Revolutions in Military Affairs & History of Generations of Warfare

Future wars will not be waged by tanks, guns, nukes, missiles etc. Aircraft carriers will be rendered useless. No bullets will be fired, no nukes will be launched. But the armies will be disarmed.

Revolutions in Military Affairs & History of Generations of Warfare

The generations of warfare that have evolved through the centuries are divided into different categories. Starting with land warfare, military conflicts shifted to naval battles and by the start of First World War, Air warfare also came into being. In the third decade of the 21st century weightage of military conflicts is shifting towards Space warfare. The evolution of warfare has always been driven by weapon technology. As new weapons swarm the battle zones, counter systems also appear alongside.

Put in a chronological order, they become different generations of warfare, likes the steps of a staircase. Shift from one generation to another generation are called Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA. Let me explain, one by one.

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First Generation

The use of physical force by humans with bows, arrows, swords, spears including horses and elephants is termed as the first-generation warfare. Opposing forces used to get on a chosen battlefield in a massed human formation. The American Civil war and all other human wars — right from Mahabharat and even before are dubbed as First-Generation warfare. Key was the physical force of a human being, aided, supported, and multiplied by handheld weapons. Body armour was the shield from physical force. It was contact combat.

Second Generation

It was the development of bigger shields in the form of trenches to secure soldiers against muskets and gun fires. Prior to trenches there used to be forts. It came to be known as Trench warfare of the First World War. Though it was not 'contact fighting ', but close combat, face-to-face. Fortress defences also were to be physically assaulted in a close combat mode.

Third Generation

It was mobile warfare and used an indirect approach to impregnate the fortified defences. Tanks and heavy artillery, along with air crafts fire power dealt with the enemy indirectly. Surprise and deception were the key principles. A concentrated punch was delivered where victory was expected.

Fourth Generation

With the advent of nuclear weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), it became increasingly difficult to fight your military equals. Thus, proxy wars, sponsored violence and insurgencies became the mode of achieving political objectives against adversaries.

Wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Kashmir, and Kosovo are some examples. This gave the rise to War by other means (WOM) — when you do not use or use minimum own force but exploit enemy’s internal vulnerabilities through militants/insurgents/terrorists/fifth columnists. One can call them Irregular soldiers. This phase is also called Irregular Warfare.

Fifth Generation

Use of misinformation (media) to give a spin to one’s lies along with psychological operations and irregular soldiers (insurgents & terrorists) together became the new mode of fighting. This is also called Hybrid warfare. Financial sanctions are part of this generation of warfare. This warfare uses semi-visible means to defeat the enemy. Monkey dancing across the borders is not an option as the purpose is to demolish the enemy from within.

Sixth Generation

Moves from brute force to brain force — Invisible warfare — Use of invisible weapons which render adversary’s war potential irrelevant, but it is done without firing a weapon. It is war without rules or ethics. Bioweapons and microbes do the needful. Pandemic wars will dominate the future. Armies will have to orientate towards fighting these invisible weapons.

Seventh Generation

It will be the war in the space — Anti Satellite weapons (ASAT) and laser killers will dominate. It may be science fiction now but by the end of this century — space wars will replace economic wars of the earth.

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Revolutions in Military Affairs

All said and done, there is a very subtle difference between various generations of warfare when you see them one after the another. But if you see them alternatively, then you will understand the difference. To cite an example, when you discuss first and second generation, you will find hardly a difference but if you look at first and third or second and fourth together, you will see the change that had taken place.

When we talk about RMA we ought to consider the war making machinery in a holistic sense. In so doing one has to review the following:

  • Ongoing advancement in weapon systems, inclusive of armament and ammunition. It includes range, accuracy, and lethality.
  • Command and control systems of weapon systems and soldiers and formations.
  • Communications and real time procurement of information and intelligence. It includes Artificial intelligence (AI). Surveillance and reconnaissance are also part of this
  • Improved delivery system of the armament and ammunition. Drones and missiles have enhanced ranges.
  • Logistics systems which would vitalise the effectiveness of the weapons and ammunitions.

These five aspects go to make the RMA. We got to see how technology has been reshaping our military doctrines. At the same time, we have to consider where technology and strategies merge. It is the marriage of the two which describes the pantheon of RMA.

As you look at the world today, nano technology and robotics have jump started the invisible wars — we see it in the form of bioweapons, laser beams, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) guns totally changing the face of war.

In communications — nano technology has produced drones of the kind of Bumblebees, who would roam unnoticed in your defences, strategic and tactical locations. Besides, the swarm weapon systems have further improved the kill and accuracy. Laser and ASAT weapons along with drones and missiles have given a tremendous impetus to delivery systems.

Finally, the mayhem created by Covid-19 must tell you that you are in the midst of wars which follow no rules. RMA has gone much beyond the 4th and 5th generation warfare. The old concept of technology deciding the military strategy has given way to strategy defining military technology. This is the paradigm shift in the way the wars of 21st century have to be fought. Make no mistake the Coronavirus assault is the result of United States and Chinese trade wars. Unrestricted warfare or has dictated the creation of monstrous Coronavirus as an invisible weapon.

RMA, driven by nanotechnology has given new meaning to WOM, whose nuances has yet not been grasped by military and political leaders alike in India.

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Future Challenges

Army should be ready to fight pandemic wars more deadly but more frequently. Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, a Pakistani scholar observed in his article in The Dawn of 11 April: “Covid-19 and its succeeding pandemics are likely to occur with shorter and shorter intervals between them.”

This is what the future wars will be — WOM, which will render your white elephants of current military machines useless - it will not be done by your tank, guns, nukes, missiles etc. Your aircraft carriers will be rendered useless. No bullets will be fired, no nukes will be launched. But the armies will be disarmed.

The game has changed - Note what Winston Churchill had said: Future wars will not be of weapons but of the minds. Those who, have the minds to design a controllable invisible war, they will rule the roost. Design yourself for a designer war. This is the call of the RMAs of the 21st Century.

How do I define future? It is not tomorrow or day after. When I talk about the future I take into account a generation and generally a generation is pegged at 25 to 30 years. So, to me the future is 2045-2050 and thereafter.

(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in  ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as  ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected])

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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