Talk delivered on Information Warfare in the Present Era by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director VIF at Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (20 January 2020)

The world is undergoing a transition. Its main features are; uncertainty; diffusion of power; the emergence of multipolar world order; deepening of tech and economic driven globalization; increasing salience of data and information.

Information permeates all domains of warfare. The challenge before the militaries is how to incorporate information operations in warfighting at strategic, tactical and operational levels.

Information Warfare (IW) is as old as warfare. Examples: Krishna in the Mahabharata; Kautilya’s concept of four types of yudhas, Xerxes use of intimidation in Greek wars; Alexander’s use of cultural assimilation; Electronic Warfare (EW) in first world war; deception and EW in second world war;

More recent examples: the US used the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the first Gulf War and later in the Iraq war in 2003; drones in Afghanistan; Stuxnet in Iran; and the killing of Gen. Soleimani in 2020.

Russians have repeatedly used it in Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, against the US in elections; Chinese have used it in stealing Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) from the US; US-China trade war which is a part of economic warfare; China has used economic warfare against the Philippines and Japan; they have used legal warfare combined with military operations in the South China Sea. Japan and South Korea have also been fighting information warfare of sorts in recent times.

The concept of IW is ever-widening, so much so that it involves military and non-military dimensions. Counter to IW lies not just military but also in non-military domain, particularly, political, economic and information domains.

IW has many dimensions: psy-ops; perception management; Electronic Warfare, political warfare; irregular warfare; cyber warfare, intelligence, media, etc.

As a result of the growing salience of IW, military doctrines are being adjusted to incorporate IW into warfighting.

US: In the US, the emphasis is on the narrower aspect of IW to which the military relates well. IW concept entails gaining info superiority over the adversary by degrading, disrupting and destroying the information systems of the adversary. For this technical and kinetic means are preferred. The US has shown its technological superiority many times in the last century.

Military analysts believe that the US has technical means to conduct information operations but that is not sufficient. The US has not been successful in preventing attacks on it in the cyber domain, media domain, and perception management. In fact, the US may be losing perception war in the media as hostility to the US against in several countries, particularly in the Islamic world has grown. The US is losing a friend.

China has watched with deep concern how the US used high tech in the Gulf war. It has been studying the US concepts of IW closely and has evolved its own concepts with Chinese characteristics.

China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) is undergoing a transformation from the mechanization of forces to informationalization. PLA is preparing to win high tech wars in the conditions of informationalization. This means, like the US, it will seek to gain information superiority over the adversary. So, it focuses on Command, Control, Communication, Computing and Intelligence (C4I) warfare. It will use EW, cyber, psy-ops, intelligence and surveillance technologies to fight both defensive and offensive IW. But, China has also added a new concept to IW – legal warfare, economic warfare and political warfare. The concept will evolve further as China’s capabilities evolve.

Russia has taken IW to an entirely new plane. It focuses on the physical, information and cognitive dimensions of IW. Its information doctrine of 2016 elaborates on the importance of information in modern warfighting. For Russia, free circulation of information across the internet is a tool to destabilize societies and effect regime change. It has used IW extensively in Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, the US elections and so on. It has the technical capabilities to conduct cyber warfare.

North Korea has been able to take on the US despite tremendous asymmetry. DPRK has developed substantial cyber capabilities in hacking. DPRK leader has used diplomacy as well as nuclear, missile and cyber capabilities to fight an asymmetric war.

Pakistan is not behind. Despite having lost all the wars against India, it has mastered several tools to take on India, a much stronger country. It has the capability to launch psywar, proxy war, and cyberwar against India. In addition, it has conducted political and legal tools to keep India off balance. The nexus with China has been used to bolster its strengths. It has also used the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to get diplomatic strength.

India is at the receiving end of IW from Pakistan, China, and non-state actors. India’s open society, democratic polity, and internal vulnerabilities are being used by Pakistan and China to pose a challenge to India’s national security. Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests are the latest example. India is fighting fake news menace on a daily basis.

Future of IW

Greater informationalization of society including the military is taking place. Technology will drive future wars. In that information communication technologies (ICTs) will play an increasingly significant role. Warfare doctrines will have to be revised as more informationalization happens. New military institutions will have to be invented.

Information will be the new oil, a highly potent weapon, a highly useful resource Cyberwars will become more lethal.

Fake news will be weaponized even more when IOT brings super hyper-connectivity.
In fighting information wars, civil-military synergy will have to be maintained. There would be added focus on media and civil society.

IW would need to be included in the professional military courses at strategic, tactical and operational levels.

Apart from the technological up-gradation of the military, the cultural mindset will need to be changed.

India now has a Chief of Defence Staff with a renewed focus on jointness and a defence cyber agency; it has had a space cell and special ops. We need effective perception management. Hopefully, a national security strategy and a defence strategy will emerge in due course.

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