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Multi Domain Operations and India Part 2

In Part 1, Arushi Sing covered the origins, potential and the challenges of Multi Domain Operations (MDO).  In Part 2, she discusses India’s geo-political context and how the India’s armed forces need to adopt MDO to counter the country’s real and emerging threats.

Multiple Domains and Anti Area Access Denial

The concept of Anti-Area Access Denial (A2AD) has traditionally been associated with great power competition.  One of the biggest reasons behind the rise in Multi Domain Operations (MDO) has been to defeat the increase in A2AD systems which are being employed to prevent freedom of access either into or within a particular theatre.  It has also gained significance in the asymmetric arena by physically constraining an area where military missions take place against violent non-state actors that are present.1 A2AD has been used as a form of international competition for military access as greater precision-strike capabilities are developed.2 It also reinforces the determination and ambition of regional players along with substantially increasing the risks of military involvement from extra-regional powers.3

MDO have also been observed to have the potential to serve as a solution to the strategic-operational concerns emanating from an A2AD strategy and capacity.4 Research shows that A2AD capability will sooner rather than later be extremely valuable in preventing countries from operating in areas where they have previously enjoyed a certain freedom of manoueuvre.  This is perhaps most obvious in the use of China’s A2AD strategy to limit the ability of the US to circumnavigate freely in certain sections of the Western Pacific.5

China and its Navy

MDO have vast implications for India as Indo-Sino competition grows into rivalry.  Geopolitical events in the region are of deep concern to India, particularly China’s use of A2AD in the South China Sea which aims to deny access and to limit America’s capability to intervene in what Chinese consider to be their own backyard.6

The Indian Navy is witnessing an increasingly assertive Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).  China says it is defending its commercial interests in the region, which includes protecting its own merchant vessels and its wider territorial interests in the IOR.  China has to consider how others view its place in the world, its position as the preeminent regional authority beyond the major global players, and the need to ensure its own ‘political stability and national security’.7 From the global perspective, there are other implications of China’s actions.  The Kindleberger Trap, for example, states that an ascendant China must ensure access to global public goods and the freedom of the seas, something America failed to do in the 1930s which ultimately led to world war.8

China’s naval modernisation has been a work in progress for the past decade.  It began in earnest with the launch of the first People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier the Liaoning.9 A Second carrier, the Shandong, has also entered service. Other modernisation plans include the production of more aircraft carriers, surface combatants, uncrewed combat aerial vehicles, submarines with both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities, anti-ship missiles and amphibious landing ships.  China has also supplied Pakistan with C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles and possibly also with supersonic air-launched cruise missiles which are intended to incapacitate aircraft carriers.10 All these factors have significantly raised the threat level in the region.

As China gains more experience with carrier operations, it seems likely that the deployment of a carrier task force would be a clear sign of China’s ambitions to extend beyond South China Sea.  We can already see preparations being made for a more permanent forward presence in the Arabian Gulf with the opening of Chinese naval base in Djibouti; something Britain has already done in Bahrain.  A chain of Chinese ports in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, and Pakistan can all support operations which will strengthen China’s dominance in the region.  These bases are certain to play pivotal roles in offsetting the limited operational radius of carrier-borne aircraft.11

The Cyber Domain and the Electromagnetic Spectrum

China has been using cyberspace to carry out attacks against several countries including India, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.  China has also cooperated with Pakistan and North Korea to carry out cyber-attacks against India that took place a month after the lethal confrontation at Galwan Valley.  Some of the hacking groups were linked to Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS).  There were also concerns that similar cyber-attacks took place at the time when India changing its Foreign Direct Investment rules regarding its neighbouring countries.12

The cyber domain along with the use of electro magnetic spectrum is likely to reinforce Chinese dominance in the other domains.  Another component of Chinese strategy is the use of electronic warfare (EW) for jamming, anti-jamming as well as spoofing.  EW is a significant force multiplier and is being deployed along with Chinese air, sea and land-based platforms as well as uncrewed systems.

India’s Dependency on the South China Sea

India is eager to safeguard the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and has declared the region as being of ‘secondary interest’.13 India’s hydrocarbon reserves are dependent on sea lanes which travel through the South China Sea whilst India’s ONGC Videsh is engaged in Vietnamese offshore hydrocarbon exploration.  Any disruption to these activities can provide effective dividends for geopolitical rivals.  Strategic analysts also view the region as being of increasing significance to the Indian Navy, particularly the maritime nuclear deterrent.14

It is clear that China’s ability to enhance its already highly capable A2AD network with naval air and surface assets are a clear threat to Indian interests.  The People’s Liberation Army is also being restructured with the formation of shared commands; the consolidation of centralised control by the Central Military Commission as well as the founding of a novel Rocket Force.15

China and Beyond

Both China and North Korea have been equipping of Iran with a range of weapons systems as well as assisting them with the development of its own A2AD capabilities.  Coupled with the powerful Iranian-backed proxy groups operating across West Asia, this provides leverage to China as well as Iran.  Iranian naval and air A2AD capabilities are used to protect Iranian assets but these are now augmented by Chinese C2 systems and sophisticated anti-ship and anti-aircraft equipment.  China and Iran are cooperating in several areas which will not only boost Chinese commercial interests but will also provide them with a foothold in a strategically significant area.16 China’s continuing assistance to the Iranian military means that the latter is presenting an ever greater threat to the movement of oil and gas through the Persian Gulf in the event of an armed struggle.

The Assassin’s Mace

China can also use its trump card or assassin’s mace technologies with the practice of unrestricted warfare and an information warfare strategy to overcome a conventionally superior adversary.  The aim is to construct a layered defence where the enemy is confronted by a myriad of weapon systems and technologies that weaken its advance and follow-on forces.17

This amalgamation of technology has been opined by experts to then result in ‘offshore waters defence’ and ‘open seas protection’ at the same as People’s Liberation Army Air Force is also focusing on offensive strategies.  China’s Exercise BLUE SHIELD 2018 air defence exercise also incorporated PLA Army, Navy and rocket forces.  The LUOYANG 2018 series of force-on-force exercises were also focused on integration with units from different services in a complex electronic warfare scenario.  China’s People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force is also working on integrating across different domains.18

The Impact of Multi-Domain Operations on India

The term national security has expanded to encompass every one of those parts considered to be essential for the country’s existence, progress and prosperity.  Each nation uses different means to ensure its survival and to assert its own influence through diplomatic, military and economic resources it has at its disposal.  At its heart, and to assure these aims, is the defence establishment.  It is dedicated to military efficacy and draws from doctrines as well multiple capabilities to ensure the achievement of national security objectives.19

India’s national security priorities have expanded since its last conventional war which took place in 1999.  This has partly been as a result of its emergence as a nuclear power but equally important has been the threats from other state actors such as Pakistan and China.

India’s focus has traditionally been on the offensive, using conventional forces.  The changing character of war is forcing the country to protect its national security by contesting in multiple domains.  It therefore seems implausible that India’s ‘cost-imposition strategies’ are likely to dissuade its adversaries from persistent hybrid activity.20

India’s geography has meant that its focus on security has been primarily on its land borders. We must remember that India has fought multiple land wars with its neighbours and these have had a significant impact on its formative experiences.  The air domain has invariably played a supporting role and has functioned as an ‘independent strategic tool’ to the land forces.21

It is essential that India adopts an integrated and joint force structure which is better able to draw upon the expertise and domain experience of each of the services.  Force modernization also needs to be a priority, alongside force projection capabilities.  Concerns remain however,  especially as the country’s latest Land Warfare Doctrine continues to focus on orthodox offensive thinking.22

Previous doctrine was focused on seizing terrain and conducting retaliatory strikes against an enemy; imposing an unacceptable price if Indian territory was taken.  However, sub-threshold conflict requires active deterrence and not passive defence.23 The consequences of this approach has increasingly led to India’s focus being diverted to the modernization of the Indian navy.

The Importance of MDO to India

Developing a MDO capability is crucial for Indian national security considerations.  India has been subjected to both irregular warfare and unrestricted warfare by Pakistan and China. Hybrid war has the means to metamorphise into traditional or a sub-conventional conflict.  Chinese focus on informationalised doctrine, India is likely to be targeted by a hybrid threat.  Furthermore, the use of violent non-state actors, insurgents and, cyberspace attacks along with social and financial warfare can all be utilised.  An effective response would require forces experienced MD as well as a unified response to every attack.  In order to accomplish the latter, there is a critical need for the development of a conceptual framework to synchronise activity with each and across all domains to keep pace with changing technologies.24

Unfortunately for India, MDO require an evolution of the conceptual understanding of strategies, operations, communications mechanisms, enabling policies, C2 styles, force as well as support structures.  This evolution necessitates the establishment of an institutional procedure where developments, improvements and modifications can be complied, delineated and implemented.25 One such example is the establishment of the Joint Operations Committee (JOCOM) which will be instrumental in the planning and operational effectiveness of joint missions.

This is a start but the relentless pace of transformation demands structural flexibility capable of a level of integration that does not weaken a specific service’s skill set or culture.26

Debates surrounding MDO in the Indian context have been fixated on an essential doctrinal update which incorporates the cyber domain into its “war fighting doctrine and operational concept”.27The Indian Air Force’s expertise in both conventional and unconventional warfare must be enhanced by cyber capabilities to encompass total command and control of the air.  This will also allow it to enhance its offensive and ISR capabilities in the face of unwarranted intrusion of its airspace.

A key requirement for integrated cooperation is a well-supported network that can share information and data across all domains.  Other requirements also include flexible C2 arrangements.  One possibility is for India’s defence force is to use dual-use satellites along with the GSAT series to create a secure information network.

The split between ideological and conventional wars has diminished the prominence of the concept of perpetual threats.  India has certainly seen a shift in capabilities which favour transitory threats and a force posture that can re-redirect forces in the direction of an active threat.  This is especially the case with Pakistan and China’s use of hybrid methods to undermine and subvert Indian interests, which include India’s territorial integrity as well as its regional and global influence.

Capability enhancement needs to be conducted in line with a nation’s geopolitical orientation, the economic and defence attributes of its adversaries as well as a need to maintain its sphere of influence.  We can see, for example, that India’s focus on China’s territorial aggression could well result in a protracted PLA-facing operation which requires a more flexible force structure.  Deterring China from such actions in the future will require a force that can defeat a Chinese offensive at the very outset.28 This merits joint deterrence as well as purely warfighting, where the military services are integrated with each other at all levels.29

India’s Land Warfare Doctrine

The Indian Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD) released in 2018, refers to the ‘multi-front environment’ as well as focusing on both ‘non-contact to contact warfare’ and state supported proxy conflict.  The LWD aims for deterrence by denial, especially against China’s layered defence and offensive capabilities.  However, the LWD has also been seen as an advocate for deterrence by punishment by initiating rapid offensive actions in the event of an attack by Pakistan.  It has also been suggested that cross-domain deterrence can be applied as deterrence by denial.30 These strategies pursue deterrence of action through exponentially enhancing the improbability of the realization of an action.31

LWD 2018’s focus on cross domain deterrence, particularly in the case of a two front war scenario, is achieved through the use and the integration of emerging disruptive technologies.  LWD advocates the use of nanotechnologies, quantum computing, high energy lasers, hypersonic weapons, swarming drone attacks, pulsed microwave weapon systems, and micro satellites.32

The drive behind the need to develop and integrate disruptive technologies into India’s armed forces has been attributed to the aggressive acquisition of such technology by China and its incorporation into their doctrine.  The launch of India’s Integrated Defence Communication Network is a recognition of the impact these technologies have on the OODA loop to deliver faster decision making and increased situational awareness for a more effective and quicker set of outcomes.  The Integrated Space Cell already is acting as a focal point for all services on matters pertaining to the space domain and the Indian Armed Forces’ Joint Services Operations, Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and Chief of Defence Staff are working towards better integration.


MDO is an evolving warfighting model devised to prevail in a dynamic security environment which itself is expanding through a series of technological innovations.  MDO provide commanders with multiple possibilities and options to execute synchronised and sequential operations.  They provide an opponent with multiple dilemmas that emanate at speed from a range of operational domains.  The aim is to gain a psychological edge and dominance in the operational environment.  MDO can also be a useful lens through which to prioritise a nation’s resources when it comes to achieving its strategic aims and interests.33

Official documents such as India’s LWD set out the case for novel technologies such as AI and energy-directed weapons.34 These have the potential to be the foundation for India’s efforts to develop MDO and act as a bulwark against A2AD technologies.  Adopting these technologies also have the potential to reinforce the joint force in other areas by denying the adversary an advantage in a particular domain through technological dominance.35

A real test for MDO is to overcome the competition between the different services operating across operational domains and to maximize operational effect through the synchronization of actions and effects while at the same time ensuring compatibility and cooperation.36 This is especially pertinent when taken in the Indian context where hybrid warfare, grey zone warfare and irregular warfare are being deployed by its adversaries.  MDO will also allow Indian defence forces to pursue Indian national security objectives by compensating for any weaknesses in certain domains by combining capabilities in others to produce asymmetric returns and avoiding the unnecessary diffusion of assets.






Arushi Singh

Arushi Singh is currently a masters student at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations (GIR) at Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India.  Her areas of interest include the geopolitics of West Asia, geopolitical implications of great power competition in Africa, Russia’s foreign policy orientations, and emerging technologies.


  1. Shimon Arad, “The Role of Anti-Access/Area Denial in Controlling Escalation in Gaza”, War on the Rocks, August 31, 2018, URL: https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-role-of-anti-access-area-denial-in-controlling-escalation-in-gaza/, accessed on December 23, 2020.
  2. “Precision Strike: Developing an Operating Concept for Army”, Australian Army Research Centre, March 24, 2020, URL: https://researchcentre.army.gov.au/library/land-power-forum/precision-strike-developing-operating-concept-army, accessed on December 26, 2020.
  3. Luis Simon, “Demystifying the A2/Ad Buzz”, War on The Rocks, January 4, 2017, URL: https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/demystifying-the-a2ad-buzz/, accessed on December 1, 2020.
  4. Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific”, International Security, Vol No. 41, Issue No. 1 (2016). URL: https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/ISEC_a_00249, accessed on December 12, 2020.
  5. Nick Impson, “The Next Warm War: How History’s Anti-Access/Area Denial Campaigns Inform the Future of War”,SmallwarsJournal, January 14, 2020, URL: https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/next-warm-war-how-historys-anti-accessarea-denial-campaigns-inform-future-war, accessed on December 5, 2020.
  6. Ngo Minh Tri, “China’s A2/AD Challenge in the South China Sea: Securing the Air From the Ground”, The Diplomat, May 19, 2017, URL: https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/chinas-a2ad-challenge-in-the-south-china-sea-securing-the-air-from-the-ground/, accessed on December 1, 2020.
  7. Timothy M. Bonds, Joel B. Predd, Timothy R. Heath, Michael S. Chase, Michael Johnson, Michael J. Lostumbo, James Bonomo, Muharrem Mane, Paul S. Steinberg, “What Role Can Land-Based, Multi-Domain Anti-Access/Area Denial Forces Play in Deterring or Defeating Aggression?”, (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation. 2017), p. 17.
  8. Joseph S. Nye, “The Kindleberger Trap”, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, January 9, 2017, URL: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/kindleberger-trap, accessed on December 2, 2020.
  9. “How Does China’s First Aircraft Carrier Stack Up?”, China Power, August 26, 2020, URL: https://chinapower.csis.org/aircraft-carrier/#:~:text=The%20Liaoning’s%20aircraft%2Dlaunching%20system,thereby%20severely%20curtailing%20its%20payload., accessed on December 12, 2020.
  10. United States Congress, Congressional Research Service, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress, (Washington, D.C.: United States, 2018). Available on the Internet.
  11. Mike Yeo, “China’s missile and space tech is creating a defensive bubble difficult to penetrate”, DefenseNews, June 1, 2020, URL: https://www.defensenews.com/global/asia-pacific/2020/06/01/chinas-missile-and-space-tech-is-creating-a-defensive-bubble-difficult-to-penetrate/, accessed on November 30, 2020.
  12. Rahul Shrivastava ,“Chinese cyber warfare? Hackers with Chinese, North Korean, Pakistani links attack Indian websites”, IndiaToday, June 26, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/china-north-korea-pakistan-cyber-attacks-warfare-india-websites-1693123-2020-06-26, accessed on January 5, 2021.
  13. Directorate of Strategy, Concepts and Transformation, Ministry of Defence, Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy, (New Delhi: India, 2015), Available on the Internet.
  14. Manjeet S. Pardesi, “Is India a Great Power? Understanding Great Power Status in Contemporary International Relations”, Asian Security, Vol. 11, Issue No. 1 (2015). URL: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14799855.2015.1005737, accessed on November 27, 2020.
  15. Air-Sea Battle Office, Air-Sea Battle, Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges Weapons, (Washington, D.C.: United States, 2013). Available on the Internet.
  16. Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare, (PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House: Beijing,1999), p. 12.
  17. Walter R. Nunn, David V. Glass, Ih-Ching Hsu and David A. Perin,“Analysis of a Layered Defense Model ”Operations Research, Vol. 30, Issue No. 3 (1982), URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/170193?seq=1, accessed on December 11, 2020.
  18. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, (Virginia: United States, 2019). Available on The Internet.
  19. Krishnappa Venkatshamy and Princy George, ed., Grand Strategy for India 2020 and Beyond, (New Delhi: Pentagon Security International: 2012), p. 90. (Sarabjeet Singh Parmar)
  20. Thomas E. Ricks, “National cost-imposing strategies: Maybe there really is nothing new under the sun?”, Foreign Policy, November 1, 2012, URL: https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/01/national-cost-imposing-strategies-maybe-there-really-is-nothing-new-under-the-sun/ , accessed on January 27, 2020.
  21. Arzan Tarapore, “The Army in Indian Military Strategy: Rethink Doctrine or Risk”, Carnegie India, August 10, 2020, URL: Irrelevancehttps://carnegieindia.org/2020/08/10/army-in-indian-military-strategy-rethink-doctrine-or-risk-irrelevance-pub-82426, accessed on January 8, 2021.
  22. xxiii Ibid.
  23. Anil Ahuja and Arun Sahgal, “Informationised Warfare with Boots on Ground: A Concept for the Defence of India in the Continental Domain”, Delhi Policy Group, August 22, 2020, URL: https://www.delhipolicygroup.org/publication/policy-papers/informationised-warfare-with-boots-on-ground-a-concept-for-the-defence-of-india-in-the-continental-domain.html, accessed on January 8, 2020.
  24. Ramesh Rai, “Multi-Domain Warfare in the Indian Context”, Military Affairs, Vol No. 13, Issue No. 5 (2019). URL: https://www.defstrat.com/magazine_articles/multi-domain-warfare-in-the-indian-context/, accessed on November 30, 2020.
  25. Huma Siddiqui, “Indian Navy’s challenges: Countering Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean Region”, Financial Express, June 6, 2020, URL: https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/indian-navys-challenges-countering-chinese-naval-activities-in-the-indian-ocean-region/1983186/, accessed on January 9, 2020.
  26. Ministry of Defence, Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces, (New Delhi: Republic of India, 2017). Available on the Internet.
  27. n.xxvii.
  28. Zorawar Daulet Singh, “India keeps focussing on a future China threat. But just looking east is bad security policy”, ThePrint, November 21, 2020.
  29. Thomas E. Ricks, “National cost-imposing strategies: Maybe there really is nothing new under the sun?”, Foreign Policy, November 1, 2012, URL: https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/01/national-cost-imposing-strategies-maybe-there-really-is-nothing-new-under-the-sun/ , accessed on January 27, 2020.
  30. Rakesh Sharma, “Multi-Domain Warfare, Cross-Domain Deterrence”, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, April 25, 2020, URL: https://www.claws.in/multi-domain-warfare-cross-domain-deterrence/, accessed on January 9, 2021.
  31. Michael J. Mazarr, “Understanding Deterrence”, RAND, 2018, URL: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/perspectives/PE200/PE295/RAND_PE295.pdf, accessed on December 20, 2020.
  32. Huma Siddiqui, “Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) doctrine: Future Character of War, Military Applications for Indian Armed Forces”, Financial Express, June 18, 2019.
  33. Vinod Bhatia, Special operations Forces-Integral To Multi-Domain Wars”, Centre For Joint Warfare Studies, URL: https://www.generalvinodbhatia.com/special-operations-forces-integral-to-multi-domain-wars.php, accessed on January 27, 2020.
  34. Joy Mitra, “India’s Land Warfare Doctrine 2018: Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst”, The Diplomat,  January 03, 2019, URL: https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/indias-land-warfare-doctrine-2018-hoping-for-the-best-preparing-for-the-worst/, accessed on, December 4, 2020.
  35. Robert B. Brown, “The Indo-Asia Pacific and the Multi-Domain Battle Concept”, Army University Press, March 14, 2017, URL: https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/Online-Exclusive/2017-Online-Exclusive-Articles/The-Indo-Asia-Pacific-and-the-Multi-Domain-Battle-Concept/ , accessed on January 4, 2021.
  36. James Bosbotinis, “Multi-Domain Operations and Defence Capability Development”, DefenceIQ, March 23, 2020, URL: https://www.defenceiq.com/air-land-and-sea-defence-services/articles/multi-domain-operations-and-defence-capability-development#_ftn1, accessed on December 12, 2020.

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