Ongoing Conflicts: Major Lessons for India


The horrific Hamas attack on 07 October 2024 and the subsequent Israeli retaliation which has the potential of plunging the entire Middle East into conflict, have added to the war in Ukraine, now in its third year with Russia.

After the dramatic swings in territorial control during 2022, when the Ukrainian military managed to recapture parts of the Kharkiv region and the city of Kherson, the war settled into a positional and attritional grind in 2023 with both the tempo of operations and the intensity reducing.

The Gaza war is also showing no signs of concluding, despite repeated calls for a ceasefire. The worldwide focus is now on the humanitarian crisis Israeli actions have unleashed. Israel is under increasing pressure not to launch an offensive in Rafah, which its military believes is the last holdout of Hamas, but where there are about 1.5 million Palestinians taking shelter as well.

However, these wars have brought out issues regarding great power conflict, and the capacity to wage a protracted wars while to pursuing a strategy focused on attrition.

It was believed that an interconnected global world would not permit protracted conflicts, but an analysis of conflicts post World War II including these two seem to disprove that theory.

The wars in Ukraine and Israel are manifestly different but yet have commonalities. Both wars are being fought over sovereignty and territory and the US is the security guarantor and provider for both Ukraine and Israel.

In today’s world of warfighting, those physically fighting are probably the smallest players. Those standing on the sidelines are the bigger players, but those nowhere near the war zone, who are both the perpetrators and the beneficiaries, are the biggest players.

As global tensions rise increasingly countries need to draw appropriate lessons from these conflicts. We have attempted to draw some lessons as applicable in our context but at no stage can this list be taken to be all encompassing.


Fighting a War of Attrition

The world is witnessing two ‘attritional wars’ fought with a ‘force-centric’ approach, unlike wars of manoeuvre which are ‘terrain-focused.’ They are rooted in massive industrial capacity to enable the replacement of losses, geographical depth to absorb a series of defeats, and technological conditions that prevent rapid ground movement. In these wars, military operations are shaped by a state’s ability to replace losses and generate new forces, not tactical and operational manoeuvres.

As conflict drags on, the war is won by economies, not armies. Economies that enable mass mobilisation and sustainability, backed by a strong military industrial complex will prevail.

This is because forces expand rapidly during such conflicts, requiring massive quantities of war fighting hardware to include armoured vehicles and artillery, drones, electronic products, and other combat equipment. And two more prerequisites, a well-trained manpower and ammunition for all the assorted weaponry.

High-end weapons have exceptional performance but are difficult to manufacture, and sustain. High-end weapons also require highly trained professional troops. Military operations in an attritional conflict are also distinct from those in a war of manoeuvre. Instead of a decisive battle achieved through rapid manoeuvre, attritional war focuses on destroying enemy forces and their ability to regenerate combat power, while preserving one’s own.

The Myth of Short and Localised Wars

The Ukraine War has upended many of the theories of war including one that modern wars will be short, swift, and localised. Why is this war dragging on? The fact is that the war has not reached its logical conclusion as yet. Similarly, it is stated repeatedly that wars will be localised. Again, this too is a myth. Both Ukraine and Gaza have the capacity of sucking in the whole region into the conflict, if not more! Iran is already partially “in.”

Many wars, of course, do last longer. There are many reasons why compromises fail to take place. These could range from public opinion against a compromise, to leaders thinking that a compromise is defeat, which could threaten their own position. Sometimes there could be lack of understanding on one’s own strength and that of the enemy, leading to underestimating the damaging consequences of the conflict. All these factors have kept the war going.

Of course, the above reasons are rooted in a situation where there is not a clash of ideologies such as Communism versus Capitalism and autocracies versus liberal democracies or on religious grounds. Peace is impossible, if ideological barriers prevent negotiations. Such values and ideas will continue to play a leading role in the wars waged in the future.

India fought a war in 1971, being a classic case of ‘manoeuvre’ and a short and swift campaign achieving its desired objectives. On the obverse we have the continuing deployment and standoff both on the LC and LAC.

Wars are not only fought with external enemies. Wars can also be fought with internal enemies. Kashmir is an example. Sri Lanka is another example. A small country, both economically and militarily weak, showed the world their moral strength. While the world called it genocide, every human rights organisation thundered with alarm bells, but the Sri Lankan Army stopped only after the last man standing had been taken care of. Such internal conflicts too, sometimes defeat timelines.

India cannot be bound by stereotypes. The era of long wars is back. Therefore, India must recognise the multiple implications and relook at all aspects, which vary from recruitment, mobilization, to force sustenance and developing war fighting doctrines.

Need To Develop and Sustain Hard Power

At its core, war is about power, who has it, who does not, and who can effectively use it. General Manoj Pande the Army Chief has clearly stated;” “The current Russia-Ukraine conflict provides some very valuable pointers. The relevance of hard power stands reaffirmed with land continuing to be the decisive domain of warfare and notion of victory still being land centric.” Countries need to develop hard power as deterrence based on their military capabilities to include weapon systems, backed by the resolve to use their military.

While Long-range precision fires have proved that distances do not guarantee safety, and air is no longer dominated just by manned aircraft. There is so much more. Technology has emerged as a new strategic arena of geo-political competition. However, come what may, the fact remains that you need boots and tracks on ground.

The very appearance of tanks over the horizon has a psychological impact on the enemy. Their employment is a fine art honed by meticulous planning and training. To seize and hold ground you need Armour and Infantry. The war in Ukraine has not revealed anything fundamentally new about the tank. It has confirmed old lessons and reflected the challenges of armoured warfare. When there is peace the issue of armour getting redundant comes up time and again, but moment there is war, countries want armour, as witnessed in Ukraine. Same is the case in Ladakh where armour has been moved up, specially post Galwan.

Since the end of the Cold War and the advent of US-Russian arms control, the threat of nuclear weapons has become less salient. However, there has been certain signalling of nuclear weapons by Russia. US President Joe Biden also declared the risk of a nuclear armageddon to be at its highest level, bringing the nuclear issue firmly back to the forefront. Are nuclear capabilities the ultimate guarantor of national security? India has two nuclear armed neighbours, necessitating a constant vigil.

Globalization and changes in technology have made it cheaper and easier for goods, services, and information to flow across borders and advance interconnectedness between countries, relationships such as alliances and trade networks have become as important to any assessment of national power as capability-based measures. Though interdependence can be a double-edged weapon, in today’s world, when two states compete, the one with stronger and more robust relationships may retain the upper hand, even in the face of capability imbalances. Hence relationships matter.

Self-Reliance Crucial to Sustaining and Winning Wars

One of the major takeaways is that India needs to wean away from import dependency. While the pursuit to infuse technology in our war fighting system indeed remains an enduring one, the conclusion that we can draw is that self-sufficiency in critical technologies and investment in R&D is an inescapable strategic imperative. The security of India cannot be outsourced.

Inadequacies in military–industrial complexes have come to light. As per reports North Korea has transferred more artillery ammunition to Russia than the West has been able to supply Ukraine. Further, the monthly consumption of some munitions is much more than can be produced in a year.

Therefore, the reserves of ammunition is the greatest lesson one needs to learn from the Ukraine conflict. India has been cutting down the holding of reserves, this will need to be rethought. Not only are reserves required, but also the industrial base to produce more at a pace the war necessitates.

During war, global supply chains are disrupted and subcomponents maybe difficult to obtain. Added to this is the lack of a skilled workforce with experience in a particular industry. The bottom line is that India must take a hard look at ensuring peacetime excess capacity in its military industrial complex, or risk losing the next war.

Recently, the Army Chief General Manoj Pande, had stressed the importance of self-reliance in the defence sector and called for the infusion of technology into warfighting systems. Under this endeavour, major initiatives are underway to transform ourselves into a modern, technology-driven, Atmanirbhar and battle-worthy force, so that we can execute our operational mandate, more effectively.

However, real Atmanirbharta will be achieved only when India can produce its own military requirements for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, in terms of hardware, software, arms, and ammunition. The Indian military support system must have a surge capability that can sustain military requirements even in a long-drawn conflict. Till that self-sufficiency is reached we must enhance our war wastage reserves to minimum 60 days intense rate.

The Right to Precision

Precision is not only vastly more efficient in the effects it delivers but also allows a force to reduce its logistics tail and thereby makes it more survivable.

Precision weapons, however, are scarce and can be defeated by EW. To enable kill chains to function at the speed of relevance, EW for attack, protection and direction finding is a critical element of modern combined arms operations. Sequencing fires to disrupt EW and create windows of opportunity for precision effects is critical and creates training requirements.

The experience in Ukraine clarifies some of the critical effects of a contested EMS. Military discourse has focused on the problem of EMS denial. The war provides a better canvas to assess the impact of EW on armies with appropriately resilient systems, tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Denial can be achieved for a short period, or across a limited geographic area. However, any kind of targeted denial of bands of the EMS can be evaded through altering frequencies.

Left uncontested, EW slows kill chains and most importantly, degrades precision. The inability to determine accurate locations, let alone transmit timely data on target locations, or for munitions to achieve precise impacts against targets, all risk a force losing competitiveness against an opponent.

As General Raj Shukla said, “the Indian military needs to evaluate the entire challenge of precision weaponry and upgrade its capacities.” However, for precision munitions to function properly, it is essential to actively contest the EMS.

Requirement of Trained Manpower

Manpower costs are increasingly becoming unmanageable. Despite progressing from third to fourth generation weapon technologies in the short span of about two decades, modern armed armies are still far from being able to effect substantive reductions in manpower. A case in point being the NATO armies downsizing at the end of the Cold War which has now exposed their hollowness.

Military manpower is increasingly becoming more expensive to recruit, train and retain. Modern technology may enable industry to reduce manpower, but similar benefits cannot be applied to the Armed Forces where ‘boots on ground still matter.’

Some analysts fear that while Ukraine may not have trained soldiers to man the weapons received from the West. Training also has various levels ranging individual, crew, sub-unit, unit, and formation level training. At the end of the day, weaponry is not everything, you need a man behind the weapon.

Strategic Communication

Strategic Communication forms an important component of today’s battlefield. Social media and digital manipulation are the new tools of misinformation. It is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish ‘truth.’ The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force.

A relevant lesson is that in conflicts public support for the conflict often hinges more on perceptions of the campaign’s success than it does on casualties and loss of territory. Non-state groups have also used this power. There must therefore be various communication strategies for social media, print media and traditional electronics media that are managed at the national level.


Wars often do not end until both sides are convinced that they are better off coexisting with their enemies than confronting them. Countries can no longer afford to create and inhabit their own realities; they need to be well prepared to face the future. The ongoing wars tell India to remain ‘fighting fit’ which involves building deterrence by developing hard power, backed by a strong military industrial base to ensure a fair degree of self-reliance.

Fatigue sets in as costs for sustaining a conflict increase. Domestic concerns from inflation-led cost-of-living could also make it difficult for governments to spend huge sums on security. There is an urgent need for India to take a hard look at the industrial capacity, mobilisation doctrine and means of waging a protracted war.

If and when, India is subjected to a war, it will have to be a whole of nation war. Fighting and winning a war is not the responsibility of the defence forces alone, it is the responsibility of every Indian. Each Indian will have to do his/her bit to sustain the war. When the defence forces feel the weight of the support of 1.4 billion Indians behind them, there will be no question of defeat. It will give the spirit and high morale to every soldier that will make India gallop to victory.


Major General VK Singh was commissioned into The Scinde Horse in December 1983. He has the distinction of being the first Armoured Corps Officer to command an Assam Rifles Battalion in CI Operations. He is also the first General Cadre officer to command a Strategic Forces Brigade. Later he commanded 12 Infantry Division. An alumnus of St Columba’s, and St Stephens College, the General is a fourth-generation army officer.

Major General Jagatbir Singh was commissioned into 18 Cavalry in December 1981. He has held various command, staff, and instructional appointments including command of the First Armoured Division. He also served as a Military Observer in Iraq and Kuwait. An alumnus of Doon School, and St Stephens College, he often speaks at public forums and is a prolific writer. Presently he is a Distinguished Fellow at the United Service Institution of India.

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