PHYSICAL VULNERABILITY AND COGNITIVE SENSITIVITY

  1. Often it happens that in our exuberance to show case our knowledge we tend to use specialized lexis plagiarized from foreign military and quote it out of context. We get away most of the time because the audience is embarrassed to question as it may make them look ‘foolish’. Its usage over time by army personnel includes it in the official technolect and becomes of the uncodified but diverse jargon. Metaphors and abbreviations account for a significant proportion of such lexicon. One such phraseology is sensitivity and vulnerability; at times used as synonyms and at other times as two diverse concepts. This little piece is to demystify the Vulnerability & Sensitivity paradigm and make it more cogent for usage in right context.
  2. A vulnerability is identified as the area which can be targeted by the adversary to attenuate a force’s military capability and its ability execute credible military operations against the adversary. The vulnerability paradigm encompasses who or what is vulnerable and how it is vulnerable. The vulnerability assessment identifies physical characteristics or procedures that render critical assets, areas, infrastructures, or special events vulnerable to known or potential threats and hazards. Vulnerability is the component of risk over which the commander has the most control and greatest influence. The general sequence of a vulnerability assessment is as follows:-

(a) List assets and capabilities and the threats against them.

(b) Determine the common criteria for assessing vulnerabilities.

(c) Evaluate the vulnerability of assets and capabilities.

3. Vulnerability evaluation criteria may include the degree to which an asset may be disrupted, quantity available (if replacement is required due to loss), dispersion (geographic proximity), and key physical characteristics. Vulnerability occurs in the physiological domain and is quantifiable in terms of size and assets required to cause a degree of damage to it. The four questions would define the vulnerability of an objective:-

(a) How essential is the asset to own forces?

(b) How susceptible is to attack by enemy?

(c) How hard will it be to recover the asset after the attack?

(d) How probable is the attack on the asset?

4. In cognitive warfare, the human mind becomes the battle space which can be targeted by employing kinetic or non-kinetic force against sensitivities of the adversary. Targeting sensitivity is to change not only what people think, but how they think and act. Actions targeting sensitivities successfully shapes and influences individual and group beliefs and behaviour to favour an aggressor’s tactical or strategic objectives. In its extreme form, it has the potential to fracture and fragment an entire society, so that it no longer has the collective will to resist an adversary’s intentions. An opponent could conceivably subdue a force by using an amalgam of kinetic and non-kinetic force.

5. Today’s VUCA battle space is being exploited by the adversary through hybrid warfare’s tailored targeting of its both vulnerabilities and sensitivities in full spectrum operations logically driving a requirement for us to carry out a comprehensive and cogent self-assessment to identify critical vulnerabilities and sensitivities. This process does not replace traditional threat analysis. Rather, this self-assessment supplements efforts to understand the hybrid multi-domain warfare threat across each of the decision support tools that are available. The traditional threat analysis is supplemented by a hybrid warfare threat analysis in which the armed forces focuses on the ‘M’ (military) hybrid warfare threat to other vectors of CNP, while civilian subject matter experts and the private sector, in close cooperation, assist with non-traditional threat analysis dealing with political, economic, civil, informational hybrid warfare tools. Crucially, this analysis must consider how these means of attack may be formed into a synchronized attack package tailored to the specific vulnerabilities and sensitivities of the adversary. This process must be part of an integrated planning approach coordinating whole of government, military and private sector expertise to ensure comprehensiveness in response.

6. In turn, this integrated approach should be institutionalized in an intergovernmental coordination body (for example, the Executive Counter- Hybrid Warfare Steering Committee) responsible for monitoring changes in the situation and evaluating their effects. Institutionalizing a process to collect and disseminate sensitivity and vulnerability information to the appropriate parties will enhance hybrid warfare early warning efforts, assist resiliency efforts, and may even have a deterrent effect as the conditions of possibility may be closed off for the attacker. Finally, in principle, these efforts should be replicated at the international and multinational levels to enhance counter-hybrid multi domain warfare efforts.

7. Hybrid warfare involves the synchronized use of military and non- military means against specific vulnerabilities and sensitivities to create effects against its opponent. Its instruments can be ratcheted up and down simultaneously, using different tools against different targets, across the whole of society. In this respect, hybrid warfare expands the battle space. It also creatively exploits our cognitive predisposition to emphasize the military instrument of power, allowing opponents to leverage non-military means against a wider set of targets. It increases the possibility of a hybrid warfare actor inflicting significant damage on its opponent before that opponent can respond to, or possibly even detect, a hybrid warfare attack. This strong and fluid element of ambiguity within hybrid warfare adds a new dimension to how coercion, aggression, conflict and war are to be understood in the paradigm of vulnerabilities in physiological and sensitivities in cognitive domain.

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Scholar warrior and an autodidact

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