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The evolution of warfare with technology needs to be contemplated by modern-day military strategists.

Warfare has been at the forefront of civilization. If there is an activity that is as old as human civilization, then it has to be war or conflict. The race on the battlefield has been of achieving competitive advantage over the enemy. This led warriors to don the inventor’s hat and led to a lot of developments which eventually created the timeline of the evolution of warfare.

Evolution of Warfare

The first major development came in the form of chariots which created the competitive advantage of speed and agility in the early 400 BCE. The chariot was the dominating advantage for over a thousand years, until the birth of the Roman Legion and the rise of defensive and phalanx concepts in the early 900 CE.

A key concept in Strategy is that of Synergy, military strategists of the late 900s wished to synergize the competitive advantage of the chariot and the legions. This led to the birth of the Cavalry Knight – or mounted terror. A concept that was significant in Anglo Saxon victories in the 900s.

One of the key developments that shaped the way modern wars was gunpowder. In the late 900s, armies became more formalized and with the introduction of firepower artillery came into being, this was an invention that is being used by soldiers even today.

With the 1800s came the machine gun age which lasted till the end of the second world war. This saw the rise of modern warfare machinery like aircraft, tanks and mechanized warfare. This marked a significant phase of warfare evolution where strategists had to employ creativity to put technology to good use.

The end of the second world war saw the development of the greatest weapons known to mankind – the birth of the Nuclear Weapon. This was the time when soft power and intelligence started dominating all spheres of International Relations.

With the onset of the 21st Century, new problems started taking shape across the world. Lines between combatant and non-combatant started blurring. Terrorism, lone-wolf attacks, and insurgency became the number one problem of mankind. During this time intelligence has become the biggest competitive advantage for all Defence forces.

It can be seen that with time competitive advantage on the battlefield was a combination of technology, strategy and the human element. This can be observed in our history:

  1. Artillery laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire
  2. Alexander the Great employed creative tactics on the battlefield which made him a legend in military history
  3. Tanks were the mean machine that wreaked havoc in the hearts of the enemy

Advantages of Technology

If we look at the three key innovations that are being put to use in modern day combat a pattern emerges.

  1. Tanks: Offer fire and Maneuver capabilities coupled with a shock element
  2. Non-lethal weapons: Have been really effective in cutting down on casualties in complex situations like insurgency
  3. UAV: Have ensured safety of the soldier while amplifying surveillance capabilities

It can be observed that technology has created a safety net for the operator.

Problems with technology

  • Urban Setting

With warfare entering the urban areas. Soldiers face a two-pronged challenge brought about by the complexity of the terrain and the sheer size of the population.

The terrain creates the problem of finding the enemy and poses the danger that our soldiers might be walking into a trap.

The population makes it difficult to distinguish friend from foe.

Problems posed by Urban areas

  • Global Scale

With globalization technology and resource sharing effectively negates the advantage of ownership. And with most of the information being saved on cloud space, there is a high chance of leaks. Thus, ownership of technology alone is no longer a competitive advantage.

Technology as a Force Multiplier

“The greatest victories that have been won in war do not depend upon a simple superiority of technology, but rather on a meshing of one side’s advantages with the other’s weakness so as to produce the greatest possible gap between the two.” – Van Creveld (Technology and War)

Till now we have observed that technology when employed can create a competitive advantage if there is only single ownership – Use of artillery by Babur. But with war moving to asymmetric settings technology alone can’t act as a force multiplier.

A simpler technology might sometimes beat the most sophisticated weapon. This was observed when the German forces had to face defeat when winter set in during the Russian Offensive. Another instance was the debacle of Vietnam when Viet Cong negated the advantage of a technologically superior force by exploiting nature (Forest setting of Vietnam)

The science side of a war can be taken care of by technology but the art of war has more to do with the human element involved. As it has been rightly saying a gun is only as good as the person holding it.

New Age Threats

With the advent of Industry 4.0 and the digital era, new age threats have emerged which pose a challenge to national security. Cyber risks, Social media, automation and AI have brought forth the risks of:

  • Vulnerability: Confidential information is subject to leaks.
  • Lone wolf attacks: social media has become an effective tool being used to radicalize people
  • Lack of discretion: With automation, we are taking out the human element thus taking out the strategic thinking part in the action
  • Misinformation: fake news and digital media have become a dangerous cocktail that has caused a high degree of internal security problem

Using Technology for OSINT

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a sphere where we can put modern technology to effective use. Intelligence gathering is an activity that can benefit the most from tech. Older methods of snooping may become outdated owing to the advent of quantum computing. Reportedly China has succeeded in using this for secure video conferences.

Machine learning and AI can play a significant role in curbing fake news and lone-wolf attacks. A simple example can be how we can use sentiment analysis of social media in an area to zero down on sources where it is highly possible that the situation might turn violent.

Intelligence is essentially a tool that can help us predict threats thus making our security apparatus proactive rather than reactive. An upcoming tool for this could be the statistical models being developed to predict Black Swan events which can find application in Internal Security.


When a new technology first appears, we have no idea what to do with it which leads to confusion and a response that is complying with the status quo. Technology without integration, or a conceptual underpinning, can be the hype before the letdown.

Technology will aid us in many ways, but technology will not solve all the problems. The conduct of war requires both science and art. Good leadership, quality soldiers, cohesive units and streamlined organization, are absolutely necessary. Although technology is making great advances, human beings remain the most effective systems for determining its relevance.

Technology does compel integration & pushes decision making downward. Training becomes a key aspect when we are trying to integrate tech into security. Technology is just a tool. True competitive advantage in warfare rests on the boots on the ground.

The paper was presented by author at National Security Conclave 2021 organized by COVINTS

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

By Ariit Sengupta

Ariit Sengupta Is a Research Associate with DRaS. He is an MBA graduate from IIM Jammu. He also holds a degree in Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering from Indian Maritime University. He was engaged in R&D activities for three years at the Indian Register of Shipping. He is deeply interested in Economics, Supply Chain and International Relations. With diverse experience and interests, he understands that research is the prime mover for effective decision making.