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Ukraine Lessons: Indian Armed Forces Must Focus on Combat Capabilities

One of the principal lessons of the Ukraine War which Russia continues to call a Special Military Operation is that militaries must focus on combat capabilities that is maneouvre and fire power to destroy the enemy and/or gain control of critical features of terrain that will contribute to battle or campaign objectives.

This is a timely reminder to the Indian armed forces who presently seem to be occupied in multiple non combat activities in the name of nation building. While such a role and task are intrinsic for a military yet this is more in the form of being a symbol of nationhood of unity and secular identity of a nation as per the Indian Constitution. Activities in this external domain of the military role will be at the cost of building combat power.

Firstly a word about combat power there is an impression that the tools of delivering the same have expanded in what is termed as multi domain warfare. Once again, the Ukraine war reminds us that there is no alternative to delivery of fire power and closing in with the enemy to destroy, neutralize or incapacitate him. While information, cyber, electronic and other domains may facilitate the same these are not the principal mediums in which the outcome will be decisive.

Build up of combat power is a continuous process and cannot be restricted to annual individual or collective exercises. Soldiers must be focused on their main role to be able to wage combat all the time through the year rather than being episodic.

Relevance of the lesson from War in Ukraine?

The relevance of this lesson from the War in Ukraine is evident with the dramatic improvement in performance of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Six and half years ago in February – March 2014, Russia launched an operation for the seizure of Crimea. Moscow’s “force,” succeeded in almost bloodlessly seizing the island under Ukrainian control within a few weeks.

Ukrainian armed forces failure to put up a resistance in Crimea had shaken up the nation into action. With assistance from allies as the United States and the UK, military rejuvenation of the armed forces was undertaken to modernize combat potential to undertake integrated battles with effective employment of fire power economically.

The outcome is there to see, while Russian armed forces consolidated their hold over the four seized areas of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson this has been at the cost of heavy losses in manpower, weapons and equipment. This was a far cry from the operation in Crimea in 2014.

The contrasting preparedness and performance in the armed forces of Ukraine and Russia is a stark reminder of the importance of staying combat focused.

While Ukraine prepared for a war that was seen inevitable, Russian forces were engaged in multiple non-combat activities from participation in joint exercises with nations of multinational organisations as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to curiously organizing Military games and competitions in which the Russian teams performed admirably in many disciplines. Alas! This was not sufficient to win battles with minimal loss of blood and arms in Ukraine in 2022.

While there are other factors that have contributed to Ukraine resistance, given the topical focus the combat factor has been highlighted here.

Relevance in the Indian Context

Indian armed forces are engaged in active confrontation with two adversaries simultaneously on the Northern and Western fronts – China and Pakistan.

Sustaining combat capabilities through rigorous training all the year round assumes importance particularly so given the deficiencies in modern weapons and equipment of the military from fighter aircraft to assault rifles and carbines.

A point to note is emphasis given by Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission [CMC] and President Xi Jinping on realistic training for combat.

The People’s Liberation Army [PLA] can be expected to be following the directives of the CMC in letter and spirit.

Thus developing corresponding combat capabilities assumes importance for the Indian armed forces.

Status of the Indian Armed Forces

While information of the status of the Indian armed forces in training for combat based on open source inputs is limited to official press releases and posting on the social media by the @handles of various formations, this nit gives a mixed picture.

Formations have conducted a series of exercises to test operational readiness at the level of services commands integrating resources. This would be presumably be culmination of the training at the grass roots up the chain at the unit and formation level.

Nevertheless, the plethora of non combat activities notified in the media raises some concerns.

For instance the Ministry of Defence (MOD)in a Press release indicates that Adm R Hari Kumar, Chief of The Naval Staff (CNS) visited Nagaland on 07 Dec 22 to participate in the ongoing activities undertaken by the Indian Navy as part of the outreach in the North East and attended the Hornbill Festival which saw participation of the Navy for the first time through establishment of a large stall.

Indeed, exposure of the Indian Navy to the people of the North East is laudable, but this would certainly be at the cost of other important maritime activities including maintenance of the fleet that the sailors and officers need to focus on.

On the same day the MOD press release informs us that the Indian Army in an effort to boost tourism in the North East has undertaken, “trans-theatre adventure activity along the line of actual control (LAC) this year was one such initiative in which adventure activities such as Mountaineering Expeditions, White Water Rafting, Mountain Biking and Trekking,” with “very active participation from civilian enthusiasts and local talent from the region”.

Promoting tourism in the country cannot be even a peripheral role of the armed forces that too in an active operational area with ongoing confrontation with China. This will be at the cost of combat performance and the primary role.


Clearly the armed forces are undertaking these tasks not at their initiative but on directions from the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

It is time that the armed forces take up the issue with the MOD to avoid dissipation of resources on non combat roles, the PLA sitting surreptitiously on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) just two and a half years ago is not too distant for the Army to forget with the loss of a commanding officer and 19 soldiers.

Keeping the eye on the ball – the combat role thus assumes importance.

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