Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has set off a geo-strategic rollercoaster that will end up impacting not just his own country but also India, China, US and Europe.
It has woken up from slumber the European focus on military and the criticality of investing in defence, evident in the German Army chief’s statement. Alfons Mais said he never expected to see another war in his lifetime.
Russia-India trade ties will face both immediate and long-term impact of new sanctions against Moscow, especially in the defence sector.
India, help yourself
The big takeaway for India from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is that that no third country is going to come to New Delhi’s aid, militarily, in case a war is forced upon by China. Pakistan is a different case, and India has enough military-strategic depth to counter the western neighbour.
The Americans are not going to war with China over India. While a lot of global verbal condemnation can be expected in favour of India, like what is happening against Russia, the US and the European powers will stay away from any direct intervention.
Neither can they supply Indians with a lot of military equipment, like in the case of Ukraine, because India does not operate them currently.
While Russia has been a close ally of India for decades, in the new global scenario, Moscow and Beijing are enjoying proximity.
Hence, any possibility of the Russians playing an active role on behalf of India cannot be expected. It may very well even abstain from any resolution passed in the United Nations Security Council or the General Assembly, reciprocating India’s position vis a vis Russia on Ukraine.
While we have been making our operational plans on the premise that we will have to fight our own war, there has also been this wishful thinking by a section of people in the establishment that the US will side with India, eventually.
This thinking needs to be thrown out.
India won’t be able to carry on with its balancing act in geopolitics for long. As the world gets divided afresh into blocks — the US, China and Russia — we may have to very well decide who we want to be close to, even if we don’t join any bloc.
Atmanirbharta: the way forward
The way ahead is increased focus on enhancing our own capabilities – both in terms of spending more on defence and making indigenous equipment. We cannot be relying on a second country to cater to our defence needs, both in terms of war-fighting and equipment.
India’s wars of tomorrow have to be fought with Indian equipment.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis has clearly shown the importance of not being dependent on a second country for military equipment.
And Make in India cannot just be about Indian firms selling foreign equipment to the military with nominal indigenisation and in some cases, merely replacing brand stickers.
The focus has to be on research and development. In the budget for the new fiscal, the Narendra Modi government has made a massive push for domestic defence equipment manufacturers, by earmarking 68 per cent of the capital budget for them. It has also reserved 25 per cent R&D funds for private companies, startups and academia.
The defence ministry has already rolled out new schemes for promotion of research and has been careful about doing it on its own and not through the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The government should strongly push for its own R&D in the military and a preference should be given to such products and companies developing systems based on own research and technology.
Indian companies who have come out with indigenous products should be given preference and handholding. There should not be any room for palming off foreign equipment as indigenous products, be it drones or armoured vehicles or any other system.
Focus on future tech
The Russia-Ukraine war has also shown how reliance on traditional war-fighting machines such as tanks and attack helicopters will not win you battles. This was also evident in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.
The Russian onslaught on Ukraine with hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles have proved futile, with a much smaller country with limited resources causing severe reverse to a military superpower.
This has primarily been achieved through the use of armed drones, loitering munitions and stinger man-portable air defence systems that can easily take out fully equipped and menacing attack helicopters and other aircraft swiftly without much cost.
Forget anti-tank guided missiles, Ukrainians have shown how even Molotov cocktails can cause havoc to Russian armoured columns.
The war dynamics have changed and it is important to focus more on new military technology and not waste time in re-inventing the wheel.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)