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Sustaining Long Wars: Observations from War in Ukraine

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Post the Second World War as well as regional wars that have marked the space of warfare over the past seven decades or so, nations perhaps apart from the United States and the Soviet Union in the past have been preparing for only short wars.

The idea of short or Limited  War has grown from the Korean War 1950-53 in a different context but post Vietnam and more recently the Gulf War 1991 or Iraq War 1993, militaries have come to believe that wars will be short and thus preparations in terms of material including arms and munitions should be restricted.

This is an obviously attractive proposal for developing countries as India with the ever-existing debate on ‘guns versus butter’ or ‘defence vis a vis development’.

The Indian Armed forces have thus reduced their war wastage reserves from a 30 day profile to 10 days the technicalities need not be gone into here.

The United States with global security perspectives and large industrial base is possibly the only country today which is ready for a relatively long war.

The need for preparations for sustainment was evidently exposed in the ongoing war in Ukraine which ironically Russia continues to dub as a Special Military operation.

Given the lack of preparations how did the two Ukraine and Russia succeed in sustaining the operations for over two years now.

Here are some observations on sustainment of forces in the War in Ukraine-

Firstly surplus stocks including major weapons and equipment which was mothballed was activated particularly by Russia which opened warehouses with tanks and artillery guns which were refurbished and rushed to the front lines.

Similarly older stocks of ammunition were also reconfigured and while these were possibly less effective proved useful in making up the lethality in crunch situations.

Many armed forces also hold large stocks of training ammunition which can be similarly used during war time

Secondly activation of military industrial plants by working in multiple shifts was undertaken by Russia which has a large base supplying to the armed forces which was lying fallow. The crunch was shortage of skilled workers.

Thirdly civilian industry was integrated in the military industrial supply chain for supplementing at lower costs. For instance some critical items such as ball bearings, huge numbers of which are required can be manufactured in civilian factories.

Fourthly substitution from civilian equipment such as chips from washing machines by Russia is said to have overcome the problem of sanctions.

Fifthly while Ukraine’s dependence on the West for munitions support is well known, Russia too has been dependent on North Korea and Iran for missiles, artillery munitions and drones only from the latter.

Here the balance of induction of cheap systems with numbers versus operational effectiveness has to be achieved.

A lesser known fact is the Chinese supplies of non lethal items which were crucial in sustaining the Russian industrial production particularly in terms of semi conductors and chips.

Sixthly while Ukraine was provided billions of dollars in arms support by the US and Europe, a streamlined approach has been adopted now with formation of Eight Capability Coalitions.

The Ukraine Defence Contact Group [UDCG] has now established Eight Capabilty Coalitions to streamline assistance. These including capability identified as Air Force, Air Defense, Artillery, Maritime Security, Armor, Information Technology, De-mining and Drones.  

Each of these has two or three allies and partners which are leading to build this capability area of Ukraine's force.

In this way each country can contribute to the area of military industrial expertise, while even smaller yet technologically sophisticated ones can actively support the effort.

Seventhly countries such as the Czech Republic launched a unique initiative to fund artillery ammunition for Ukraine which is a critical commodity.

In February 2024, the Czech Republic announced a proposal to buy artillery ammunition globally and launched a fund for the same which received contributions from Canada, Finland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Lithuania and other countries. The first tranche of munitions has now been delivered to Ukraine.


Nations at war will have to use innovative approach scratching their own stocks and procuring from diverse sources to sustain a longer than expected war.

Clearly nations and coalitions have tapped all resources to be able to maintain the long war in Ukraine – how far these can be applied to other scenarios will depend on the geopolitics as much as the military industrial capabilities.

What is clear however is sustenance requires support from allies and partners and not only for Ukraine, but Russia too is heavily dependent on diverse external sources for fielding thousands of rounds of munitions, drones and missiles.


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