The evolving battlefield of South Asia | Pakistan Today

The evolving battlefield of South Asia

  • New challenges must be met

By: Hamzah Touqeer

The nature of war as described by Clausewitz as like that of a chameleon, which is constantly changing. The proponents of change in battlefield believe it consists of political, economic, technological and industrial factors impacting the strategic, doctrinal, operational and tactical levels of warfare. The era from 1789-1815 industrial revolution saw a change in the way of warfare from agrarian to an industrialized form, which changed the operational structure of military forces. The impact of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) could be best explained by Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s three-wave model of warfare, starting historically from the advent of gunpowder which revolutionized the agrarian form (for example ill equipped irregular army battles during the Crusades) to the first wave, such as during the Napoleonic Wars, calling upon the use of artillery, and rank and file of troops. The industrialization of warfare demanded a well-equipped army capable of carrying blitzkrieg manoeuvres, using armoured and mechanized troops and naval battleships along with the use of air power, such as during World Wars I and II. The third wave of warfare called upon the role of information-based systems exploiting the cyber and space domain impacting C5ISR (Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) as seen during the network-centric wars after Operation Desert Storm. The fourth generation warfare saw a drastic shift in the unconventional domain, employing subversive tactics to defeat the enemy with use of irregular and asymmetric warfare below the threshold of conventional war.[1]

The independence of Pakistan and India being entrenched in blood and animosity over the distribution of resources and the territorial disputes resulting from the unjust division at the end of British colonial rule over the South Asia, these disputes led the two neighbours into three conventional wars and a conflict which had engraved the strategic culture of these states into security states and resulted in a security dilemma and subsequent arms race in the region. India in 1974 conducted its first ever nuclear test named Smiling Buddha which enforced Pakistan to follow the suit  and develop its own nuclear weapons programme in order to maintain strategic balance and the force parity distribution in the region. Between 11 and 13  May 1998, India carried out five nuclear tests which were rebutted by Pakistan equally by carrying out five tests of its own between 28 and 30 May 1998. Thus, this marked the formal introduction of nuclear weapons into the battlefield theatre in South Asia, rewriting the positions for diplomacy and military engagement and strategic doctrines during peace and war altogether. The onslaught of Indian Cold Start Doctrine to insert its integrated Battle Groups IBGs within Pakistani territory under the nuclear threshold, forced Pakistan to develop tactical nuclear weapons for the battlefield to counter any Indian military adventurism. This move not only changed the dynamics of rules of engagement in the battlefield but also forced Pakistan to maintain a full-spectrum deterrence doctrine. Thus, the development of new technologies and weapon systems impact the strategic balance and consequently shift the strategic thinking and culture of states.

Indian ambitions in space must be kept in check, and Pakistan should develop its capabilities for a space programme to keep pace with the evolving battlefield in South Asia

The delicate strategic balance within South Asia has kept Pakistan and India in a security dilemma causing an arms race  cycle in the region for maintaining the strategic balance, as either side deems national security interests are thus best secured. The Indians, by undergoing force modernization, nuclear proliferation and increasing acquiring fissile material, have caused grave concern for decisionmakers in Pakistan for securing its own interests. The Indian changes in its Land Warfare Doctrine, shift in nuclear doctrine from No-First Use to First-Use, increasing strategic coordination with the USA, Russia and Israel in military and space technology have played an important role in disturbing the strategic balance in the region. India has over the years invested and developed its space programme very effectively and poses a major source of concern for Pakistan’s national security. India maintains a well-organized and under-development military space programme. India maintains over 55 satellites with over 17 dual-use military satellites and 8 designated military satellites which are capable of conducting ISR missions in electromagnetic, radar imaging, cartographic and electro-optical imaging satellites. These satellites are capable of monitoring force deployment and movements, tapping into military communication posing a challenge to sensitive communications. These developments in space also pose a risk to the sensitive critical infrastructure as it makes them vulnerable to surveillance and reconnaissance, enables India to carry out cyber-attacks, locate, coordinate and execute deep strikes on weapon systems including cruise and ballistic missiles, manipulate the ISR capabilities and information undermining the movements of strategic assets.

Space is considered the battlefield of the future, with major states including the USA, China, and Russia maintains a constellation of 1327, 263 and 192 respectively out of over 2666 satellites in space. The majority of satellites used by these states act as important ISR platforms, communication relay bases, with scientific and environmental applications. The USA is the first state which has inaugurated its space force as a separate armed force on 21 December 2019 with a hefty budget of over $1.4 trillion. These space forces are designated to perform three major functions in strategic military roles which are to collect ISR, enhance protected communication and protected data link within the command hierarchy and also to protect own space assets while destroying and targeting enemy space-based assets by using kinetic kill vehicles such as Anti-Satellite Weapons ASAT or directed energy weapons.

Understanding the international strategic picture we could analyze the domino impact on the South Asian region where India is aspiring to emerge as a major regional hegemon and maintains a comprehensive space programme with devious ambitions undermining the peace in the region and also internationally by maintaining ASAT capabilities. Thus, this not only threatened but the peace of the outer space with the weaponization and offensive capabilities development but also undermines the strategic stability of the region. Thus, Indian ambitions in space must be kept in check, and Pakistan should develop its capabilities for a space programme to keep pace with the evolving battlefield in South Asia.