“Printing was invented in China in the eighth century AD and movable type in the eleventh century, but this technology only reached Europe in the fifteenth century. Paper was introduced into China in the second century AD, came to Japan in the seventh century, and was diffused westward to Central Asia in the eighth century, North Africa in the tenth and Spain in the twelfth and northern Europe in the thirteenth. Another Chinese invention, gunpowder, made in the ninth century, disseminated to the Arabs a few hundred years later and reached Europe in the fourteenth century.”— Samuel P. Huntington
“The 21st Century will be the century of change. More things will change in more places in the next 10 years than in the previous 100. Most countries aren’t ready for this dizzying ride – certainly not the United States of America”. —Fareed Zakaria
“Our duty is to put ideas into their heads, they will do the rest. This is what is to be done in India”. —Swami Vivekananda
Everyone is aware of the unprecedented rate of new technologies bursting on the scene at global scale nearly every day. In fact most are bewildered and are clueless about this. Yet this explosion of new technology will continue unabated and will continue to transform the world. That is the media, the social reach, the business practices, the service industry, the economy, the organisational structures etc. It will be extremely disruptive for the unprepared who refuse to align with emerging trends. It will be equally true for the military. We, therefore, need to take an urgent review of the new technologies and its impact. Hopefully this shall prepare us to mould the military ways and become far more effective rather than face the disruption and wither away in times of crisis. The adjustment with the emerging technologies will need the militaries to align their doctrine, training and HR issues apart from some other organisational changes. Thereafter, put the changed ideas to vigorous trials and training, because seldom, if ever, one will get the changes right the first time. It is because of this that companies like Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft launch the beta version of new software in New Zealand first. Only after needed refinements the products are launched world-wide.
Rather, now we need to look at evolution in most practices in similar way as various soft-wares evolve and bestow continued improvements. Microsoft’s Windows multiple versions similar to mobile phones newer versions bear testimony to this fact. Updating of Microsoft Windows every second Tuesday every month again reinforces the same. Failure to update is bound to lead to failures. As our history shows that in each and every battle fought between the British and Indian states during 18th and 19th century, it was the Indian side which had more and better weapons and larger armies, but old thinking and poor training. The success behind British victories were superior generalship combined with rock like discipline of the British infantry, based on new doctrine, training and combination of subterfuge to cause divisions of Indian forces.
Therefore, trying to induct and assimilate new technologies will only be the first step. We will need to align our doctrine to technology. If the doctrine is paramount, then we will have to be careful in selecting technologies that support the doctrine. For example, American defence starts in the faraway lands of South Korea, Japan and Europe. Israel’s defence lies primarily in its offensive capability. On the eve of World War II, France’s doctrine was defensive at the Franco–German border. Our doctrine too, will need to suit our requirements at different fronts, comprising totally different terrain and geography. The different spectrum of war faced by our military from antiterrorism on one extreme to possible nuclear war at another extreme demands this. Geographical realities of the huge Himalayan range pose an uphill adversity. Better prepared and numerically superior adversary at this border will have to be factored. The selection and adoption of new technology will not be an easy straight forward task but a phenomenally complex process if we want the maximum bang for the buck at various fronts and spectrum of war.
Having decided doctrinal and technological issues, we will have to tackle other important issues which for want of a better term I call “cultural issues”. It is well understood that modern warfare is an extremely complex undertaking. It involves system of systems, all intricately linked. But linking properly each system itself, and thereafter with other systems is the most challenging part for traditionally driven armies, air forces and navies, not to mention other agencies involved in ISR. This is where the cultural mind set comes in. Moreover, the result of modern technologies has already made the world flat, as Thomas Friedman propounded. The organisational structures in most economic enterprises have become more horizontal compared to earlier vertical form. The free market is an excellent barometer of the changes. This is because technology has enabled mass communication and participation. It implies more
delegation, faster decision making and dissemination, far more receptive organisation at multiple hierarchies simultaneously. Another important factor is that it is the younger lot who are much more at ease with new technologies. They can innovate and adapt it for organisational needs far more quickly than the seniors. Today, it is imperative that their voices be heard much more than in the past.
The basis for integrated warfare is a flexible mind set, willing to first look at the overall big-ger picture before its own limited picture defined by its role and part in a war/ battle. That this is against natural human inclination is proved by Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 in USA which mandated the Services to follow a certain path for integration. Creation of more joint unified commands, culminating in Joint Forces Command in USA bears testimony. How then can one bring about the cultural change in the stereotype mind set? The easy answer is to use all possible means. First, it needs to be mandated at the highest level. The various reorganisations in the US military are more the result of law makers than the Services themselves.
Reorganisation in Russian military post the Cold War and in the Chinese military, post economic reforms, was again mostly State directed. The next step is proper professional education of the officers starting as early as possible. Sitting together and studying is less effective for jointness, then studying purposely for joint operation even though not co-located. This is where service prejudices seem to cloud the issue on what to study and for how long. One way to approach the issue is to put joint exercises as the primary means of learning rather than year long course at various stages. Let practical be the teacher. What works in the field – that’s what we need to study. What fails, needs to be discarded or minimised. Needless to say, the exercises need to be as realistic as possible.
Another cultural change required is in decision making. The well connected networked system throws up too much information at each level.
The very senior levels which normally deal at strategic level now have access to too many details. It can be an ongoing action at a platoon level or a UAV locking on to a suspected terrorist. This profusion of information creates a decision dilemma for senior leadership in the media sensitive world. What if the suspected terrorist is an innocent civilian – a woman or child in disguise? How to further confirm the identity? Or to let the juniors go on with the mission, hopefully with pre-decided rules of engagement? Well, war is always about blood and gore; death and destruction.
While collateral damage has been reduced well out of proportion compared to few decades past, it cannot be eliminated totally. The temptation to over control will have to be controlled. Therefore, we need to relook at following issues. Our prognosis reveals that war on terror and insurgency will occupy our major attention in coming decades. If this be so, then we need to expand upon the current limited thoughts on restricted military application for counter insurgency. With phenomenal technological advances, immense new possibilities have opened up for utilising air power in counter insurgency role. We need to try out these new possibilities in realistic test like situations. Testing and trials will lead to the best practices and procedures. Doctrinally we must shift towards increasing role of air power in CI.
Let us look at anti-terrorist operations in some detail to understand good use of technology. Use of technology in countering terrorists by Israel is an example worth examination. Of the entire lot of terrorists killed in 2002, air strikes accounted for only 15 percent. By 2005, Israeli air power was responsible for 50 percent terrorists killed. Regarding collateral damage, in from his superiors without solving it in the first place,because the solution was not in his grasp. Or an observant senior could detect the problem during his visits/inspections. This was an extremely slow and tedious process with more opportunities to hide rather than solve the problem. But smart phone technology has brought in a sea change. Now everyone is connected and can communicate with anyone/everyone instantly.
The loop of detection, informing, seeking solution has shrunk phenomenally. The fact that everyone can be involved also provides so many more solution providers. We need to capitalise on this. The new requirements emerge only when one exercises all available systems and discovers the need for something new or different. Then bright minds, dealing with the problem create solutions with innovation. Air Power has to be used first to seek improvements – especially in unusual roles. If one does not use air power, one can never improve. For the innovative culture to develop, the organisation must have openness, participatory approach and design its rules for the majority’s benefit.
Jim Collins describing how companies reach greatness from the pedestal of being good stated, “Most companies build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of wrong people on the bus, which increases the need for more bureaucracy to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which then further drives the right people away, and so forth.” We need to learn from this traditional approach. A primary task is to create a culture wherein people have tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard. This requires four basic practices:
• Lead with questions, not answers.
• Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
• Conduct autopsies, without blame.
• Build red flag mechanisms that turn information in to information that cannot be ignored.
Cyber war and digitisation dictates the need to bring in distinct changes in our HR policies. These fields require younger personnel, who are allowed more freedom and are unconstrained by typical conservative military discipline.
Cyber is a field needing combination of highly educated computer experts along with less educated but gifted individuals who have a fascination for gadgetry. To understand and accept that it is the young persons who are creating all the innovations in digital world one needs to only look at the commercial world. There, all new start-ups are by the young. These start-ups are changing the face of business. Same will also apply to military and the faster we realise and implement this, the better.
UAV operations are another new domain. It demands a fresh approach rather than modifications to the earlier way of work. In USA, there is now a raging debate about UAV operators role and status vis a vis the combat role of pilots.
We cannot ignore this. So one standard fit all policy in HR will not work. The need for flexible and evolving HR policy is inevitable. In conclusion, to maximise the benefits of new technologies, mere induction of technology will not do. The issues dealing with doctrine, training, HR policies and even organisational changes will also have to be tackled in a wholesome manner. Failure to do so is bound to lead to experience of Indian rulers in 18th and 19th century, wherein despite new and better and more numerous technology and forces, they lost each and every battle.
Commissioned in the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot, Air Vice Marshal AK Tiwary, VSM, served as a ground based Forward Air Controller during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict. He has over 4100 flying hours experience, mostly on Russian fighters. He commanded a MiG-29 Squadron in late 80s and superannuated as Senior Directing Staff (Air) at National De-fence College, New Delhi. Very active in the strategic circles, he has published many articles in professional military journals in India and has also authored five books.