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Revolution in Military Affairs



“The Ultimate Determinant in War is the Man on the Scene with the Gun.”
Rear Admiral J. C. Wylie, USN.
1. The notion of military revolutions grew from Soviet writing of the 1970s and 1980s. Early studies talked of a “Military Technical Revolution” (MTR), which is the impact of a new technology on warfare, but this quickly evolved into the more holistic concept of “Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)”, which encompasses the subsequent transformation of operations and organization. Most analysts define a RMA as a “discontinuous increase in military capability and effectiveness” arising from simultaneous and mutually supportive change in technology, systems, operational methods, and military organizations”[1]. Another definition is, RMA “is a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine, operational and organizational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations”[2].
2. A revolution in military affairs involves big changes that occur relatively quickly and which tend to spread beyond the profession of arms into the realm of foreign policy. Historical examples include the onset of the telegraph and the rail-road in the last century, the changes surrounding in direct artillery fire, motor vehicles (including tanks), and aircraft in the first half of this century, and the advent of nuclear weapons nearly one half century ago. Now, the information revolution has paved the way for the present revolutionary transformations in warfare[3].
3. Famous futurists like Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler have quoted that, “a military revolution, in its fullest scene, occurs only, when an entire society transforms itself, forcing its armed forces to change at every level simultaneously from technology and culture to organization, strategy, tactics, training, doctrine and logistics”[4].
4. However a difficulty arises in understanding the current debate over the RMA because some use the term as referring to the revolutionary technology itself that is driving change, while others use the term as referring to revolutionary adaptations by military organizations that may be necessary to deal with the changes in technology or the geopolitical environment, and still others use the term to refer to the revolutionary impact of geopolitical or technological change on the outcome of military conflicts, with specific reference to the political and economic context of globalisation , regardless of the nature of the particular technology or the reaction of the participants to the technological change[5]. The difference in terms of reference leads to different suggested alternatives.
5. The first perspective focuses primarily upon changes in the nation-state and the role of an organised military in using force. This approach highlights the political, social, and economic factors worldwide, which might require a completely different type of military and organisational structure to apply force in the future. Authors such as RAND’s Sean J. A. Edwards (advocate of Battle Swarm tactics), Carl H. Builder and Lt. Col. Ralph Peters emphasized the decline of the nation-state, the nature of the emerging international order, and the different types of forces needed in the near future.
6. The second perspective most commonly assigned the term RMA highlights the evolution of weapons technology, information technology, military organization, and military doctrine among advanced powers. This “System of Systems” perspective on RMA has been ardently supported by Admiral William Owens[6], former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who identified three overlapping areas for force assets. These are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command, control, communications and intelligence processing, and precision force to enable Dominant Battlefield Knowledge (DBK). Advanced versions of RMA incorporate other sophisticated technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), nanotechnology, robotics, and biotechnology. Presently the RMA debate is focussed on “network-centric warfare” which is a doctrine that aims to connect all troops on the battlefield.
7. Finally, the third concept is that a “true” revolution in military affairs has not yet occurred or is unlikely to. Authors such as Michael O’Hanlon and Frederick Kagan, point to the fact much of the technology and weapon systems ascribed to the contemporary RMA were in development long before 1991 and the flashy Internet and information technology boom. Several critics point out that a “revolution” within the military ranks might carry detrimental consequences, produce severe economic strain, and ultimately prove counterproductive. Such authors tend to profess a much more gradual “evolution” in military affairs, as opposed a rapid revolution”.
8. Moreover there is also considerable disagreement over the causes[7], the conditions that are necessary for them to occur, their consequences for warfare and the international system more broadly and, of course, over whether a particular development does or does not qualify for the label. Where one draws the line for what counts as an RMA will depend on the restrictiveness or permissiveness of one’s definition of the concept.
9. Whatever the interpretation is, an RMA should fundamentally affect strategy and the role of the military in the international system, leading to a qualitative shift in what war is and how it is conducted. It should be a period of great acceleration of change that has far greater consequences than routine revolution, and which therefore demands specific attention.
10. But what is essential is that the ramifications of the RMA need to be understood not only by military officers but also by strategy planners, both military and civil. The military has to contend with information and space warfare, in addition to land, sea and air. The strategy planners, on the other hand, have to consider the economic, political, military and information aspects in their policy and decision making.


1. A few of the types of RMAs of importance in the yesteryears and presently in vogue today include “combined- system RMAs (a collection of military systems put together in new ways to achieve a revolutionary effect)”, “single-system RMA” (single technology, nuclear fission/ fusion, drove the revolution) and an” integrated-system RMA” (various systems, when joined with their accompanying operational and organizational concepts, will become integrated systems).
2. RMAs have risen from various sources, with many–but not all–of them technological. Societal change has also contributed to a military revolution during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, in which the levee en masse allowed for the creation of larger, national armies.

Statement of the Problem

3. To study the likely impact of embracing the ongoing information driven RMA on organizational structure, doctrinal precepts, tactical & technological developments and the changes necessitated for effective implementation of this RMA. The lessons learnt by the US Army in this regard will serve as a useful guide.


4. The description of the revolution in military affairs is neither definitive nor conclusive. The discussion is intended primarily to stimulate thinking in unique and more meaningful ways about how warfare in the twenty-first century may be fundamentally different than it is today and, of equal importance, evaluating what we should be doing now to prepare ourselves for that eventuality.
5. A number of changes must occur if any military is going to compete successfully on the battlefields of the future. There must be a change in outlook i.e. change in the way about preparing for the future. The military must nurture an attitude that supports free thinking and accepts honest mistakes, encourages experimentation, rewards risk takers, and makes provisions for starting over. As an organization, the military must break out of the box, consider alternative futures, think the unthinkable and let go of the conventional modes of operation.

Statement of Objectives

6. While all concepts proposed by RMA analysts may be relevant, the issue needs deliberation in a more professional manner. That includes even the US by their own admission. The understanding of the various ramifications of RMA by the strategy planners as well as military officers would lead to certain questions: –
(a) What does RMA mean in the Indian context and what are its practical implications?
(b) With RMA powered by the recent explosion in IT and keeping in mind our strength in this field how far ahead can we go and achieve the much-touted concepts of RMA?
(c) What national posture do we need to adopt & how should our national doctrine be formulated on RMA to include the three services, bureaucrats and other agencies responsible for national security?
(d) Is reorganisation of the armed forces essential so as to respond and adapt to the organisational challenge posed by the emergence of Information
Technology? Would it really meet the desired effect of flattening the organisation and shortening the various channels of command?
(e) What should the pace of conduct of customised training for the Indian Armed Forces in the field of information warfare and operations be?


7. The scope of this dissertation shall be limited to the impact of IT on RMA and changes required in view of the variance in views regarding RMA. The various implications on the Indian Armed Forces especially the army shall be analysed in detail to include various imperatives in the strategic, operational, tactical, administrative, organisational and training realms.


8. The present ongoing RMA has been ushered in by Information Technology. However there are varied views of analysists regarding the changes that would be necessitated for effectively embracing this RMA. This coupled with fixed mindsets has led to problems in effectively embracing the current RMA. In analyzing the changes required in the Indian context lessons can be drawn from the processes employed by the US Army, the first force to take steps in this direction.

Limitations of the Research

9. An in-depth research on the subject would need face-to-face interaction with the various authorities in charge of national security i.e. the Armed Forces, bureaucrats, police, paramilitary and intelligence agencies. Owing to constraints limited information has been gained through seminars and discussions. Compulsions of confidentiality have also limited the depth of research.

Methods of Data Collection

10. Most of the material has been collected primarily through secondary sources, i.e. various books, periodicals and magazines from the DSSC Library. Tertiary sources like various journals and reviews have also been referred to. Bibliography is attached as appendix. The other major source has been the Internet with the sites accessed listed at the end of bibliography.

Organisation of the Dissertation

11. This study has been organised into a number of chapters as under:-
(a) Chapter I – Introduction. In Chapter I, the importance of understanding the various connotations of RMA has been brought out.
(b) Chapter II – Methodology. It covers the Statement of the Problem, Scope and Methodology of carrying out research for the dissertation.
(c) Chapter III – Current RMA & Its Impact. This chapter covers the facets on which the current RMA is premised.
(d) Chapter IV – An Overview of Enablers Required for Initiating/ Implementing RMA. This chapter covers the imperatives for implementing RMA.
(e) Chapter V – Impact of RMA, Problems Caused & Changes Required in Organisational Structure.
(f) Chapter V I- Impact of RMA, Problems Caused & Changes Required in Technological, Tactical & Doctrinal Aspects.
(g) Chapter VII- Impact of RMA, Problems Caused & Changes Required in Training Aspects.
(h) Chapter VIII- Case Study on Implementation of Current RMA by US.
(j) Chapter IX- Relevance to India.
(k) Chapter X- Conclusion
(l) Bibliography.


1. The current RMA includes the new tools and processes of waging war like Information Warfare (IW), Network Centric Warfare (NCW), Integrated Command and Control (C4ISR), System of Systems, all powered by IT[8]. The status of information has been raised from being raw material for intelligence to a level where it is now accepted as a tool, or even a new medium for war fighting. Information superiority has led to attainment of decision superiority. The lethality of information power is like any other power. Op Iraqi Freedom launched on 19 March 2003 was a major success essentially due to receipt of information in a short time frame. Establishing information dominance over one’s adversary will become a major focus of the operational art[9] in the future.
2. The United States has led and maintains a significant advantage in the development of information- based technologies. This advantage is well grounded in U.S. military capabilities[10]. The roots of the U.S. military’s information-based RMA have been decades in the making. As information-based technologies and capabilities continue to mature, they have become much less expensive, and by their very nature, can be rapidly incorporated by other military forces to enhance their capabilities.
3. Information superiority consists of the integration of offensive and defensive information operations. Improved intelligence collection and assessment, as well as modern information processing and command and control capabilities, are at the heart of the current RMA[11]. With such enhanced capabilities nations will be able to respond rapidly to any conflict. Forces will achieve a state of information superiority, in near real-time, which will be pervasive across the full spectrum of military operations, enabling the force commander to dominate any situation. Velocity of battles would be speeded up causing a collapse of enemy’s command and control structures causing a rout essentially due to shortening of own OODA loop[12].
4. The capabilities of the present RMA have yielded transformation of weapon systems, military organizations and operations through the integration of Information Technologies. When information technologies are integrated into a coherent system that includes modern weapon systems operated by highly trained personnel, they provide force multipliers to military formations[13], allowing them to perform more complex manoeuvres, to fire accurately at longer range and to experience a higher degree of situational awareness compared to their opponents. Information warfare can be anything from striking headquarters or communications systems with conventional weapons, hacking computer systems, conducting propaganda and psychological operations, or even to committing atrocities to instill panic in the enemy’s population.

Dynamics of the Current RMA.

5. The current RMA is driven by three primary factors[14] i.e. rapid technological advance compelling a shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, the end of the Cold War and a decline in defence budgets. The transition is forcing a change in the way the military services are organized, how they are supplied, how they procure weapons and how they are managed, and, most importantly, how they think and fight. The extent to which the U S Armed Forces have accepted these changes, however, has been remarkable, particularly given that the draw downs, relocations, reorganizations and other fundamental alterations to the way they operate began immediately following a victory of immense proportions in the Gulf War; a victory which confirmed the tremendous progress made in rebuilding the services, especially the Army, after the Vietnam War. The Army is not only restructuring as it downsizes, it also is changing the very way it thinks about war.
6. The development of computers, satellites, and imagery has been occurring at an astounding rate, and there is no indication that this will slow down in the foreseeable future. The inference is that the future military will expand the ability to collect, evaluate and disseminate information relevant to the battlefield at a rate far greater than now. According to Libicki, future precision strike capabilities will mean that, “to be seen on the battlefield is to be killed”.
7. Gen Shalikashral of the US Army realising the current RMA’s importance gave the concept of “Joint Force 2010”[15]. This concept is basically aimed at giving a frame work for the application of RMA by US forces by 2010 to achieve “Full Spectrum Dominance” or total dominance. This concept is based on four pillars:-
(a) Dominant Manoeuvre. It implies an operation from various dispersed points all focusing on one target. Dominating manoeuvre will deploy the right forces at the right time and place to cause the enemy’s psychological collapse and complete capitulation.
(b) Precision Engagement. This means the engagement of the target with extreme precision by PGMs from land or sea platforms. For this accurate data collection about the target is very important to make the engagement effective.
(c) Full Dimensional Protection. This is the ability to protect the forces including plans from any damage. This enhances the scope of what has to be protected.
(d) Focussed Logistics. It means reducing the logistic load to only the essential requirement in shortest possible time, at the fastest speed and in the correct quantity. The RMA also enables to calculate precisely what is required, how much is required and where required.
8. The current rate of change suggests that state of the art in any technological context will be an extremely short-lived phenomenon[16], particularly with respect to the technologies that were key to the success of Desert Storm including space systems, telecommunications systems, computer architectures, global information distribution networks, and navigation systems. Future revolutions will occur much more rapidly, offering far less time for adaptation to new methods of warfare. The growing imperative in the business world for rapid response to changing conditions in order to survive in an intensely competitive environment is surely instructive for military affairs. Corporations repeatedly have to make major changes in strategy to accommodate the full implications of technologies, which have already existed many years.
9. Exploiting the Information Age. The armed forces must develop the essential competences in personnel to exploit new technologies and systems to the full and to ensure that leaders have the right skills to deliver and integrate information projects successfully. To help meet these requirements, there is a need to develop information age skills for everyone joining the armed forces. Efforts should also be made to increase opportunities [17] for personnel already serving besides increasing IT awareness training during initial training.
10. Many analysts agree on one important fact that the current revolution in military affairs seems to have at least two stages[18]. In the drive to limit military casualties, stand-off platforms, stealth, precision, information dominance, and missile defence are the first stage. The second may be robotics, nonlethality, pyschotechnology, and elaborate cyber defence. The revolution in military affairs may see the transition from concern with centres of gravity to a less mechanistic and more sophisticated notion of interlinked systems.
11. The armed forces no longer have to request scientists to develop a specific technology for possible military use. Quite likely, it will be the scientists who would be chasing military planners prodding them to use technologies that can now be converted to weapons much quicker than before through computer simulation, cutting development and production cycles dramatically[19].


An Overview of Enablers Required for INITIATING/ Implementing RMA

1. An analysis gives rise to the three dimensions of the RMA required for a nation to effectively implement it. First is the conscious decision on the part of a state to acquire all or portions of what might be termed an RMA complex. Second is the ability to acquire or develop the systems that constitute RMA-type technologies. Last, and perhaps most important, is the ability, organizationally and operationally, to adapt technologies in ways that bring into being the full military potential of an RMA.
2. Even though the revolution in military affairs has attracted some brilliant thinkers, systematic strategic discourse remains rare. Except for Andrew Krepinevich[20] and Jeffrey Cooper, few writers have attempted to place the current RMA in its broader theoretic and historic context. Moreover, the fact of change may be most dramatically manifested in combat, but historically the most profound RMAs are peacetime phenomena. Militaries are driven to innovate during peacetime by the need to make more efficient use of shrinking resources, by reacting to major changes in the security environment[21].
3. Both the Tofflers, who identify only two historical military revolutions, and Krepinevich, who distinguishes ten since the 14th century, are suggestive of implementing RMA through “major” and “minor” revolutions in military affairs as under:-
(a) Minor Revolutions. “Minor” revolutions in military affairs tend to be initiated by individual technological or social changes, occur in relatively short periods (less than a decade), and have their greatest direct impact on the battlefield. “Minor” revolutions in military affairs can be deliberately shaped and controlled. A “minor” revolution in military affairs driven by military applications of silicon-chip technology is already underway and the next “minor” revolution will be driven by robotics and psycho technology.
(b) Major Revolutions[22]. “Major” revolutions in military affairs are the result of combined multiple technological, economic, social, cultural and/or military changes, usually occur over relatively long periods (greater that a decade), and have direct impact on strategy. “Major” revolutions cannot be deliberately shaped and controlled. The world is potentially at the beginning of one.
4. Enablers for revolutions in military affairs appear to follow a cyclical pattern with initial stasis followed by initiation, critical mass, consolidation, response, and return to stasis. Revolutions in military affairs can be initiated by one breakthrough power or by a group. In the modern security system, revolutions in military affairs are usually inspired by outright defeat or by a perception of inferiority or decline versus a peer or niche opponent. Revolutions in military affairs have a point of critical mass when changes in concepts, organizations, and technology meld. Once recognized, every revolutionary breakthrough generates responses. Responses to revolutions in military affairs can be symmetric or asymmetric; asymmetric responses may be more difficult to counter.
5. The greatest advantage for the breakthrough power lies in the period immediately following critical mass; thus, there may be a temptation to initiate conflict before responses can be effective. All revolutions in military affairs have a culminating point [23], at which innovation and change slow or stop, determined by the interaction between the revolutionary breakthrough and the responses, followed by a consolidation phase This may occur when leaders become satisfied with the military balance and will no longer risk radical change. It may also occur when costs of change are thought to outweigh the benefits of further expenditure. During the consolidation phase, superior training and leadership may be the only ways to achieve superior relative combat effectiveness against symmetric responses.
6. At times, a single state can initiate revolution by recognizing how to effectively combine various evolutionary developments, new ideas, and technology. Napoleonic France and the Mongols of Genghis Khan were examples of single state breakthroughs. At other times, there can be a collective
breakthrough as when the European powers of the mid-19th to early 20th centuries combined industrialization, railroads, improved metallurgy and explosives, the telegraph, barbed wire, concrete, improved methods of government funding, nationalism, breech loading, rifled artillery and small arms, steam-driven, armoured ships, internal combustion engines, radio, increased literacy and public health, improved explosives, and the machine gun.
7. Always, though, the essence of the revolution is not the invention of new technology, but discovery of innovative ways to organize, operate, and employ new technology. Revolutions in military affairs begin when the potential latent in technological, conceptual, political, economic, social, and organizational changes that have occurred or are occurring is recognized and converted to augment combat effectiveness. In pre-modern, heterogeneous security systems, revolution was often initiated by states outside the system or on its periphery. Sometimes their advantage accrued from superior morale, training, organization, leadership, strategy, or tactics.
8. In the modern, communications-intensive security system, revolutions in military affairs have most frequently been initiated by a state within the system[24].
This is because fundamental change of any kind is difficult, even frightening; those who unleash revolution never know exactly where it will take them. Uncertainty as to the eventual outcome means that political and military leaders satisfied with their state’s security situation will seldom run the risks of revolution. Usually, then, only real or imagined danger can provide the spark.
9. Initiation of a revolution requires revolutionaries. RMAs are led by armed forces that tolerate and, at the appropriate time, empower visionaries. The decision to do this is a vital juncture in military revolutions. In the past, only a peer competitor could offer enough of a threat to empower military visionaries and dispel the miasma of inertia and petrified thinking. This may be changing. The military role in implementing innovative ideas is crucial. As one observer noted, “many important wartime technical innovations such as the tank, proximity fuse, and microwave radar, and organizational innovations such as new doctrines for submarine warfare and strategic targeting functions for American bombers, were pursued at the initiative of military officers or with their vigorous support.” What may be key to “winning the innovation battle” is a professional military climate, which fosters thinking in unconstrained fashion about future war. The other critical requirement is the ability and willingness of relatively junior officers who are now out in the field and fleet to think about the future. They are likely to be in closer touch with new and emerging technologies, which have potential military application. As operators, they are aware of the operational and organizational problems that they must deal with daily and hence are prime clients for possible solutions[25]. Further, an offensive concept is vital for the implementation of RMA.
10. The most successful revolutionary states turn military advantage into economic and political dominance, but the transition is difficult. Being the first to understand or implement a RMA does not guarantee even military victory. A breakthrough state or coalition which clearly understands the RMA but which fails to develop an appropriate, balanced, strategy can-and usually will-lose to a state or coalition, which lags in understanding but possesses superior strategic prowess[26]. History is littered with breakthrough military states which ultimately failed, whether those of Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Imperial and Nazi Germany.
11. The course of the current RMA is not preordained. Key policy decisions made now will both affect the pace of revolution and the shape of the 21st century force that emerges from it. Perhaps the most fundamental choice of all
concerns the enthusiasm with which developed nations should pursue the current “minor” RMA and the extent to which it should shape force development. Often this is not even considered due to the traditional approach to technology.
Technology is respected, almost deified. There are sound historical reasons for this. During its formative period, many nations suffered from chronic shortages of skilled labour, thus forcing reliance on labour-saving technology. Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and thousands of other entrepreneurs and inventors harnessed technology in the name of efficiency. Reflecting this legacy, many nations have often evinced an unreflective trust in the ultimate benefit of technology. However, a reasonable case can be made that too vigorous pursuit of the current “minor” RMA is undesirable or dangerous, that the costs and risks outweigh the expected benefits. Budget constraints and the changing nature of global presence provide the broad context within which redesign of any military will unfold. However, it is to the technological factor, in the present era that basic judgments about force structure changes are attributed to[27].
12. The utility of the current RMA[28], with its stress on precision, standoff strikes, falls off dramatically toward the poles of the military/technology spectrum. Opponents at the low end of the spectrum tend to operate in widely dispersed fashion and emit a limited electronic signature, thus complicating targeting. Their organization is often cellular, making decapitation difficult. If they are insurgents, they intermingle with the population. It is also important for successful implementation of RMA, the organizational enabler i.e. all important commanders, must be ingrained in military doctrine and practice failing which the RMA is not guaranteed to take hold throughout today’s defense organizations. Second, unless the rational basis for the strategy is translated into an overarching vision, the RMA faces obstacles in the form of powerful, change-resistant bureaucratic forces[29].
13. Enablers for RMA [30] need to be constantly viewed under the effect of the following:-
(a) The political context. This is the breeding ground of war, and hence warfare.
(b) The strategic context. The strategic context expresses the relationship between political demand and military supply, keyed to the particular tasks specific to a conflict.
(c) The social-cultural context. Social-cultural trends are likely to prove more revealing at an early stage of the prospects for revolutionary change in warfare than missile tests, defense contracts, military maneuvers, or even, possibly, and some limited demonstration of a novel prowess in combat.
(d) The economic context. Though wars are rarely waged for economic reasons, warfare is economic behaviour, interalia, just as it is, and has to be, logistical behaviour also.
(e) The technological context. Warfare always has a technological context, but that context is not always the principal fuel for revolutionary change.
(f) The geographical context. Military revolution keyed to the emerging exploitation of a new geographical environment has beckoned both the visionary theorist and the bold military professional.
Imperatives for Effective Implementation of RMA[31]
14. Certain desirable features for implementation of RMA are:-
(a) Design of a RMA force structure that would effectively use technology.
(b) Technological development

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