Disruptive Impact of Technology on Warfare

The most decisive act of judgement which the Statesmen and General exercises is rightly to understand the War in which he engages.”

— Carl von Clausewitz

The Challenge 

With the nuclearisation of our neighborhood, aggression from sovereign sanctuaries via indirect proxy wars that combine incremental irregular military actions mostly restricted to border areas and conflict zones with weaponised political, informational, and economic agendas are the threats that face the nation from external powers. The recognition that major land invasion between nuclear powers is obsolete is more or less settled since the end of the Second World War. The Kargil border skirmish and the lack of military response both during OP Parakram and 26/11 to very grave provocations underline this. The more recent surgical strikes can at best be described as a tactical action with strategic signalling.  

What then can be the technology disruptions that can change the status quo and defend the nation from revisionist powers from whom we face multidimensional hybrid threats. What are their dimensions ?

  •  India runs a trade imbalance with our declared strategic threat China of a few 10s of billions of USD annually who also happens to be our largest trading partner!
  • A very large percentage of our national telecommunication backbones that are the nervous system of a modern nation run on Chinese ICT appliances.
  •  Paytm and a host of other industries which hold large amounts of the critical information of our citizens have the Chinese as the biggest investors.  (We still don’t have a privacy law or data localisation policy)
  • Chinese smartphones, surveillance cameras and other electronics have the largest penetration in India and give the Chinese a gods view into our hinterland and into the Indian information space.     
  • The Chinese is investing 60 Billion USD into Pakistan our other adversary with whom we have a hot irregular war that is ongoing. The Chinese are also partnering them in co production of military hardware.

The time frame upto 2050, will be characterized by rapid progress in many areas of technology and the changes are ongoing and already visible. However, assembler-based nanotechnology and artificial intelligence have implications far beyond our current understanding of a “revolution in military affairs.” The advent of nuclear weapons has post the second world war established a strategic stalemate between nations. Although countries without nuclear weapons have been invaded by dominant powers no nuclear weapon state has still been invaded by another power inspite of all other metrics of military power being in their favour.  This tacit recognition by the Indian elites has resulted in lack of a sense of urgency by the national leadership while addressing matters of national security. Advances in the field of nano technologies, artificial intelligence and cyber weapons on the other hand can upset this strategic stalemate, make attribution difficult and can be used by much smaller organisations acting as proxies.

The greatest danger then to our national security coincides with the emergence of these powerful technologies: A quickening succession of technological revolutions may spark a new arms race involving a number of potential competitors. Older systems, including nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms, would become vulnerable to innovative forms of attack or neutralisation that is unprecedented. Rapidly evolving, untested cyber arsenals that lack attribution would undermine confidence in the ability to retaliate or resist aggression. Warnings, orientation and decision times would overlap with the ability to target key decision makers without collateral damage making escalation attractive. Covert infiltration of intelligence networks and sabotage of IOT devices controlling smart cities would make the distinction between confrontation and war indiscernible. 

Actual and perceived power balances can shift dramatically and abruptly, accompanied by economic and social upheaval, general uncertainty and disputes over the control of major resources and of humanity itself. Such a runaway crisis would likely erupt into large-scale rearmament and warfare well before another technological plateau can occur, recent US withdrawal from multiple treaties are a precursor and indication in this direction. If assembler nano technologies are feasible, the rules that underpin national security and the global order will change. Thus nanotechnology in combination with AI can not only usher in an era of rapid economic growth but also great instability unless the nation stays engaged and make our own advances in this field.

A combination of Nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence have been talked about as disruptive technologies, which can even lead to the destruction of the human race. Both fields have huge potential in the information age for both the defence of our critical information networks and disruption of adversarial ones. In a world where global economic activity is increasingly reliant on critical information infrastructure the new space for domination is increasingly cyber space. Nano-bots can be used as undetectable offensive weapons to target our critical information networks. 

Advances in nanotechnology opens up huge potential for sabotage of imported machinery, information systems and weapon systems. If we take the Snowden revelations to its logical conclusion, assuming imported technology to be free of inbuilt nano scale saboteurs would be short sighted. In the present scenario where the whole emphasis is on building smart cities and even a smart planet comes with inherent risks, unless we develop a very strong indigenous R&D based industrial base.  Nanotechnology and AI are strategic fields of research that this nation can ill afford to ignore.

“This calls for a perestroika of our national defence industrial base.”


The future as always will belong to nations and societies that are able to assimilate and use technological revolutions for pursuing their own interests. The nation needs to synergise efforts by the military, government agencies, international organisations, religious groups, corporations, private entities, and partisans into integrated campaigns—ranging from overt to covert and false-flag—to achieve national objectives. This calls for a perestroika of our national defence industrial base. Nations who fail to do this will be doomed and those that can carryout this rapid restructuring will prevail.

The armed forces need to recalibrate its approach towards warfare. This means executing operational art that realistically links military actions to strategic objectives within contexts of culture, history, economic and political agendas in support of military objectives. Instead of preparing for large-scale unrealistic kinetic clashes between manoeuvring field armies in a nuclear environment. The tri-services need to be integrated, to embrace a more dynamic transformation to negotiate the challenges of the twenty-first century. This requires a national leadership infused with strategic wisdom who need to setup a bipartisan political commission to usher in this change.

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