MOSAIC WARFARE: INDIA’S TRANSFORMATIONAL NECESSITY
Lt Gen PJS Pannu, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)
Indian Armed Forces are engaged in long-term land border conflicts with two nuclear-armed neighbours, China and Pakistan. The complicity between the two and collaboration with a mixed technology infusion is transforming both adversaries into a competition where the Indian Military could be trailing behind, technologically and operationally. To redefine the transformational curve, the Indian Military is stitching the three domains of Land, Air and Sea into a technological and organisationally cohesive integrated force that is enmeshed with Space, Cyber, and Digital (ICT) capabilities. The call of Atmanirbharta has thrown challenges, open to the DRDO and ISRO, to transform and accommodate the aspirational private Industry to build a modern Military Industrial Complex. The MoD’s Department of Defence (DoD) and the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) have an obligation to pursue new defence strategies and operational concepts designed to improve the Indian military capability by realigning defence posture and better integration of Multi Domain Operations at the theatre and national level. Since the Indian security architecture has Border Guarding forces intrinsic to its Defence, albeit under the MHA, the need for a wholesome new approach is imperative. The bottom-up and collaborative research and development (R&D) and innovation ecosystem would be foundational for reformation and transformation.
India has been fighting sectoral battles in different terrains, limited in geographical pockets, yet remaining part of larger War Zone designs with central control. The Tactical Battle Areas have remained unique, requiring specific tactics, force application and methodology of application. DARPA’s Mosaic Warfare concept, modified for Indian application is ideal for adoption to implement decision-centric warfare in theatres under consideration. The central idea of Mosaic Warfare is to create adaptability for forces and complexity or uncertainty for the enemy through the rapid composition and re-composition of a more disaggregated force for different terrain and adversarial challenges, using human command and machine control. Implementing Mosaic Warfare or other forms of decision-centric warfare will require substantial changes to force design and Command and Control processes. In India, it would be easy to transform as the large monolith forces have bricklayers that can turn into decentralised digital mosaics that are AI-enabled. The forces can be plugged in/out by simple QR Codes.
New Warfighting Approach
Instead of competing with adversaries by modifying current capabilities and operational concepts, our Defence forces could consider new approaches that could lead to a prolonged advantage. Today, the most significant operational challenges are in developing secure and dependable long-range sensor and precision weapons networks. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) employs these capabilities as part of a comprehensive system of systems (SoS) designed to attack perceived vulnerabilities. The PLA complement their long-range precision weapons and sensors with proxy and paramilitary forces, which they use to enact “Gray zone” tactics to gain territory and influence by contesting disputed territories or destabilizing neighbouring countries.[i]
The Indian Military needs to fit the bill along with future collaborative forces to counter the Chinese operational capability to survive and pursue their objectives at various levels of escalation. Today, the most effective Military force structuring packages combine the use of relatively large formations such as Services Commands, Army Corps, Divisions with Border Guarding battalions stitched, Combat Commands, Groups and Teams. Similarly, Naval Marine units work alongside or independent of Aircraft Carrier Groups. Both Land and Marine Forces are supported by semi-flexible Air Power packaged as per operational needs. These formations do provide operational flexibility but operate with bulky, rigid and predictable approaches that increase their detectability and ease of targeting. While the Armed Forces are still looking at the Network Centric and System of System models, they could instead re-model to mosaic decision models.
The Army War College, Mhow, last year included Multi-Domain Warfare as the subject of examination. It was also felt with my interactions with the Higher Command Course that while transforming to Multi-domain Operations (MDO), we could emphasize more on distributed formations. The current attrition-centric view of warfare needs to address the operational challenges by embracing a new theory of multiple successes that focuses on making faster and better decisions than adversaries, rather than achieving attrition. A decision-centric approach to warfare seeks to hinder an adversary's ability to achieve its objectives by posing multiple dilemmas, instead of simply neutralizing its forces to the point of incapacity or failure. Classical manoeuvre warfare, for example, is designed to dislocate an enemy’s offensive operations through delay or degradation and disrupt its centres of gravity, such as sustainment or command and control (C2). This can be viewed as attacking the cohesion of an adversary battle network.[ii]
The number of dilemmas and speed at which the forces can impose these on the adversary is constrained by the existing Command and Control structures. The range of environments and situations at the Command / Theatre level limits the ability of commanders to employ automated decision aids, slowing decision-making to the speed of a commander’s planning staff. Moreover, communications at command/theatre levels are likely to be contested, reducing the ability of commanders to dynamically manage forces to implement manoeuvre warfare.
Today, the most prominent emerging technologies are artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems, which are being increasingly used merely to accelerate, augment, or automate operations already conducted by humans. These technologies could instead be the foundation of a decision-centric approach to warfare. For example, autonomous systems could enable a more disaggregated force design that makes military units and platforms numerous and re-composable; AI could empower decision support tools that enable commanders to manage rapid and complex operations. Tactical use of autonomous drones stitched to tactical resources for a localised outcome can rapidly mesh with operational outcomes in the war zone.
The Shift to Decision-Centric Warfare
Decision-centric warfare is intended to enable faster and more effective decisions by the on-ground commanders while also degrading the quality and speed of adversary decision-making. The dual focus on our decision-making and those of our adversaries distinguishes decision-centric warfare from preceding concepts such as Network-Centric Warfare, which focuses on improving military decision-making by centralizing it.[iii]
The current thinking on Network-Centric Warfare relies on service Commanders-In-Chief with unfettered situational awareness over wide areas and the ability to communicate with all forces under their command. Centralized decision-making, however, will likely be neither possible nor desirable during future conflicts in highly contested environments. Escalating military decision-making to higher echelons by the Military Operations Directorate lacks justification if predetermined policies and, more significantly, pre-established redlines have already been applied, especially when the operation is confined to a localized outcome. Adversary’s improved electronic warfare (EW) and other counter-C2 and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR) capabilities will reduce the ability of our commanders to understand or communicate across theatres. These actions will constrain the ability of the commanders to gain awareness or exert control over large forces.
Whereas traditional Network-Centric Warfare assumes a high degree of clarity and control, decision-centric warfare embraces the fog and friction inherent in military conflict. Decision-centric warfare improves the adaptability and survivability of forces by leveraging distributed formations, dynamic composition and re-composition, reductions in electronic emissions, and counter-C2ISR actions to increase the complexity and uncertainty an adversary would perceive regarding the military operations and degrade the decision-making of opposing commanders.[iv]
The two most significant operational challenges that arise with decision-centric warfare are distributing and obscuring the disposition and intent of our forces while sustaining the ability of the commanders to make and enact prompt, effective decisions. Autonomous systems and AI could help address these challenges.
Autonomous systems to enable distribution and mission command
Autonomous systems such as unmanned vehicles and communications network management systems could help the forces conduct more distributed operations. Unmanned vehicles could enable more distributed formations by disaggregating the capabilities of traditional multi-mission platforms and units into a larger number of less multi-functional and less expensive systems.
Decision-centric warfare is cognizant of the contestation, disruption, degradation and frequent denial of communications during military engagements. Hence the organization of C2 relationships aligns with the availability of communications, diverging from the approach in Network-Centric Warfare, which aims to construct a communications architecture supporting a predetermined C2 structure.
In the decision-centric warfare framework, employing the C2 and communications (C3) approach, often referred to as "Context-Centric C3," commanders exercise control over forces with whom they maintain communication. Autonomous network controls would manage trade-offs between bandwidth, reach, and latency to connect communications with the forces needed by a commander to accomplish his or her task and prevent the commander’s span of control from becoming unmanageable. Forces that are too hard to reach or unnecessary for required tasks would be left out of the commander’s forces.
AI-enabled decision support
The concept suggests that the subordinate leaders should take the initiative during independent operations, including when communications are lost with senior leaders, as “Mission Command.” However, Mission Command would undermine the effort to gain a decision advantage over adversaries. Junior commanders will not have a planning staff to assist in managing or operating forces under their command. As a result, they could make poor decisions or fall back on habitual or doctrinal tactics that will be more predictable to an adversary.
Human command and machine control would leverage the respective strengths of humans and machines; humans provide flexibility and apply their creative insights, and machines provide speed and scale to improve the ability of forces to impose multiple dilemmas
on adversaries. This approach would also accommodate the likely difficulties in fielding AI-enabled decision support systems. Human commanders would initially scrutinize and assess recommendations from machine control systems before issuing orders, allowing them to adjust or revise operational plans. Over time, as decision support tools improve and establish a history of effective performance, commanders may become more willing to accept machine recommendations.
Force Design - Tactical Battle Areas
Today, conventional forces in Tactical Battle Areas consist predominantly of manned multi-mission formations that are self-contained, or monolithic, and incorporate their sensors, C2 capabilities, and weapons or electronic combat systems. The relatively inflexible configuration of monolithic multi-mission units, as well as constraints on communications interoperability between different units, results in a given force package only being capable of executing a small variety of effects chains. This reduces the adaptability of the force, makes its operations more predictable, and limits the ability of forces to confuse an enemy as part of operational concepts focused on gaining a decision-making advantage.
The Forces could better pursue decision-centric warfare by decomposing some of today’s monolithic multi-mission units into a larger number of smaller elements with fewer functions that would be more composable. For example, in a ground force, rather than having to rely on large troop formations, smaller units and subunits could be augmented with small and medium-sized unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) and/or UAVs to improve their self-defence, ISR, and logistics capability. A flight of strike-fighters could be replaced by a strike-fighter acting as a C2ISR platform for a group of standoff missiles and sensor- and EW-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The force design needed for Mosaic Warfare will require new approaches to C2 that can compose and recompose large numbers of distributed units. C2 processes will also need to enable faster and more effective decisions while imposing complexity on enemy sensors and C2 processes.
Command and Control (C2) Arrangement
To fully exploit the value of a disaggregated and more composable force, Mosaic Warfare would rely on a combination of human command and machine control. If the force design were implemented without changing the associated C2 process, commanders and their staffs would have difficulty managing the larger number of elements in a disaggregated force compared to a traditional force. Without automated control systems, commanders would also be much less able to take advantage of the decision-centric force’s composability in creating complexity for an adversary or recomposing in response to enemy defences and countermeasures.
In the Mosaic Warfare C2 process, where human commanders develop an overall approach to an operation that reflects their strategy and the intent provided by the commander’s superiors. The commander directs the machine-enabled control system via a computer interface, assigning tasks to be completed and inputting estimates for the opposing force's size and effectiveness. The machine-enabled control system implements Context-Centric C3 by identifying the forces in communication that could be tasked while maintaining the commander’s span of control at a manageable size. The commander then chooses from the forces in communication the units to be made available for tasking. Time will be an important consideration in the Context-Centric C3 approach. Units that commanders would need for their operations could move out of position, lose communications, or be destroyed while commanders decide which forces to make available for tasking and review recommended Courses of Action. This delay, however, is likely to be much less than using a traditional planning process. This potential disadvantage could also be outweighed by the benefit to own forces of imposing increased complexity on the opponent.
Insights from Wargames
To assess the validity of the theory behind decision-centric warfare and the practicality of Mosaic Warfare, the current wargame outcomes can be converted into programs. Taking off from IndSpace Exercise: the Industrial Space Wargame held during the DefSAT 2023 by SIA-India, Synergia Foundation, Bangalore held a wargame last year to get essence on the capability to enable Mosaic Warfare models. I was quite emboldened by the response to certain scenarios. Lt Gen VG Khandare, Principal Advisor to MoD considered it as an essential feature for future transformation of Indian warfighting capability.
The next edition of DefSAT, being held from 7-9 Feb 2024 at the Manekshaw Centre, New Delhi, will also have the IndSpace Exercise, a second in a series of many such exercises to be unfolded periodically. Factors such as resources, logistics, sequence of action, and how long each phase of the plan will take can be tested. The defence practitioners and industry stakeholders put their heads together to assess the requisite industrialised solution, disruptive innovations and technology discovery in space and counter-space capabilities that are needed by India.
The workshops and wargames held in the US found evidence for many of the potential benefits hypothesized for Mosaic Warfare, with caveats. In addition to assumptions made about logistics, communications, AI and autonomous systems, the game version of the machine-enabled control system lacked the modelling and simulation capabilities of a real control system. The characteristics of Mosaic force elements used by the control system were also extremely simplified. As a result, participants tended to accept the force packages and implied tactics in the control system’s proposed Course of Actions without significant question or analysis.
Implementing Decision-Centric Warfare
Although the implementation of decision-centric warfare would not require replacing current military forces, the integrated forces would need to change many of the processes it uses to develop military capabilities to field a disaggregated force. New operational concepts will be essential for the forces to fully exploit the potential of new technologies. If the Armed Forces continue to view AI and autonomous systems only as a means to improve its current operational approaches, it could find itself the victim of disruption instead.
Bangalore-based DRDO Laboratory CAIR (Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics) is rightfully examining the concept to prepare models that can be test-bedded during certain military wargames. This needs a concerted effort between all stakeholders to come together and ensure capability and readiness as we transform into integrated systems. We should take the scientific community and industry on board so that military technology serves the rightful future needs to win wars without avoidable national fatigue.
Author: Lt Gen PJS Pannu, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd) is a former Deputy Chief (Operations) of Integrated Defence Staff. He is pursuing a doctorate in Management in Indigenisation of Defence Industry. He is the FICCI Chairperson of the task force for ICT modernisation for Defence Forces. He is the Chair of the Committee of Space for Defence at SIA-India. Chairperson of AICRA committee for AI in Defence. He is a certified national cyber scholar from ISAC. He is a regular speaker at the LBSNAA Mussoorie and Institutions of national repute. He is the head of the Military History and Strategy vertical of Valley of Words. A distinguished fellow of the USI (India)
Courtesy: Excerpts from CSBA (Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments) 2020
[i] James Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: DoD, 2018), p. 7, available at https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary. pdf.
[ii] Tiago Cavalcanti, Chryssi Giannitsarou, and Charles R. Johnson, “Network Cohesion,” Economic Theory 64, no. 1, 2017.
[iii] Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origin and Future,” Proceedings, January 1998, p. 1139, available at https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1998/january/ network-centric-warfare-its-origin-and-future.
[iv] These approaches are described in operational concepts under development by U.S. military services, including Distributed Maritime Operations, Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare, Multi-Domain Operations, and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations. See Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Navy Forges New EW Strategy: Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare,” Breaking Defense, October 10, 2014; Navy Warfare Development Command, “CNO Visits Navy Warfare Development Command,” Navy News Service, April 13, 2017, available at https://www.navy.mil/submit/display. asp?story_id=99893; and Christopher H. Popa et al., Distributed Maritime Operations and Unmanned Systems Tactical Employment (Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School, 2018), available at https://apps.dtic.mil/docs/ citations/AD1060065; U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), The Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (Ft. Eustis, VA: U.S. Army, 2018), pp. 32–44, available at https://www.tradoc.army.mil/Portals/14/Documents/ MDO/TP525-3-1_30Nov2018.pdf; and “Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Marine Concepts and Programs, U.S. Marine Corps, available at https://www.candp.marines.mil/Concepts/Subordinate-Operating-Concepts/ Expeditionary-Advanced-Base-Operations/.