India struggles to complete its indigenous global positioning system (GPS), with foreign players finally building the chips for the NAVIC system, imagine what would happen to millions of drivers who are dependent on the GPS for their livelihood through aggregators such as Porter, Uber etc. Many businesses that are dependent on the GPS and on Google maps, would have to close shop if GPS and Google maps are stopped in India.

And that brings us back to the issue of war games. War games that are limited to the kinetic warfare, are therefore limited in their objective may not be sufficient for preparing the nation to defend itself from other forms of warfare.

What if the .in domain is deleted from the 13 root servers of the Internet, while Indian forces are engaged in a kinetic conflict?

What if software exports from India are cut-off by the Internet exchanges, starving India of precious foreign exchange and rendering millions jobless?

What if asymmetric attacks using cyber is made on our nuclear power plants, in the manner similar to the cyber bombing of the Iranian nuclear centrifuges?

While most of these issues are being focussed on by the security apparatus of the country, but incorporating all these possibilities into our war gaming would go a long way in further enhancing our national security. It would provide us with a playbook when such situations actually arise, and it would involve not just the military but the entire industrial might of the country as well as the common people, to be able to thwart these non-kinetic warfares, including narration warfares.

This article first appeared in India Today,