NEW DELHI: Indian armed forces are recalibrating their plans and capabilities for “dynamic responses” along the borders with China and Pakistan below the threshold of all-out wars, as shown during the Balakot air strikes last year, even as they strengthen their conventional military prowess, Army chief Gen M M Naravane said on Wednesday.

Militaries “play to the edge” in the “grey zone” now. China through its incremental moves in the contentious South China Sea, for instance, is altering geo-strategic realities in the region without firing a single shot or inviting any retaliatory action.

For years we were told that if air power is used across the international border, it would lead to a full-fledged war. Balakot showed that if you play the escalatory game with skill, military ascendancy can be established in short cycles of conflict that do not necessarily lead to war,” Army chief Gen M M Naravane said at a seminar on the changing characteristics of warfare organised by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies.

Dwelling at length on the Chinese way of war epitomised by thinkers like Sun Tzu as well as the continuing relevance of Indian philosopher Chanakya’s famed treatise “Arthashastra”, he said his force is developing both “kinetic and non-kinetic responses” to address the threat of “non-contact or grey-zone warfare”, where ambiguity and careful risk escalation are key. India is strengthening its capabilities in space, cyber and electronic warfare, while also looking to tap blockchain technologies, lasers and directed energy weapons, he said.

“The Houthi rebels’ attack on Riyadh airport and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and closer home, the Balakot air strike, saw these short, intense, escalatory cycles of military activity, in full media glare, where sophisticated information narratives played an equally important role,” said Gen Naravane.

Terming it a “technological irony”, he said the so-called Islamic State had shown it was far more adept in leveraging social media and digital technologies than the 21st-century militaries of the US and the UK. “The rise of non-state actors, such as insurgents, terrorists, transnational criminal networks combined with greater focus on an individual’s status consequently demands that victory needs to be formulated and achieved in a more nuanced way. Victory no longer rests on the ability to inflict massive destruction but on the ability to wrestle popular support from one’s opponent,” he said.