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HomeDefenceWhat Russia-Ukraine war teaches us — 5 big tactical takeaways for India

What Russia-Ukraine war teaches us — 5 big tactical takeaways for India

The conflict has revealed critical lessons on the nature of future warfare and what truly constitutes military power. It has also highlighted need to challenge outdated assumptions.

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New Delhi: A year since it started, the Russia-Ukraine war has thrown up multiple lessons for militaries across the world, including that of India.

From the nature of future warfare, to the over-estimation of drones, to what constitutes military power, the war has shaken quite a few old notions.

Such has been the impact of the conflict that European countries like Germany have been rudely shaken out of their slumber and belief that the continent would never see a war again. Germany has now doubled its defence budget.

ThePrint has earlier focused on lessons from the war for the  Indian Air Force and the Army, including the evolving nature of armour and artillery. Here, now, is a look at five major tactical takeways from the conflict for India’s military.

Also read: MiG-31K aircraft with ‘Killjoy’ missile — the hardware Russia has parked near Ukraine in Belarus

India must be self-sufficient in defence

Multiple sources in the defence establishment that ThePrint spoke to said that the big takeaway from the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the need to be self-sufficient to the highest level when it comes to defence.

They pointed out the need to have a defence industrial ecosystem that will keep supplies going rather than be at the mercy of another country in case of a war.

“Imagine, a country like Russia is running out of its stockpiles even though they were the ones who initiated this war. Russia has to be dependent on other countries for their basic supplies like bullets and shoes, forget the missiles or drones,” a source in the defence establishment said, explaining the importance of being self-reliant.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has to consistently appeal to western powers to keep supplies coming so that it can fight off Russian onslaughts.

Incidentally, after the 2016 Uri terror attack, the Indian military had to go on a shopping spree across the world to pile up the required ammunition, including specialised rounds for its T-90 tanks as war loomed large.

The shopping list included munitions for its frontline fighter aircraft Su-30 MKI and even Bofors howitzers.

IAF Su-30 MKI aircraft | ANI file photo
IAF Su-30 MKI aircraft | ANI file photo

In 2019, the then Army chief, Gen Bipin Rawat, had told ThePrint that the Army had stocked up for 10 days of intense war with Pakistan, and the focus was on creating
reserves for 30 days of intense war along the northern and eastern borders.

Another problem that Ukraine is facing is the servicing of damaged military equipment. It again has to depend on other countries for fast-tracking the repairs
in the middle of war.

Sources said India needs to have an ecosystem in place so that the flow of supplies is constant and pointed out the government’s push for indigenisation of various equipment and ammunition was the right way forward.

Future wars may not be ‘short, swift’ 

Another big takeaway from the Russia-Ukraine war for the Indian military is the possibility of future wars being long, protracted ones.

The Indian defence establishment has largely been thinking about future wars being  “short and swift”.

However, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict observing its one-year anniversary Friday, one cannot rule out the possibility of India getting involved in a war that stretches out similarly, the sources said.

They said that preparations for war have been based on the concept that all future conflicts will be short and swift which may also involve a lot of non-kinetic means, such as cyber warfare.

From the Army’s Cold Start doctrine to shaping up of Integrated Battle Groups to creating war wastage reserves, the Indian military has focused on short, intense war.

“The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War was a short one in all terms. It was an all-out war.
The Kargil conflict was a little protracted because of the way we fought it and it was limited to a particular sector,” a second source explained.

The source ruled out the possibility of a drawn-out conventional war with Pakistan but noted that any conflict on the northern or the eastern borders can be protracted, with the intensity changing from time to time.

“This is something that has been kept in mind and the focus now is to have enough war reserves to sustain us for a longer duration,” the source said.

Conventional firepower, boots on ground matter

Many military practitioners, across the world and even in India, felt that conventional war fighting equipment such as tanks and fighter planes are on their way out.

In 2020, the then Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane had described “military icons of the 20th century” were on their way out the same way the “Sony Walkman” was made
redundant by newer technologies to listen to music.

However, the Russia-Ukraine war has shown that conventional firepower still matters because that is what both the countries are using.

“There is no doubt that cyber warfare and space are the future, but conventional war fighting elements will continue to play a big role in future conflicts too, at least for the next two decades. Countries will need to have the right mix of everything. It will be foolish to rule out anything as of now,” a third source said.

Another lesson is that a well-trained infantry still matters in war. “While there will not be trench warfare-like situations, you will need well trained soldiers in good numbers to push in and occupy enemy territories once the big firepower does its ob,” the source said.

Drones give an edge, but have limitations

The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict has brought into focus how drones can change the
course of war.

With the smart utilisation of drones in the early stages of war by Ukraine to target Russian armoured columns and artillery positions, multiple experts pointed out that
fighter jets are on their way out.

However, a year into the Russia-Ukraine war, it is now felt that while drones are cheap and good to hit at enemy positions, their effectiveness is questionable in a heavily challenged air space.

A swarm drone system | By special arrangement
A swarm drone system | By special arrangement

The Turkish drones —  Bayratkar TB2 — were seen as the most deadly weapon in the hands of the Ukrainians. The Russians too started deploying drones that were hurriedly bought from Iran.

But changes in strategy by both countries has now ensured that the Turkish drones are out of action along with the Iranian ones.

“Armed drones or even loitering munitions cannot function in a heavily contested airspace like in India, China and Pakistan. Drones can work when they are unchallenged, like how Americans did in Afghanistan,” a fourth source said.

However, the source said swarm drones are difficult to be taken down and have the capability to overwhelm the enemy defences and positions.

“The drones are useful for surveillance and also for carrying out attacks close to the border. But it is not the answer to all problems and will not be able to carry out deeper penetration like a fighter can. A majority of the drones being launched by both Russians and Ukrainians are being shot down now,” the source said.

While that is true, the problem is that it is estimated to cost up to seven times more to down a drone with a missile than it does to launch one.

Need for unified and inter-linked fighting strategy 

Multiple sources, both in India and abroad, say that one of the big problems with the Russian strategy was the lack of a combined arms formation.

They said that the early setback to the Russian onslaught was because the armoured columns, the mounted infantry, self-propelled artillery, air defence, air power, and logistics were not talking to each other.

“It was like each arm was fighting their own battle without any actual coordination on the ground. For example, the Air Force was not used to bombard the entry points into Ukraine, fearing civilian casualties, which made it difficult for the armoured columns to get in deep. And when they finally got in, there was not much infantry to support them and hold ground while keeping moving forward,” a fifth source said, giving a larger view of what went wrong with the Russians.

The source said the morale of the troops got hit because of these early setbacks while that of the Ukrainians rose due to their ability to strike the powerful Russian military.

The source pointed out that there needs to be a unified approach to war which would entail using capabilities of all the three services in a dedicated manner.

The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war was a success because the three Services — Army, Navy, and Air Force — fought together, the source said, adding that the Americans fight the same way.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

Also read: New barrel, extended range — India & US explore joint development of M777 howitzer variant


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