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In military history, the term ‘generations of warfare’ refers to diverse ways of conducting warfare with each generation employing different tactics, strategies, and technologies. There is no clear indication about who coins these terms or defines what constitutes a generation of warfare. Possibly, it is just a think-tank, organisation, university or strategist, first off the block, with a scholarly article in a leading strategy journal. A cursory search on the Internet reveals that there appears to be seven or eight generations of warfare defined by strategists till now which provide some doctrinal clarity. However, there are very scanty references to eighth generation warfare.

If recent developments around the world are any indication, are we witnessing the beginnings of another generation of warfare? Starting with China – its activities in the ‘grey zone’ like lasing an Australian maritime reconnaissance aircraft, fishing fleets impeding innocent passage, a nuclear submarine reportedly deployed to clandestinely damage US naval forces in the Yellow Sea (and perhaps, itself getting damaged in the process) and blatantly defying internationally accepted norms of behaviour are becoming its warfare style. Brinkmanship, with an element of ambiguity and non-attributability, but with a clear stamp of the perpetrator.

Moving West to the Russia-Ukraine War, this is again for the first instance in modern times that we have seen a mercenary army invade one country with the full support of the other belligerent. A private army fighting as proxy for one of the five permanent members of the United Nations was beyond the imagination of military people, let alone civilians of any description. It did not end at that. The founder of the Wagner Army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, mutinied against the Russian State, creating some consternation in Moscow. Mysteriously thereafter, Prigozhin died in an air crash. While private armies have been known to exist, their employment in modern-day state vs state conflict is now a reality.

Tracking further West to the Israel-Hamas conflict, the action of 07 Oct 2023 by Hamas has been a major embarrassment and setback for the Israeli Defence Forces. Here, it is a case of a strong state vs a hardened non-state actor; the latter taking civilian hostages in large numbers and the ensuing violence resulting in mass casualties. In the past, the Israeli Defence Forces have always called the shots because of their top-of-the-line technical intelligence, overwhelming military superiority and long operational experience. The difference this time has been the effective outside support to the Hamas and the religious divide between the Sunni and Shias, with Shia-predominant nations supporting Hamas and Sunni-dominant Saudi Arabia attempting to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel. It is a religious and civilizational clash playing out in the battlefields of Gaza, exacerbated by the clash between the political executive and the judiciary in Israel, that has had a weakening effect on its national security apparatus. The repercussions of this clash may be very violent if Israel opts for reprisal.

Are there any lessons for India? It just takes one look around India’s neighbourhood to realise that all the elements that are playing out in the three major ongoing conflicts around the world can be used against India’s interests. From China’s grey-zone operations to existence of private armies to civilizational, religious backing to inimical forces and exploitation of fissures within the national security establishment, there is a deadly cocktail of modern warfare brewing.

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