India’s Future War, How to Fight it & What to Expect?

"The Chinese way of fighting conventional war can be termed ‘e-Conventional Warfare’, similar to e-governance. The PLA has concluded that in order to hasten the defeat of the enemy."

India’s Future War, How to
Fight it & What to Expect?

China’s current military thinking and modernization has been greatly influenced by their study of 21st century wars including both the Iraq Wars and the one in Kosovo as also the conflict in Libya. Crucial role played by precision weapons and air power have been imbibed by PLA. In addition, the internet emerging as an all pervasive means of passing information is a lucrative target for cyber-attack.

Large scale cyber-attacks in Russo-Georgian War has not gone unnoticed by Chinese strategists. Accordingly, China has raised a number of cyber and electronic warfare brigades/regiments. The Chinese way of fighting conventional war can be termed ‘e-Conventional Warfare’, similar to e-governance.


Images of Chinese Dr and COVID-19 Whistle-blower

International geopolitical situation is undergoing a churning due to spread of COVID-19 from China. China is under tremendous pressure from the Western and other nations for an international inquiry. It certainly has a fall out on domestic politics of China. There are likely to be strong anti government and anti Xi Ping sentiments in China for the manner he has handled the COVID-19 crises and his earlier decision to become lifelong Head of State. The trade war between USA and China has also adversely affected Chinese economy.

Under such international pressure and domestic dissent, it is natural for Xi Jingping to somehow divert the attention of his people, PLA and other nations towards some new crises. India can be a soft target, as it is likely to take away good part of manufacturing business from China.

One can already see rather serious clashes between PLA and Indian Army along the LAC in Ladakh, Central and Eastern Sectors. Indian Defence Forces have to be prepared to face any escalation along the Indo-Tibetan Border, side by side Pakistan also livening up the Line of Control (LOC) in J&K and the IB. This may happen now or at a future date.  

China and Pakistan, not only have a strategic convergence but a tie up as well, to keep India down. China has become a great power economically and militarily and the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) military potential is at least twice, if not three times that of India. The ratio worsens when military potential of Pakistan is taken cognizance of.

PLA’s prime adversary being America, it is rapidly modernizing and well on its way to implementing latest technologies including space, cyber, electronic warfare, information warfare, network centric warfare. It is even incorporating latest inventions and technologies like hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence etc. Indian Army, by and large is still in the process of discussing and just about introducing a few new technologies.

At this slow pace Indian Army is long way from modernizing. It is not the fault of the Army entirely. Our bureaucracy and politicians have to take major blame. India cannot therefore match China militarily and especially as far as any joint and coordinated misadventure by China and Pakistan is concerned.


China’s current military thinking and modernization has been greatly influenced by their study of 21st Century wars including both the Iraq Wars and the one in Kosovo as also the conflict in Libya. Crucial role played by precision weapons and air power have been imbibed by PLA.

In addition, the internet emerging as an all pervasive means of passing information in all facets of life and consequently becoming a lucrative target for cyber-attack, is another aspect thoroughly analyzed by the Chinese. Large scale cyber-attacks in Russo-Georgian War and their crippling effect has not gone unnoticed by Chinese strategists. Accordingly, China has raised a number of cyber and electronic warfare brigades/regiments.

The Chinese way of fighting conventional war can be termed ‘e-Conventional Warfare’, similar to e-governance. The PLA has concluded that in order to hasten the defeat of the enemy:

  • Information warfare should be used in its strategic and tactical domains as a prelude as also concurrently with Kinetic operations. Informationized warfare aims at inducing the collapse of the opponents resolve and will to fight.
  • Strategic domain includes, disinformation, molding opinion in own favour i.e. perception management, deception, attacking adversary’s critical civil and military infrastructure and the very functioning of a nation’s life.
  • Tactical domain deals with disabling adversary’s tactical command and control, communications systems, ISR capabilities, weapons and their control systems, by cyber, electronic warfare and kinetic means and safeguarding own.

China would not take any large scale military action in a hurry. It will be a very deliberate decision by the top most leadership, which would vet the operational plans. Adequate forces would be made available to the overall commander to achieve required superiority. China will mount a well thought out information and diplomatic campaign aimed at international opinion, Indian leadership, people and military. Side by side it will make Pakistan carry out similar actions and try and divert Indian attention from the northern border.

Conduct large scale cyber/network warfare in the strategic domain, either before or concurrently with shooting war, to weaken our resolve to stand up to its demands.

PLA would resort to sustained air plus precision kinetic weapons like missiles, rockets, artillery, anti- radiation weapons attacks in addition to cyber-attacks to blind Indian Armed Forces by degrading/destroying Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems, including satellites, command and control infrastructure, so that the commanders and staff are unable to make cohesive operational picture.

Paralyze the command and control structure so that the commanders and staff are unable to make cohesive operational picture and plan and conduct operations effectively.  Command and Control Structure implies headquarters, command posts, commanders and staff, communication and information networks, especially the nodes.

This is a significant change that has come about in the conduct of 21st century wars. In the wars in the past, air attacks were aimed more at adversary’s fighting troops, weapons, transportation system and logistics installations, rather than command and control structure.


Gorkha Rifles troops during a foreign military exercise

India has to deter/dissuade China from embarking on any military misadventure against our country. India must try to dissuade China through diplomatic and economic means. However, to deter China, India does not have the required conventional military power. While improving our conventional military strength, India must therefore, look for other innovative options:

  • Enhance & Exploit Offensive Cyber Capability: There is considerable penetration of computers in China’s civil and military domains. This makes it vulnerable to cyber-attacks. India has not harnessed and exploited its immense potential in cyber field with missionary zeal for cyber warfare which is a cost effective option. Cyber should be given required autonomy like the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been and results are bound to be there. Well thought out and massive cyber-attacks can bring any nation to its knees by paralyzing its functioning and has therefore the capability to act as deterrent.
  • Use of Low Yield Nuclear Weapons: Regrettably, there seems to be no role for nuclear weapons in the Indian military strategy – the two are in separate compartments. India’s nuclear doctrine has been dominated by diplomats and even policemen and the military has been kept out of the nuclear loop. Also it has been Pakistan-centric. India being weaker conventional military must use comprehensive and synergized military power, incorporating assets in all domains, including nuclear, to safeguard its territorial integrity.

Use of small yield nuclear device, in own territory in sparsely populated areas against intruding PLA Forces along the Indo-Tibet Border will certainly act as deterrent. China cannot afford to lose a couple of Regiments worth to a nuclear or any other mass destruction weapon.

India’s No First Use Nuclear Doctrine needs to be tweaked accordingly. Chinese academicians have already given hints of China resorting to use of nuclear weapons in case in case some red lines are crossed and so can India! In fact two key functionaries in the Indian cabinet have already stated that all means will be considered for India’s defence.


Picture from a Sino-Indo joint exercise 

Chinese are likely use the concept of land-air warfare, with very close cooperation and coordination between their Army and Air Force. PLA will ensure 3 to 4:1 superiority in numbers at the places they are going to launch their offensives. A deception plan in operations and information warfare will be important part of the overall strategy.

The attack plan will include use of overwhelming fire power (shock and awe) by artillery, rockets, armed helicopters, air, including UAVs. The attacks will be multidirectional and not only restricted to the front line but in depth areas as well. Outflanking moves, even through neutral countries like Nepal and Bhutan and vertical envelopment will form important part of the battle plan.

The Vietnamese faced technologically superior America and in fact defeated them! They also gave bloody nose to PLA during the Sino-Vietnam war of 1979. We need to study these wars and draw appropriate lessons. Low-cost and may not be so-called modern options have to be explored by the Indian Army as far as battling PLA along the Northern Borders is concerned. Indian military, particularly the Army has to do innovative thinking to minimize the effect of great technological and numerical gap.

We should not become complacent by conducting peacetime exercises without building in realistic disruption and attrition expected in a war situation and based on our response in border skirmishes like the one at Doklam in 2017.


Indian Para SF in front of IAF transport aircraft

Be prepared for deep forays by the PLA using outflanking moves and vertical envelopment, along with multidirectional attacks on the forward defenses. Determination to stand fast and defend prepared positions to the last man last round. No question of any withdrawal. A weaker boxer closes with the stronger one and does not give him room to flex his arms. Take a cue from this for tactical battles. Indian Army is good at defensive battles, as it has been deployed on defensive tasks since Independence (1947)! Exploit this experience and capability.

However, we need to study the quantum of TNT PLA can fire on Indian defenses and upgrade our bunkers and defence works. Also dig tunnels to withstand enemy shelling, rocket and air attacks. Be mentally prepared to be surrounded and cut off. DO NOT PANIC! Have enough stocks of ammunition, food, water etc. in the defenses, including medical facilities.


Indian Army must realize that we are defending our sacred land. We will be fighting in our own territory and area where Indian Armed Forces have been deployed for 60-70 years. We should know every inch of the ground! This advantage is, however, frittered away by frequent turnover of units. The fight against PLA’s aggression has to become a people’s war. Guerrilla warfare by local population equipped, trained and led by Special Forces should become important part of overall war fight against PLA.

The advantages of involvement of local citizens in the fighting are obvious. Guerrilla warfare can also be extended across in to Tibet to harass adversary’s lines of communications, command and control infrastructure and logistics installations. Close and logistics support by the IAF will form important part of guerrilla warfare.


Use of light tanks/Infantry Combat Vehicles for battles astride mountain roads needs serious consideration. These were used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and by the Indian Army in Zojila in 1948.


For countering the Cyber threat, various IT firms, academia and government assets as also the capabilities with the military need to be synergized and utilized. In fact, every citizen has to be made aware and follow national guidelines. Students in colleges and even schools need to be educated.

Chinese electronic equipment which is likely to have bugs inserted, must not be used for defence and critical civil infrastructure. Have strict emission policy, not only during war but in peace as well. The adversaries are engaged in ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) to map our radars, communication and ISR systems during peace. Human discipline by users and providers must for ensuring security of electronic and computer based systems. Very essential to depend more on fiber optics and even old underground and field cables, rather than radio.

In exercises, get commanders and troops used to break in communications for extended periods. Have enough redundancy in communication networks by having alternate to alternates. Ensure diversity while planning networks of geographic, network engineering and media for protection against enemy electronic and cyber-attacks.

Do not over consolidate networks and rather have more networks instead; due to looming cyber and electronic threat. Security and safety of satellites against EW, cyber and kinetic attacks cannot be over emphasized. ISRO has to be goaded by the military to ensure this. Safety and security of isolated communication detachments cannot be over emphasized.

Use of terminology HQ be done away with in field formations as it connotes peace time environment. Introduce the concept of alternate command posts in Field Formations, manned by Deputy Formation Commanders. These should have required communications infrastructure and staff to take over the command and control immediately the Primary/Main Command Post is rendered ineffective, due to enemy cyber/EW/ physical action.

Finally, the Chinese Signals are still maintaining number of pigeon units. Let us look at it and Flag Signaling also, to be used in extreme cases. Non-electronic and non-cyber systems may find a use and a Saragarhi may be repeated along Indo-Tibet Border. One never knows.          


Indian troops in Siachen Glacier

The advantages of local troops deployed in high altitude operational areas are apparent i.e. hardly any acclimatization needed, genetic ability to operate and live at high altitudes, knowledge of local area and language and ability to live off the land. About 1/3 of fighting and supporting arms troops deployed along the Northern Border should comprise of local soldiers. This can be done by having Scouts or TA Units. Some effort has been made in this direction by having Ladakh and Himachal Scouts. This needs to be extended to the whole Indo-Tibet Border and part of Border with Pakistan in Ladakh.


  • A good percentage of the Indian Army is constantly on the move. Units moving from north to south, east to west and vice versa. Units deployed in deserts are straight moved to high mountains and other way round. Units with armoured/mechanized formations find themselves deployed along the LOC/LAC on pickets.
  • Fighting efficiency is certainly not a criteria used by Staff Duties Directorate while preparing roster for annual changeover of units!! There is a need for stability and continuity in area deployed and operational role. Otherwise up to 1/4 of troops deployed in a war situation will be rather new and not conversant with the area to have edge over the invaders!!
  • In 1962, units from plains were suddenly moved to Arunachal to face the Chinese onslaught and they became almost cannon fodder! Indian officer and Jawan are very versatile but efficiency and fighting potential of units can be improved significantly, if greater continuity is provided.


Indian Army and Indian Air Force should realize that their Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) system as also C4I (command, control, communication and computer and intelligence) systems will be significantly degraded right at the start, by PLA.  

IAF should assess electronic warfare and cyber threat to its air operations control and direction system, realistically. Also electronic and cyber threat to its aircraft in the light of a Sukhoi suddenly vanishing during a routine flight in Arunachal, a few years back. Also, PLA has been targeting flights by USAF over the China Sea for a number of years now, including by laser!


Personnel from the IAF and IA train together during Ex-Gaganshakti

The required synergy between Indian Army and Air Force is woefully lacking, in spite of public statements to the contrary by the top brass. The so called Theater Commands are a long way off and in any case IAF lacks required number of fighter aircraft to apportion to various theaters. The dual threat from China and Pakistan will divide the air power further.

For decades, the top brass of the Army and Air Force have failed to understand and appreciate the capabilities, limitations as also needs of each other. Air Power has tremendous potential in land air warfare. Its flexibility to switch from one area to another and attack targets deep inside enemy territory, precision attacks and resultant ‘shock and awe’ are, so vital in modern combat.

At the same time, the fighting for real estate that the Army gets involved in, is crucial for the nation. This needs to be understood and appreciated by the top Army and Air Force brass. Single point operational authority is a must to optimize operations by the Army and Air Force. Otherwise they will be fighting their own wars, as in the past. Feasibility and desirability of use of expensive aircraft for close air support of troops engaged in battles on the land needs to be settled once for all.

(Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh, PVSM, is the former Signal Officer-in-Chief and a pioneering member of Mission Victory India'. He is a product of the first course of the Joint Services Wing, the precursor to the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehra Dun and the NDA (National Defence Academy), Pune. He has held operational appointments at brigade, corps, command and Army Headquarter during his long service.)

(This article was first published in the 'Fauji India' magazine and has been reproduced with due permission from the author. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the editorial policy of ' Mission Victory India')

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