Ukraine : Busting Myths in Indian Perceptions of War Fighting
Busting ten myths here of how Indian armed forces conceive to fight wars and what should be done to correct these perceptions.
On 30 June the war in Ukraine has entered the hundred and twenty seventh day. This is a far cry from the expected three to four days anticipated when Russia launched the Special Military Operation on February 24.
A detailed analysis of the War in general, strategy, operations and tactics is an ongoing process and the Indian Armed Forces as is evident from a few statements on developments in Ukraine are drawing their own conclusions.
Several Indian think tanks and independent analysts are doing the same and no doubt coming out with worthy reviews.
To add to these here are some “myth busting,” takeaways in the Indian context, looking at issues which Indian military beliefs and documentation sees how wars will be fought or vectors that are contrary to present rationality on war fighting.
Contextually speaking there is considerable variation in the adversarial position, the geography, military and leadership culture in the Russia-Ukraine context thus generalization may be difficult but some commonalities are evident.
Here are a few-
First myth state on state wars have limited relevance in the modern context. Clearly the Russia- Ukraine conflict proves that large states can take to war to achieve their political objectives. This is also true in the context of the developed world and thus a corollary that state on state conflict are only restricted to the developing may also be misplaced.
The differences that India has with adversaries as China or Pakistan are fundamental – sovereignty issues for which rational course is diplomacy but war cannot be ruled out.
Second War Avoidance as primary military strategy as indicated in the Indian Armed Forces Doctrine of 2017 with deterrence to avoid fighting may be misplaced.
Clearly to avoid war - primary strategy should be to prepare for war wherein deterrence will be inherent.
There are no options for India but to increase war preparedness. This is not to say that India should be a “war monger,” but to underline the need for going beyond rhetoric to invest in tangibles of war making assets which are usable in the immediate term.
Usable capabilities is the buzzword.
The shortfalls in India’s operational readiness are well established and need not be gone into here, suffice to say conceptually preparing to go for war complements avoidance.
Towards this end, “Atma Nirbharta in Defence,” is a laudable objective achievable only in the long term – buy, lease, borrow are par for the course to achieve operational readiness as soon as possible.
Ukraine prepared to go to war from 2014 onwards when Russia annexed Crimea. The preparations have paid off with resistance that has been offered to the Russian operations in the past three months plus. Preparing to “avoid war,” may have possibly led to capitulation.
Third Myth wars in the Indian context will be short.
One factor is the nuclear overhang another is ability to sustain active operations for a period beyond what is today envisaged as a 10 day intense period.
While one of the India’s adversaries Pakistan may have constraints but it has a window of assistance that will remain open from China and just as Kyiv is being helped by the NATO alliance so could be Islamabad.
There are no constraints for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to wage a long war, in case it takes to war though at present the same is unlikely
When PLA takes to war it will fight till it wins just like Russia is doing in Ukraine whatever be the costs.
Thus, Indian military may prudently plan for a long war at least conceptually as building tangible assets may not be feasible due to resource challenges.
Fourth myth strategic intelligence is always right. On the other hand top level intelligence needs a 360 degree approach with open examination of drivers and trends and cannot be a feed to sustain an ingrained hypothesis.
It is not clear if Russian President Vladimir Putin would have launched the Special Military Operation if he had perceived this to be a long war that would to go on for over three months and may now even extend to the winter.
But there is a perception that the Russian intelligence failed to appreciate the stiff Ukrainian resistance and had possibly fed the, “boss,” what he liked to hear early Ukrainian, “capitulation.”
In other words, politics cannot drive intelligence assessments.
In this context some political statements made with reference to Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir are being flagged as assessment may go awry if these do not follow the rigorous intelligence processes.
Fifth, combat power – maneouvre and fire power to close in with the enemy neutralize and destroy him remain the primary function of the militaries in the world.
There are multiple domains which are assistive in this task however the tendency to give these as a primary medium of functioning of the armed forces may be miscued.
Military must focus on enhancing combat power while plugging in advantages that can accrue from the supporting domains.
Sixth and a related factor is combat remains an integrated function of land, sea, sub sea and air forces and the maneouvre and fire power that can be generated through synergy.
Until the Russian forces went back to the integrated model they could not make the breakthroughs in Donbas. More over right sizing forces for an integrated battle assumes importance. For instance, shortage or inefficiency of infantry has been a bane on both sides.
Seventhly wars cannot be fought by partly conscripted forces. There is dilemma here as the Territorial Defence Forces mustered by Ukraine have accredited themselves well, however Russian conscripts performed dismally. Morale, motivation and training may be some of the factors.
Agnipath recruitment scheme comes to mind. While it may be of some purpose in disciplining youth in the country and developing nationalist commitment, there are serious shortfalls in terms of operational readiness that may manifest in the medium to short term.
Eighthly training needs to be combat oriented and not be done as a rote.
Interestingly China’s President Xi Jinping who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) emphasizes combat oriented realistic training by the PLA in all forums of interaction with the military.
While the Russian military has been exercising regularly how realistic this has been towards a scenario as obtained in Ukraine remains to be seen?
Ninthly conventional wars can be destructive and hence possibly the need for avoidance – yet being prepared to face destruction and the pain of loss of family and friends needs to be inured with. Russians and Ukrainians have a long history of bearing the pain – though this may not necessarily be a virtue in modern times, in a long war this remains essential
Tenthly national morale remains the high point, to sustain a long war, to bear the pain and be unwilling to relent in adversity.
Ukraine and Russia have demonstrated such a morale despite the obvious pain that the people are going through.
What stratagems are essential for the same – one is evidently national leadership – while Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has the sympathy of being the David.
There have also been no signs of any resistance to the Russian President Putin’s image in Russia though there are many social media tweaks to the contrary.