Defence analyst Pravin Sawhney’s new ebook begins with an imagined cyberattack on India by China

Prime Minister’s Workplace, New Delhi, 22 February 2024

…‘What’s the issue?’ the prime minister rasps.

‘Sir, this appears like a formidable cyberattack. Even our safe community has been breached,’ the NSA says. ‘We’re unable to contact anybody.’

The prime minister of India’s workplace has become an island.

In a couple of minutes it turns into clear that the PMO just isn’t the one one to fall off the web freeway. The ministries of defence, dwelling, finance, in addition to the service headquarters of the armed forces have all gone offline. The Authorities of India has been thrown backwards by greater than three a long time. Even the cellphone traces will not be working.

A way of foreboding descends on the room. The prime minister walks again to his workplace, adopted by the NSA. The principal secretary is tasked with bodily summoning the members of the Cupboard Committee on Safety (CCS), the chief of defence employees (CDS), and the three service chiefs for a right away assembly.

‘May this be a rogue assault?’ the prime minister asks.

‘Unlikely,’ replies the NSA. Beads of perspiration seem on his brow.


‘That’s probably.’

China had been issuing warnings to India for the reason that earlier 12 months when the prime minister had visited Bum La in Arunachal Pradesh and addressed the troops in Tawang. China had termed this a grave provocation. Consequently, it elevated navy exercise in its Western Theatre Command (WTC) near the border with India. In line with the intelligence reviews that the NSA has been receiving over the previous few months, the exercise seemed to be greater than the common workouts that the Individuals’s Liberation Army (PLA) often conducts.

Convoys of every kind of vans are incessantly noticed shifting shops, ammunition, and gasoline on the a number of tar roads heading in direction of Lhasa (the headquarters of Tibet Army Command), and generally on the arterial roads linking as much as the LAC1. Since 2020, the PLA has constructed strong and technologically superior underground services (UGFs) to guard all features of its navy forces, together with command and management, logistics, ammunition, and missile methods.

Began round 2012, the UGF constructing programme within the Tibet Autonomous Area (TAR) had been upgraded and expanded. The deeply buried UGFs had been historically meant to guard navy property from the consequences of penetrating standard munitions and nuclear strikes.

In line with intelligence reviews, after the 2020 Ladakh face-off, the PLA deployed digital and cyber warfare items in TAR. Twin-use airports had been upgraded for fight jet and drone flights. Large communication towers had been arrange. Blast pens or hardened shelters for fight plane had been constructed. Quite a few air defence and missile websites had been dug. However India had been ignoring these provocations.

On 26 January 2024, India invited the Dalai Lama to the Republic Day parade. China was furious and threatened to snap diplomatic ties with India. It dismissed India’s assertion that the Dalai Lama had been invited in his capability as a religious chief together with the gurus of different faiths.

Regardless of all of the threats, the prime minister and the NSA had been satisfied that China wouldn’t enter all-out warfare with India and imperil its personal financial progress. This view was additionally supported by the navy institution led by the CDS. Even in 2024, the Indian navy held the view it had formulated again in 2009 – that China wouldn’t wish to wage a warfare with India as a result of a stalemate on floor could be seen as defeat.

And stalemate it could be, they believed, as a result of the Indian navy of 2024 was not the identical as 1962. It was ready to struggle and was battle hardened by a long time of preventing terrorism on the Line of Management (LoC) with Pakistan. The Indian Air Drive, with some 250-300 fight plane from all bases situated at a lot decrease altitudes, had many benefits over the PLA Air Drive (PLAAF). It will ensure that it despatched again 1000’s of physique luggage of PLA troopers, thereby destroying China’s status as a world energy.

However was the Chinese language navy of 2024 the identical because the one in 1962? This was an uncomfortable query with an unsavoury reply. For the reason that prime minister was not within the behavior of listening to disagreeable solutions, no one raised this query. Maybe no one knew that this was a query that wanted to be requested.

Regardless of ongoing research on China, the Indian navy, even in 2024, was oblivious of the warfare China had been making ready for. Historically, the Indian navy believed that China was at the very least a decade forward of Indian capabilities. Sanguine on this evaluation, it was clueless concerning the speedy transformation that had been going down within the neighbourhood.

But when China doesn’t intend to go to warfare with India, why wouldn’t it mount such a formidable cyberattack on the seat of the federal government?

Trying by means of his notes based mostly on a latest intelligence report, the NSA runs the prime minister by means of what he is aware of concerning the PLA’s presence in TAR. The fight help forces (Rocket Drive, Strategic Help Drive, and Joint Logistics Help Drive) within the WTC have been conducting coaching with fight items to deploy and manoeuvre with them. The reported PLA convoys into TAR embody massive numbers of unmanned automobiles – fight in addition to reconnaissance. One report mentions sighting 1000’s of humanoid robots in navy buses and trains to Lhasa.

‘Humanoid robots?’

‘They’re doubtless for use for fight help like upkeep, readying of ammunition, provides, gasoline and so forth,’ the NSA says in a barely dismissive tone.

‘Why have they launched a cyberattack on the PMO?’ asks the prime minister. ‘Phishing?’

‘Tough to say. But it surely’s unlikely {that a} phishing assault would disrupt our networks. This appears to be one thing else.’

By this time, the CCS has assembled within the convention room. Breaking protocol, the chief of air employees (CAS) blurts out, ‘This isn’t an extraordinary cyberattack. The malware that has attacked us is extraordinarily subtle. It has breached all our firewalls. Our whole communication community has collapsed. We’ve got been rendered blind and deaf.’

A chilly frisson runs by means of the convention room. The military and the navy chiefs have comparable reviews to share. The navy chief is especially frightened. The navy has misplaced contact with the INS Vikrant provider battle group that features two destroyers, 4 frigates, three submarines, fifteen fighters, eight helicopters, two long-range maritime patrol plane, and plenty of smaller vessels.

Seeing the prime minister’s quizzical look, the NSA explains stoically, ‘Sir, if we now have misplaced contact with them, it means they’ve additionally misplaced contact with floor management. This could result in accidents.’

The CAS interrupts. ‘It’s a really severe scenario. We’ve got deployed six plane for this train. All communications with them have snapped.’

The bottom scenario was equally dire. The troops deployed within the mountains had lengthy traces of communications. These had been on the blink now. ‘Sir, for troops posted 18,000 ft and above, communication is the lifeline,’ the chief of military employees (COAS) says. ‘In Ladakh we now have an emergency. As , in sure locations, our troopers are eyeball to eyeball with the PLA.’

Glancing on the NSA, he provides, ‘In Ladakh, the PLA has additionally deployed numerous unmanned and autonomous methods, together with fight methods. In the event that they rise up to some mischief utilizing machines, we received’t get to know. After all, our troops are educated and ready for all eventualities. However communication with headquarters is vital.’

Regardless of the obvious calm within the room, the panic was palpable. The COAS’s comment was foreboding, however it additionally held a clue to the motive for the cyberattack. The principal secretary was advised to summon the director of Nationwide Vital Data Infrastructure’s Safety Centre (NCIIPC) that works underneath the Nationwide Technical Analysis Organisation (NTRO), the pinnacle of the Defence Cyber Company underneath the Built-in Defence Headquarters, and the Nationwide Cyber Safety Coordinator who works immediately underneath the PMO.

The reviews are worse than anticipated.

‘Sir, it doesn’t appear like a mere cyberattack. The web in peninsular India has stopped working. Most DRDO laboratories, ISRO, and the DPSUs haven’t any web. We don’t know but how a lot of the infrastructure has been affected,’ the NSA says, working his hand over his brow.

‘It’s a serious cyberattack,’ the prime minister says.

After a second’s silence, the NSA provides, ‘It appears like a few of our submarine cables that join us to the worldwide web have been tampered with. Possibly they’ve been reduce.’

‘However that’s an act of warfare,’ the prime minister says to the now silent room.

The convention room turns into an impromptu warfare room.

‘I want updates each half hour,’ the prime minister declares and storms out.

Excerpted with permission from The Final Struggle: How AI Will Form India’s Ultimate Showdown with China, Pravin Sawhney, Aleph Guide Firm.

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