It is crucial for India to embrace multi-domain operations | 4th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about two things: first, the concept of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), and second, why India should pursue it.


  • GS3: Security Challenges and their Management in Border Areas


  • The India-China skirmish on the Arunachal Pradesh border has brought the Chinese threat on the front burner again.
  • Such low-level and geographically restricted clashes will keep recurring.
  • But what this should not do is to lull us into a complacent mindset that accepts such clashes.
  • The threat, actually, is at the other extreme of technical advancement — in the concept of multi-domain operations (MDO).

What is Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)?

  • The traditional domains are air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace. And generally a country has dedicated manpower to each domain eg Air force, Navy, military or space force.
  • Each of these forces are supreme in their domain.
  • But due to technological advancement such as AI, quantum computers etc, war is now becoming multi-domain, where every possible weakness of an enemy is exploited to win a war with the help of a Multi-Domain Operations technique.
  • Thus MDO is a concept that can achieve competitive advantage over a near-peer adversary by presenting multiple complementary threats where each requires a response, thereby exposing the adversary’s vulnerabilities to other threats.
  • Technologically advanced countries such as the USA, China, Russia, thus, already developed technologies and trained their forces for multi-domain wars.

As article is informative in the nature, following data is written as it is:

  • MDO is not just actions on land, in sea, air, cyber, space and in the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • It comprises operations conducted across multiple domains and contested spaces through convergence of capabilities to overcome an adversary’s strengths by presenting it with operational and/or tactical predicaments.
  • This means having a common operating picture across all domains which forms the basis to decide the best tool to address a given task.
  • Hence, it is not one service using capabilities in multiple domains to do a task (as is happening now), but the best positioned and capable operator of any service doing it across any domain.
  • Thus, an Army coastal missile battery could be tasked to strike an enemy naval vessel detected by the radar of an Air Force aircraft; or an Air Force’s armed unmanned aerial vehicle on an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission could be diverted to use its weapons against an Army target detected by a naval/civilian satellite; alternatively, a cyber weapon could be used.
  • In simple terms, the MDO architecture uses any sensor and the best positioned shooter to accomplish objectives; the technical complexity and the command, control and communication (C3) structure required can well be imagined.
  • MDO and its C3 structure would have inputs from all sensors to come up with an optimum engagement solution using artificial intelligence.
  • This demands three things:
    • First, all sensors (and other information input sources) must be capable of being hosted on the MDO architecture.
    • Second, all solution providers (executors) must be able to receive inputs and instructions from the MDO C3 structure and carry them out.
    • And third, if the link to the main structure is not available (say, jammed by the enemy), the mission command characteristics of distributed control would come into play so that operations continue.

Do India need to develop MDO capabilities?

  • In the Indian context, China remains the principle adversary.
  • The recent stand-off further reinforces this fact.
  • China, on its part, has been developing a range of multi-domain capabilities against the US, being its main adversary, in collusion with Russia.
  • Therefore in a conflict situation with India, it can be deployed against India as well.
  • If left behind, India would be deterred by denial during peacetime itself as Beijing, which has the technology and finances, masters it. India has no choice but to embrace MDO too.

Strategy to develop MDO capabilities:

  • A four-pronged strategy is suggested.
  • First, in the short-term, traditional physical domains must be stabilised, with critical deficiencies of the services being plugged.
  • Second, our C3 networks need to be hardened and protected against cyber threats. Importantly, they need to be linked and synchronised so that seamless exchange of data is ensured.
  • Third, for the long term, a pilot project must be started now so that the true challenge of creating an MDO environment is grasped. The pilot project would identify the technologies required and, equally importantly, an idea of the monies necessary.
  • And finally, to get the fundamentals of MDO right, it is vital to train and educate personnel starting now.

Way forward:

  • Technology has changed the face of war. History is witness to perils on the battlefield if scientific advances are overlooked. Battlefields too have changed from physical brawls to cyber and precision strikes. Thus India must act swiftly and embrace the MDO.

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