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India must be prepared for digitised battlefield

We must understand that inadequate cyber warfare capability will inflict considerable damage to the Indian defence forces and be detrimental to national security.

Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (retd)



‘Beyond the immediate, we are facing a future where security challenges will be less predictable; situations will evolve and change swiftly; and, technological changes will make responses more difficult to keep pace with. The threats may be known, but the enemy may be invisible. Domination of cyberspace will become increasingly important. Control of space may become as critical as that of land, air and sea. Full-scale wars may become rare, but force will remain an instrument of deterrence and influencing behaviour, and the duration of conflicts will be shorter.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at Combined Commanders’ Conference in October 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clear and categorical directions to the Combined Commanders of the armed forces is indicative of future threats and challenges to national security. The security challenges for the nation can no longer be defined and definite, as these are varied, conducted in many battle spaces by multiple means driven by a collective ideology, plausibly without any direct attribution and without any overt physical military application of combat power ab-initio.

“Domination of cyberspace will become increasingly important”, is a direction of the Prime Minister, unfortunately we as a nation and the armed forces have not done enough to translate the directions to capabilities. Globally, the second Cold War is widely believed to have started in 2014, however, contours are very different this time. Apart from media and social media, the most exploited arena in this Cold War is the cyber domain.

The Russians are widely believed to be involved in hackings and leaks which had an alleged effect on the US presidential elections. The cyber war however goes much beyond the US and Russia with other nations like Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and China being active participants. Georgia, Iran and Estonia have faced crippling cyberattacks which are thought to be state-sponsored and have proved the power of cyber warfare to shift focus from the conventional to the virtual domain.

India has been the target of nearly 1,852 attacks every minute in 2019 as per a report published by Indian cybersecurity research and software firm Quick Heal. Easy access to the Internet and readily available cyber tools enable ‘lone wolfs’ and ‘non-state actors’ to launch cyberattacks. The advantages of deniability are exploited to the hilt in the cyber domain. There are no traditional and physical boundaries in cyber warfare and it is characterised by anonymity, ambiguity, speed, no warning or indicators and lack of posturing.

In conventional warfare surprise is a critical element and cyberattacks achieve this almost every time. India and especially its armed forces need to be aware of these cyber realities and incorporate appropriate concepts into their warfare strategy. Future wars will be multi-domain multi- dimensional wars waged in many battle spaces across the full spectrum of conflict. Cyber will be the critical factor and the nation with asymmetry in cyberspace will be vulnerable to this low-cost high affect warfare.


As far as India is concerned, our two adversaries, China and Pakistan, pose major challenges in cyberspace, though the cyber threat is all pervasive and can manifest from any source, state and non-state. China has set aside $90 billion for information war in the cyber domain. It is believed that the PLA’s strategic cyber command is integral to the PLA’s Strategic Forces Command, structured to integrate all strategic domains available to the state and directly controlled by the Central Military Commission. It has approximately 1,30,000 personnel on its rolls and pool of additional 2.5 million people who have the basic education and skills in cyber warfare, hacking, espionage, spying and sabotage.

The role of Chinese PLA Unit 61398 and the National Security Agency in launching sophisticated cyber espionage activities is well known and is in open domain. In May 2008, Chinese hackers allegedly broke into India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Chinese hackers are known to have used social networking sites to break into computer networks of the Indian defence establishment like the National Security Council Secretariat, 21 Mountain Artillery Brigade, Air Force Station Delhi, etc. It is also rumoured that the major power grid failure in north India followed by Eastern parts of India in July 2012 including Delhi was a cyberattack engineered by China possibly to check the capabilities.

During the recent Doklam standoff Chinese cyber activities were directed towards India as part of its information warfare, an important component of the three-warfare strategy of PLA. Blackouts in our regional electricity grids and other cyberattacks have been caused by China in the past. It is a matter of concern that almost 80% of our telecommunication equipment is Chinese. They have more than 100 companies manufacturing electronic and telecom products in India. There must be on overhaul of existing rules and regulations with the aim to eliminate Chinese products from critical areas. At present it is near impossible to procure any ICT equipment which is not sourced from China. It is common knowledge that all such equipment has embedded security risks.

The threat from Pakistan is again significant, though their technology prowess is less than China, the motivation levels against their ‘eternal enemy’, India, may be much more. Pakistan has been defacing Indian websites through hacker groups like Pakistan Hackers Club, GForce, etc, in the past. These groups are of the firm belief that they are working for the cause of Kashmir. Lately some groups have taken to social media to discredit the army and cause unrest in the rank and file.

There is a concerted effort by Pakistan for employment of social engineering in cyberspace with special reference to social media. Lone Wolf and non- state actors also pose significant threats. The lack of cyber expertise with such actors is often made up by hiring cyber criminals though the Dark Net for a specified fee. The anonymity factor makes these actors more adventurous as the risk of getting caught or compromised is minimal especially if working from another country.


Twenty-seven ministries in the Government of India are presently dealing in cyber with varying priorities and funding. Rajeev Bhutani in a CENJOWS paper on A Comprehensive National Cyber Force Structure For India, writes: “India’s response to cyber threats so far has been reactive and fragmented. India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITy), under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) released the country’s first ever National Cyber Security Policy (NCSP) on 2 July 2013.

As regards cyber infrastructure, there are as many as six agencies at the apex level, which are dealing with cyber security management: National Information Board (NIB), National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Cyber Response Centre (NCRC), and National Technical Research Organization (NTRO).” India needs to create formal structures and organisations to ensure optimal cyber usage and security.

With new technologies like Internet of Everything, Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Robotics/Autonomous vehicles are all driven by Cyber space, the key question is are we as a nation future ready. We have over 400 million internet users but lack in critical infrastructure, legal provisions and regulations, security consciousness, secure and sovereign data farms. We have multiple cyber threats which are all encompassing and can target all our sectors from defence to financial, government, transportation, power, media and industry etc.

There is a need to evolve an allencompassing comprehensive national cyber strategy, which defines national objectives, and addresses the security concerns and threats to the nation and in particular the defence forces and operational preparedness and plans. This Strategy should dictate capability building and enhance existing capacities for an effective cyber defence of the armed forces. An effective cyber defence policy and organisation will have to function in concert with all other government departments and organisations under the overall policy framework of the NCA.

Defending the territorial integrity of India in land, sea and air and safeguarding the national interests and assets is the constitutional mandate of the Armed forces. As present and future security threats are multidimensional and multi domain including the all critical cyberspace, the armed forces will have to ensure a secure cyberspace and exploit it as a tool for deterrence. There is imperative that we create structures and systems which enable a secure cyberspace and exploitation to ensure a modern and prosperous India.

PM Modi’s national initiative of DIGITAL INDIA can only take shape if we have the requisite cyber security and cyber technology structures. India needs to create a National Cyber Agency (NCA) by an act of parliament which will be an autonomous body with the requisite authority and funds to govern and administer all aspects of cyber. The NCA should be self-funded, even at an additional one rupee per internet user per month there will be adequate funding for this agency. The NCA will be responsible for cyber security in all its domains and also for creating critical infrastructure and self-reliance in the mid to long term.

It will be much more than a mere regulatory body. On similar lines the states too could create their respective State Cyber Agency which should follow the guidelines and instructions off the NCA. In affect the National Disaster Management Authority model exists and can be replicated with suitable modifications to meet the national cyber security needs. The three critical aspects of cyber security are people, process and technology. There is a continuous effort to plug gaps in these critical aspects through continuous technological upgradation, advisories, guidelines, training and audits.

There is a profusion of armed forces agencies dealing with cyber issues ranging from the Corps of Signals to CERT-Army/Navy/Air Force, the IT departments of various headquarters and the Integrated Defence Staff. The Defence Cyber Agency created in 2019, has been designated as the nodal agency mandated to deal with all cyber security related issues of the Tri Services and Ministry of Defence. These agencies work as per guidelines laid down, in coordination with CERT-In which was created in 2004.

These agencies are mandated for safeguarding the cyber system by creating appropriate standards/ guidelines, rapid emergency response, audits and advice. The processes and guidelines followed are iterative with accountability and responsibilities earmarked. However, the present organisation fall short of meeting even the present-day needs leave aside the future threats and challenges.


The cyber domain is huge and there are going to be 500 million Internet connected devices by 2020 in India. Cyber capabilities are also a major factor of deterrence much like a nation’s nuclear and conventional military capabilities. The Internet has also become a weapon for political, military and economic espionage. The dependence of cyberspace by the military makes it a vulnerable domain for attack by inimical elements.

Attacks can be physically on the facilities where the hardware of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4I2SR) systems are located, or they can be on the software by distorting the programs which operate the C4I2SR systems. Each service of the Indian armed forces has its own set up for cyber security of critical military assets. This in effect means that the Army, Navy and the Air Force are working in silos and there is hardly any inter communication with respect to this critical aspect.

Actually, the inherent secretive nature of the armed forces does preclude jointness. HQ Integrated Defence Staff has tried to bring in some jointness in this regard but the existing structures may not allow much exchange of cyber information. May be with the raising of the Defence Cyber Agency security will improve and procedures will be streamlined. The Indian armed forces have their own air-gapped networks which give it a high degree of security.

However, we do have a history of cases like the Stuxnet virus, which prove that air gapping alone does not guarantee cyber security. The army’s network is built up on imported hardware and updating of the same often requires connecting machines to the internet which may render the network vulnerable. The low threshold of education and technical knowledge of soldiers remains a cause of concern. Training such a large military on cyber aspects is a problem area.

Also, the inherent fast pace of technology in the cyber domain necessitates re-training periodically which is difficult administratively and we need to come up with new training methods which enable on the job training without compromise on standards. The infrastructure for such training needs should be put in place. The other challenges faced by the defence forces are supply chain dependence on imports especially Chinese, targeted attacks (spear phishing) on machines, lack of adequate structures, low technical HR development in the country, lack of trust in hardware due to poor in house chip manufacturing base in the country, etc.


The Joint Doctrine of the Indian armed forces was released in April 2017. This doctrine is a revised version of the first document which was released in 2006 and addresses the current realities. The Doctrine recognizes the five domains of modern warfare, ie land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. It lays due emphasis on establishment of the Defence Cyber Agency with both offensive and defensive cyber warfare capabilities.

The nucleus is already in place and is functioning under the HQ Integrated Defence Staff. With the cyber arena now recognized as a new domain of warfare, setting up an optimal force competent to achieve the dual objectives of defending the country from cyberattacks in war and securing the military’s network operations in peace requires deep and pragmatic thought. Most mega armed forces like United States, Russia and China have raised cyber commands with a huge number of cyber warriors who are both professionals and possess an unmatched passion for cyber war fighting.

Most Western countries like the UK, Germany and the Netherlands have also entrusted this responsibility to their defence forces. There is an urgent need to establish a tri-service Cyber Command as envisaged by the Naresh Chandra Task force and the Shekatkar Committee, which should function directly under the Chief of Defence Staff who will be a single point of contact to Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). It should be headed by a three-star general (CinC) from Army/AF/Navy. HQ Cyber Command will have a real- time coordination with NCA and all other organisations.

It will be responsible for both Cyber Defence and Offence. Just as defending the territorial integrity of India is the sole responsibility of the armed forces, they should also be responsible for defending the national interests in cyberspace. The US and China had established their cyber commands in 2010 and their cyber work forces are gaining expertise to forge ahead in cyber war fighting. There is an urgent need to establish a tri services cyber command which should function under the upcoming Chief of Defence Staff who would be answerable to the Cabinet Committee on Security.

It would also help in real time information sharing and coordination with other government cyber agencies like CERT-In. The dedicated mission teams could be adequately decentralised to, say, Division levels and be given specific tasks of cyberattack, cyber defence, support, etc. Deterrence cyber capabilities are not discussed in open domain, but it goes without saying that this aspect should be the mandate of Defence Cyber Agency, as a purely defensive approach is a recipe for disaster. However, to be effective we also need a dedicated and trained workforce, build a cyber culture in the armed forces and have lateral partnerships with other cyber agencies, industry, academia and experts including foreign ones.

The student community must get into cyber mode with passion to ensure that national security is not outsourced in the future. We need to start cyber security and awareness through courses, funded by the IT sector, in schools and colleges. There is a need to change old mindsets in our country and develop in house technology to match the future cyber challenges posed by China and other adversaries. The development of niche expertise within the armed forces and participation of other agencies, including the PPP model also needs deliberation.

The future digitised battlefield will operate in a hostile cyber environment. Disruptions and loss of data and information will be felt at the operational and tactical level. Inadequate cyber warfare capability/cyber security will inflict considerable damage to the Indian defence forces and be detrimental to national security. India’s strategic challenge in cyberspace emanates not just from external threats but is exacerbated by its rapidly increasing digital ecosystem.

A comprehensive National Cyber Force Structure with Cyber Command at the apex will not only allow the Indian armed forces to gear up for cyber war fighting and win a Net-centric war but will also enable synergy with other national agencies/organisations using the cyberspace thereby providing holistic cyber security to the national assets.

Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (retd) is the former Director General Military Operations, Indian Army, and currently the Director at the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS).

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit



The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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