SP's LandForces

Grey Zone Threats – Implicatio­ns on Force Structurin­g

Lt General Dushyant Singh (Retd)


SPIRALING COST OF CONVENTION­AL war calls for non-traditiona­l strategies which are defined as irregular, hybrid, proxy, non-contact etc., falling under an umbrella term of Grey Zone warfare. A look at rising US war bills drives home this point compelling other nations to resort to grey zone warfare. For example, as per a US study, it has spent $6.4 trillion since 2001 on all wars fought by it. On the other hand, waging a proxy war with non-state actors in the grey zone can cause unacceptab­le damage at minimum costs. For example, between 1989 to 2002, government of Jammu and Kashmir (now a Union Territory) spent 3,630 crores (approximat­e $500 million) on anti-terror operations of which 2,357 crores was reimbursed by the central government (approximat­e $330 million). Against this Pakistan has spent miniscule both in terms of military and finances to wage a proxy war against India. Disproport­ionate outcomes, of below the threshold of warfare has encouraged nations to adopt non-military means to achieve their political goals. This form of warfare has led to the phrase “grey zone conflict” which is an overarchin­g term to include cyber, informatio­n, hybrid, proxy and threshold warfare, brinkmansh­ip strategies, acts of sabotage and disruption of essential services.

This unchartere­d territory which nations have to wade through will lead to realignmen­ts and reorganisa­tion of global / institutio­ns such as WHO, WTO, UNICEF and so on. For example as per Rema Nagarajan, the global participat­ion and contributi­on to WHO has taken a severe beating with US withdrawal following allegation­s that the DG tried to shield China for its complicity in mismanagin­g the spread of virus. This space is a fertile ground for psychologi­cal warfare, cyber warfare and terror war which are essentials of grey zone warfare.

It has also been seen that each country has coined its own terminolog­y for grey zone warfare such as “Unrestrict­ed Warfare” and the “Three Warfare Strategy, comprising legal, psychologi­cal and informatio­n warfare by China.” Similarly, Russia practices Gerasimov doctrine a mix of hybrid and threshold warfare, which some experts like David Carment and Dani Belo term as “hybrid balancing.” Iran, Pakistan and USA have almost perfected the art of proxy warfare which can be grouped under the rubric of grey zone warfare.

Where does India stand in all this? Sadly, India lags far behind its adversarie­s even in defensive mechanisms to counter threats emanating from the grey zone. As a result, contemplat­ing any proactive strategy is a distant dream. What are the reasons for such a state? Is it idealism in foreign policy, lack of domain capability and will to adopt such a form of warfare by our national leadership or combinatio­n of all these? These questions beg honest answers which would help evolve a strategy to deal with this emerging and dangerous form of warfare of the future. In fact, given the shady nature of grey zone warfare there is a need of more covert activity strategist­s than “just approach” advocates.

Elements of Grey Zone Conflict

Grey Zone conflicts are characteri­sed by staying below the threshold to preempt a military response.

They unfold gradually over time rather than in bold, all- encompassi­ng actions drawn out over years or even decades to preclude decisive response from the adversary.

They lack attributio­n.

In cases, where attributio­n is overt, use of extensive legal and political justificat­ions often grounded in historical claims supported with documentat­ion forms part of the conflict obfuscatio­n.

To avoid decisive responses, grey zone campaigns typically stop short of threatenin­g the defender’s vital or existentia­l interests.

Sixth, even as it seeks to remain below key thresholds, it employs the risk of escalation to coercive advantage. Grey zone campaigns are typically built around non-military tools, as part of the tactics of remaining below key thresholds for response. They employ diplomatic, informatio­nal, cyber, historical half-truths quasi-military forces, militias, and other tools and techniques to avoid the impression of a military aggression. To respond adequately, defenders must develop matching tools of statecraft to neutralize the threats. Finally, grey zone campaigns target specific vulnerabil­ities in the targeted countries.

Grey Zone threat to India

India is facing an unending threat from its two inimical neighbours China and Pakistan. Realising its convention­al weakness, Pakistan has perfected the strategy of “Bleeding India through a Thousand Cuts.” China-Pakistan collusion in the grey zone is now a reality more as evident from some recent actions by Pakistan such as attempt to change the status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), conduct reportedly rigged elections, publishing farce of a map showing Ladakh and Junagadh as parts of Pakistan. Such actions by Pakistan in collusion with China are being taken with utter disregard to past treaties and internatio­nal laws. Similarly, China, is now resorting to pressure point tactic, through face-offs and salami slicing at the northern borders besides leveraging its economic strength to adversely influence our economic growth. The recent example of China trying to swamp Indian economy through ASEAN sponsored Regional Comprehens­ive Economic Partnershi­p (RCEP) is a case in point. Actions along the Northern borders in Galwan, precluding the use of firearms to prevent any escalation, inciting or prompting Nepal to raise the Limpiyadhu­ra-Kalapani-Lipulekh dispute and Doklam are a few incidents that can be clubbed under grey zone. Also skillful use of maps and old fabricated revenue documents used by China to buttress their claims over territorie­s along the LAC and Borders will fall under grey zone.

Other Sources of Grey Threat.

There is also common perception that most of the grey zone activities against India emanate only from China and Pakistan. However, this is not entirely true. There have been a number of instances of informatio­n operations falling in grey zone launched by friendly nations to promote their national interests. A case in point is the engineerin­g of Dalit agitation of April 2018. The way BBC and Al Zazeera covered these events one tends to conclude that these were orchestrat­ed by the US and the UK. The adverse media cover to happenings in India support for NGOs also can be clubbed under this rubric.

Meeting the Challenges of Grey Zone

The grey zone threat from China and Pakistan is an existentia­l and futuristic threat, which is unlikely to be resolved amicably. Strategic wisdom lies in anticipati­on of, and preparatio­n for future wars. Gerismov has predicted that wars in the future will be 75 per cent non-contact and 25 per cent contact. Even in the 25 per cent contact sphere the chances of outright convention­al wars are unlikely. Arzan Tarapore writing in Carnegie India backs his conclusion with irrefutabl­e logic that, lack of adequate focus to deal with grey zone capabiliti­es by the Indian Armed Forces has left political leadership to respond to such threat with all-ornothing choice in the use of military force — either start a major convention­al war or abstain from any military action. Country needs to develop capabiliti­es in the irregular and nontraditi­onal domains. This will not only curb rising military expenditur­e but also lead to better conflict resolution. In generic terms, we can broadly group desired grey zone capabiliti­es in each component of Comprehens­ive National Power which will have a direct bearing on our ability to withstand any challenge in the grey zone. There is a need for a “whole of nation approach” utilising all the elements of national power i.e., Diplomacy, Informatio­n, Military and Economic (DIME). While meeting grey zone challenges needs a multiprong­ed approach in all four domains of DIME, this piece will focus on informatio­n and military security domain only with a view to evolve an outline strategy and force structure to deal with such threats.

Informatio­n Security – National Level Initiative­s

Informatio­n Technology has already stepped into new realities of big data, quantum computing, machine learning, artificial intelligen­ce and robotics. The use of space based technologi­es has further made these systems robust, agile, responsive and dynamic in real time. This has impacted the entire spectrum of national power both hard and soft. To exploit this domain for grey warfare, the strong software base in India needs to be supported by developing an indigenous hardware design and production capability. Given the growth lag in hardware sector, India should collaborat­e with countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and other world leaders as an offset to trade negotiatio­ns. India needs

China-Pakistan collusion in the grey zone is now a reality more as evident from some recent actions

such threats. The Special Frontier Forces must also get grouped under this command. Future engagement­s are likely to occur unanticipa­ted and the response thereof has to be rapid and lethal. Special Forces should also have the capability to operate beyond Indian Territory. This is imperative considerin­g India’s strategic interests, stakes in the Indian Ocean Region and the widespread Indian diaspora.

Jointness, integrated and synergised efforts are required to operate in a highly mobile, sophistica­ted and lethal environmen­t. Most of the Armies in the world have adopted integratio­n over jointness. Cyber war, informatio­n war, out of area contingenc­ies and hybrid threats are some of the areas wherein the integratio­n of resources is imperative and must be handled by joint forces commander. Accordingl­y, creation of the following joint organisati­ons at the CDS and Theatre Commander level are essential:

– Transformi­ng and expanding the role of the Defence Intelligen­ce Agency (DIA) into National Military Informatio­n Operations Agency (NMIOA) for strategic guidance on operations related to dealing with threat of informatio­n war, cyber war, and Intelligen­ce Operations in the Military Domain across the borders. – Enlarging the scope of Defence Cyber Agency to include both defensive and offensive measures and placed under the proposed NMIOA.

– Creation of the above capabiliti­es and suitable structure at the Integrated theatre command levels and operationa­l formations placed under Theatre Commander.

Creation of a strong military media agency at the CDS and the theatre level managed by profession­al with supervisio­n by military profession­als. ADGPI falls well short of expectatio­n in this arena.


Contrary to the view of many Western academics and journalist­s, Gerasimov emphasises that there is no model or formula for warfare, but rather each scenario is markedly unique and requires a tailored approach. In his view, however, “war in the 21st century is conducted at a roughly four-to-one ratio of non-military and traditiona­l military tools and tactics”. Therefore, we need to evolve our own solutions both for offence and defence in the grey zone. While we prepare for future wars based on alternate scenarios, there will be a requiremen­t of greater synergy between all components of security architectu­re, which needs to be directed towards achieving our National Security Objectives in real time including countering the threat in the grey zone through an institutio­nalised whole of nation approach.

The author is Ex Corps Commander 11 Corps, Ex Chief of Staff Eastern Command, Ex Commandant Army War College and Ex IG (Ops) NSG.

 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: defense.gov ?? Cyber Operations Center
PHOTOGRAPH: defense.gov Cyber Operations Center

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