Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)

Columnist SHARJEEL RIZWAN writes about a subject that needs to be addressed by our defence establishment.


New tools and processes of waging war like information warfare, network-centric warfare (NCW), integrated Command and Control (C4ISR), system of systems, all powered by information technology, have led to the revolution in military affairs (RMA). This is likely to broaden the parameters of thinking about National Security. The countries of the world are now on the brink of a major revolution on how they (will) conduct national security affairs. 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 the 5th dimension of warfare, information, in addition to land, sea, air and space.

The strategy planners, on the other hand, have to consider the economic, political, military and information aspects in their policy and decision making.

What has happened as a result of the RMA is that in future warfare, platforms will be less reflective of military power than the quality of sensors, communication links, avionics, munitions that they carry.


Creation of the modern and effective nation state based on organised military power in the 17 century, the French revolution and the industrial revolution (beginning at the same time during the period 1789-1815) and First World War are cited as epochal events that brought in their wake such systemic changes in the political, social and cultural arenas as to be largely uncontrollable, unpredictable and above all, unforseeable. Throughout history nations have always pursed innovation in increase relative military effectiveness. It is the acceleration of evolutionary technological change combined with associated operational and organisational transformation that altered the character of war over the last two hundred years. Some of these developments which progressively shaped the eventual technological metamorphosis are:

  • Railways, telegraph, steam - powered naval ironclad and rifle.

  • Change over from wooden sailing ships to steam powered armoured hulls.

  • Machine gun, aircraft, submarine, main battle tank and armoured fighting vehicles.

  • Internal combustion engines, improved aircraft, radio and radar.

  • Nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles.

  • Information technology and micro-chip advances, laser, satellite applications.

According to James Adams, author of “The Next World War: The Warriors and Weapons of the New Battlefields in Cyber Space”, beginning with 1340 AD, when a more sophisticated bow was developed, in 1420, artillery revolutionised old siege warfare. In 1600, ship-borne artillery, better fortress construction methods and muskets brought a three-way revolution. After the advent of the modern Army built around a staff system (1800), steam turbines, submarines and the torpedo (1800-1850), the arrival of the railways, telegraph and the rifle (1860) tanks and aircraft carriers (1920), the last revolution was in 1945, the nuclear bomb. The recent (present) revolution (1991) is the micro chip.


The technological advancement in the field of communication relates to the information processing and  the information processing as related to military affairs includes “Collection, Analysis, Communication” .........” according to an expert.

The mastery over the satellite technology has enabled the man to obtain information from any part of the world to a resolution up to 3 cm. This means that today nothing is hidden in the world from those who have this technology. All the information gathered in the real time frame can be processed through computers which today is capable of processing three trillion functions per second. In military affairs the important thing is the application of processing/analysis for discrimination of information. This integration of satellite and computer technology has greatly enhanced and facilitated the command and control and reduced the time and space dimension to an extent that it is new real time information gathering, processing and decremination. This has been possible due to the enormous storage and processing capability which has drastically cut down rummaging. This gives to C4ISR (Command,Control, Communication,Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance). The application of C4ISR is at much higher level. It connects the strategic level with tactical level in real time. Thus we can also call it “Revolution in Strategic Affairs”.

This capability of information gathering and processing enabled US Admiral to present the idea of “creating a web” of ships/fighting units in Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to protect US interest in the pivotal region of Caspian Sea and Gulf. This concept of a “web” around the strategic driver with each ship/fighting unit about 100-150 knots apart would enable the Commander to identify, acquire, analyse, and engage a target anywhere in the area with most appropriate response. All this process will be completed in the shortest possible time. The response would be so well coordinated and at the same time dispersed that the enemy would be destroyed, yet would not be able to know that who has done it and from where it has been done. This strategic advantage of coordinating the action from various dispersed locations and remaining hidden is through the satellite/advance communication/computer system and not by fighting technology. This is what is called Revolution in Strategic Affairs.

Gen Shalikashral realising the RMA’s importance gave the concept of “Joint Force 2010”. 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.

b) Precision Engagement: This means the engagement of the target with extreme precision by PGM 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.

In addition to forces and plan/information, communication systems, satellite, computers and the centre of gravity. This also includes ones ability to communicate throughout the action without disruption at critical moment for effective command and control.

Focussed Logistic. 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.


It might appear that adaption of RMA capability is highly expensive, but if a realistic cost benefit analysis is carried out it would be found out that it would be cost effective to go for RMA capability and that is probably the reason why the concept of joint force 2010 was afforded.

Generally speaking, RMA makes changes in strategy and reduces battle space to increase effectiveness of each fighting unit. Thus is cost effective. The components of RMA are not military specific, they are also used in civilian sphere C4ISR enables C4ISR capable forces to reduce its deployment level. It provides more autonomy to field commander and establishes direct link in real time between strategic level and tactical level through latest electronic equipment thus reducing lot of unnecessary paperwork and intermediatery channels. Thus reduces the cost of maintaining the forces.


Today the advent of new forms of communication and imaging technology, incorporated into systems such as “smart” weaponry and digitised battlefield networks have led to the rethinking of war making and strategy conceptualisation over the ages, as technology has developed, new methods of collecting information have emerged. These new methods have improved the battlefield awareness of our Commanders and Soldiers. Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance C41SR has enabled the integration of these new inputs. Technological advancements of weapons and vehicles of air power are being developed in a manner that will continue to shorten the time cycles for action along with the other segments of IDA. A significant portion of technological progress being made in the military sphere deals with reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) systems. The employment of RSTA technologies is moving warfare further towards greater utilisation of aerial assets for gathering of information, greater range of striking power through long-range offensive systems, and higher accuracy through availability of better target information. RSTA with communications give military forces the ability to locate targets with accuracy, carry out designation and cueing of weapon systems that significantly enhance combat power. The use of RSTA systems, AWACs, UAVs and their integration into a C4ISR system has enabled the use of sophisticated weapons like “smart bombs” and precision guided munitions (PGMs) which are extremely accurate and reduce civilian casualties. C4ISR has also led to the expansion of space and the compression of time on the battlefield.

C4ISR provides situational awareness (SA) for integration and coordination of joint element manoeuvres and sensor to shooten connectivity for weapons employment. It is the essential capability for binding the nation’s armed services defence and intelligence agencies and other government and private organisations into a viable, coherent force. The resultant information superiority fundamentally changes the way operations are conducted. Joint C4ISR enables ability to mass effects without massing forces; protects against asymmetric threats; and provides joint force flexibility, interpretability and efficiency.


All future operations may not be joint, but having a standard architecture for all three services enables merging of architectures if and when the need arises. Merging of architectures is important so that information from any of the sources can be used to deliver maximum firepower on the enemy. In tomorrow’s battlefield, loosely knitted joint organisations put into place just prior to battle will not be successful.


RMA has given birth to certain myths in current thinking about future wars. They need to be addressed.

One of the most important myth is that we can achieve information superiority and even dominance in future conflicts. Even as Joint Vision 2010 insists that “we must have information superiority, the information explosion engendered by new technologies may not let any combatant achieve superiority, much less dominance. One reason will be the transformation of the media as it exploits the new technologies. We already know that the media can project powerful images that can build or erode public support for a military operation. Historically, however, governments with a mind to do so have been able to exercise significant control over media access to war zones as well as the dispatch of stories from battlefields. That will seldom be the case in the future. One can envision vertically integrated news organizations with their own surveillance satellites and self-contained communication systems that will allow them to function virtually autonomously. Indeed, one firm, Aerobureau of McLean, already can deploy a self-sustaining flying newsroom. The aircraft is equipped not only with multiple, redundant satellite video, audio and data communication links, but also gyro-stabilized cameras, side-and forward-looking radars, and, its own pair of camera-equipped remotely piloted vehicles. Information technologies will empower news organizations to such a degree that virtually no significant observable detail will escape their view, and huge interconnected databases will add tremendously to their data sources. Advanced software, along with a cadre of expert ex-military consultants, will enable them to fuse the raw inputs into useful, real-time or near real-time reportage. With immense quantities of information available from the global media, what need will there be for future enemies to spend money building extensive intelligence capabilities? The media will become “poor man’s intelligence service.” The media’s ability to provide real-time battlefield reports independent of military control will likely create difficulties for casualty-averse democracies. During the Gulf War we saw how gruesome photos of the so-called “high way of death” undermined support for continuing the war, and those were pictures of the destruction of a brutal enemy force. What should we expect when the bodies are those of friends and relatives? Tomorrow’s communication capabilities may allow the families of soldiers to establish a virtual presence with them on the battlefield. When live media reports combined with information from other high-tech sources begin to communicate the horrific shrieks and terrifying sights of death and mutilation as it happens to a loved one in combat, the political pressure to terminate hostilities at almost any price may become inexorable. In addition to the information disseminated by the news media, information will spew from the proliferating — and vulnerable — presence of personal cell phones, lap top computers equipped with e-mail and fax machines that troops themselves own and carry with them. This advantage of information will profoundly affect 21st century warfare. Added to these information sources, future adversaries will also be able to buy high-resolution commercial satellite products on the open market. Given all these information sources, a goal of seeking information superiority, let alone dominance on 21st century battlefields is unrealistic.

Another myth is that modern technology will make future war bloodless or atleast humane. It has become almost on accepted truth in the USA and many Western nations that information technologies will allow wars to be waged virtually bloodlessly. In a scenario depicted in a 1995 TIME magazine article, a US Army Officer conjured up a future crisis in which someone sitting at a computer terminal in the USA could derail a potential aggressor without firing a shot. The officer visualized the foe’s phone system brought down by a computer virus, logic bombs ravaging the adversary’s transportation network, false orders confusing his military, propaganda messages jamming television broadcasts, electronically zeroing out the enemy leader’s bank account. All of this is expected to cause the adversary to give up.

Perhaps all of that is technologically possible. But perhaps technology will become so inexpensive that poor nations will be able to afford redundancies that would severely reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of success in Cyber attacks. We also seem to continually underestimate the ability of foes to devise low-tech ways to circumvent high tech capabilities. Shouldn’t we expect that our targets will plan work-arounds for precisely this kind of Cyber assault? It is also possible that such an enemy might even develop a cell of operators who are equally technologically sophisticated. Anyway no one in any future conflict would abandon his cause for such reasons. No one can count on such discomfiture deterring a warrior society or a streetfighter nation driven by a powerful sociological imperative and acting under the spell of a charismatic leader.

In fact, future wars might be more savage. An adversary waging neo-absolutist war could resort to a variety of horrific actions to offset and divert high tech forces.

What if a country relying on miniaturized communications devices to maintain command and control deliberately dispersed his forces into civilian areas. His intent would be to discourage high tech attacks by raising fears that there would be a replay of the furore that followed the bombing of the Al Firdos bunker during the Gulf War.

Precision weapons will be no panacea in a high-tech war. Critical supply facilities as well as those communications nodes that can’t be miniaturized and dispersed may be buried below POW camps, schools, hospitals, and similar facilities. Again the objective would be to deter high-tech attacks by playing on the legal and moral conundrums that would arise for example, in a situation where one could destroy an underground ammunition dump only by bombing a hospital above it.


We have to see that whether war has been affected by RMA or not. To evaluate the impact of technology on war, we have to see how has technology affected the objective, efficiency, effectiveness, magnitude and duration of war. Let us see them one by one, first of all the objectives; the objectives of war are the same. There is no change. The objective of war was and is the subjugation of nations and occupation of territory to take care of one own interest. Second efficiency and effectiveness; there is no revolutionary affect, the war is as efficient and effective as it was previously. Third is the duration of war, which has been considerably reduced but some times also becomes irrelevant as in case of Afghan and Vietnam war. Last is the magnitude of war which has definitely been affected. Previously it was 70 to 80% of a country’s population which used to take part (to be involved directly by) in war but now it is only 3 to 4%, though the population has also increased.

In fact technology is only one out of the three main factors which effect the battle. These three factors are technology, organization and concept or strategy. Technology is not the primary determinant, but it is the concept that leads to victories or failures e.g. Mujahideen’s successful effort in Afghanistan was a result of concept. Every new technology was neutralized by its antidote but the mind of the person using the technology that is the concept or strategy is more important. Take the example of BLITZKREGE which decreased the importance of the weapon system (a product of technology) and concentrated on the better use of it. This gave rise to the R & D to find ways and means to use these hardware’s in better way to defeat the adversary. If we look through the last 20 years there is a merger in the field of Armour, Artillery, Infantry, Logistic, Ships etc. The only change is in the capability of information gathering and processing.

An interesting thing to note is that when one side has an advantage, RMA is revolutionary and helps to make the strategic environment in favour. On the other hand RMA becomes irrelevant in certain geographic environments. GPs may not be much effective in fighting in built up area against an enemy who does not have GPs but knows the surrounding. GPs will pay its dividend in desert. Thus it means that it is the environment which makes the RMA advantageous.

If both parties have equal capabilities in RMA then it offset the advantages of each other; that is the ability to remain hidden. Hence, one who enjoys sole advantage in RMA will enjoy the “full Spectrum Dominance”.

At the end, while concluding my paper I must say that RMA cannot and will not transform war into a genteel electronic exchanges as some hope. Video games are not the paradigm for warfare.