Network Centric Warfare Capabilities and Strategic Stability in South Asia

Network Centric Warfare (NCW) capabilities are meant to provide real-time information to a state in a war or conflict. It aims to not only give that specific state superiority over its adversary but also embolden it to defeat its adversary in an actual conflict. The core of NCW is primarily the amalgamation and integration of all aspects of forces, techniques, capabilities, procedures, and services involved in warfare. To ensure the synergy of all these components for achieving a successful strategy in modern warfare, many developed countries are adopting the NCW approach. In the South Asian context, given the Indian pursuit of NCW capabilities, its military and doctrinal development which focuses on swift, fast, controlled, limited, and intense warfare with Pakistan would become more devastating. These capabilities would enhance the coordination between Indian forces with the provision of improved intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, situational awareness for decision making during crisis or conflict. Consequently, all these capabilities would become a challenge for strategic stability in South Asia because at its crux is the Indian desire to manipulate and overcome the notion of nuclear deterrence or mutually assured destruction in the region.

NCW does not just deal with the consolidation of the physical aspect but also focuses on the behavioral and human aspects. As NCW facilitates the synergy of all components of forces, therefore it enables militaries to have increased speed and greater responsiveness. NCW would be beneficial for Indian forces because they are spread across huge land-mass. Thus, to acquire quick responsiveness to any kind of crisis, conflict, and military action NCW would increase the combat effectiveness and chances of success. Moreover, it would decrease risks and costs by facilitating collaboration and coordination of forces. Although NCW is a modern and evolving concept there are few important components of this concept, such as; shared awareness, quick decision making by command, compressed operations, self-synchronization, informational superiority, and demassification. It provides militaries with timely information about the adversary and enables the state to utilize that information through effective communication. After the border standoff of 2001-02 between India-Pakistan, the Indian military realized that with its existing structure it would not be able to exploit the level below the nuclear threshold effectively, therefore it drafted the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD). As per the CSD, rapid military action would be taken against Pakistan with the help of integrated border units within a few hours across multiple locations. Thus, to carry out such quick action and operationalize CSD,

Indian forces require network-centric capabilities to have situational awareness for successful operation.

In 2005, Indian forces conducted the military exercise named “Vajra Shakti” to adopt the network-centric concept and assimilate its forces accordingly. In this regard, Force Multiplications Command Post (FMCP) was created to merge the information coming from sensors, radars, AWACS, and satellites to give ground forces better information in the fog of war. So, today after CSD all subsequent Indian military doctrines like for instance the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD) are more focused on the integration of forces, limited war, surgical strikes, hot pursuits, and quick responses. These concepts and doctrinal developments are facilitated with the help of the development and acquisition of technology as well. One of the critical technologies in this regard is satellite, in which India has been investing heavily. Moreover, India has also signed agreements with the US, which will also give it access to satellite imagery and information. AWACS, UAVs, Surveillance radars, ISR systems, and tactical information and communication systems are also among the technologies in which Indian has been spending huge budgets for facilitating its forces in acquiring network-centric capabilities.

This situation is damaging for the strategic stability of South Asia because at the core of adaptability of network-centric capabilities by India is its desire to manipulate the levels below the nuclear threshold of Pakistan. In South Asia, nuclear deterrence is a key factor in keeping both nuclear rivals at bay. But, India’s continuous attempts to break free from the mutual vulnerability are driving it to acquire and develop offensive military technology and draft offensive military doctrines. Subsequently, Pakistan has been compelled to invest in such military technologies to maintain nuclear deterrence to enhance its security and ensure stability in the region. In response to the Indian much-hyped CSD, Pakistan has developed its concept of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) to bridge the gap between its conventional and strategic forces. In 2019, during the Balakot/Pulwama crisis Indian forces tried to implement their network- centric capabilities but the attempt resulted in the loss of a helicopter in friendly fire and two of its planes were also shot down by Pakistani forces. These developments reflect that though India is moving towards developing and acquiring such capabilities, it will take time to fully implement these concepts. This is perhaps beneficial for Pakistan as in the meantime it can carefully analyze the situation and develop its own network-centric warfare capabilities along with the role of strategic forces to counter India. south-asia