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What the Indian Military Won’t Learn from the War in Ukraine

Much has been written about India’s diplomatic response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And army analysts worldwide are working to attract classes from the first multi-domain standard warfare between “modern” forces in a long time. Yet amidst all this, the Indian army institution itself doesn’t appear appropriately involved with drawing its personal classes from the warfare.

To date, India has targeted on managing the fallout from Western sanctions and securing the serviceability of its Russian-origin platforms. The warfare has boosted India’s efforts to indigenize its protection business and created alternatives for Western nations to reinforce their strategic engagement with New Delhi. However, it has but to affect Indian army considering extra broadly. It seems that urgent challenges and the limits of current establishments will forestall India from reforming its forces in response.



Challenging Times

The Indian army goes by way of a interval of appreciable churn, making it tougher to assimilate classes from the Russo-Ukrainian warfare. Its foremost problem is the rise of Chinese army energy. Until not too long ago, this was considerably of an summary concern. However, the Chinese army’s 2020 incursions in the Ladakh area have made this way more urgent. For diplomatic and home political functions, these incursions have been initially downplayed by the Indian authorities, however with the loss of life of 20 Indian troopers the situation gained nationwide consideration nonetheless. Amidst a tense stand-off alongside the disputed border, India has banned Chinese technological corporations and the Indian president characterised Chinese actions in unusually blunt phrases as an “expansionist move.” There have been 15 rounds of military-to-military border talks and, regardless of some disengagements, important army belongings are nonetheless deployed alongside the border. These deployments have additional constrained India’s diplomatic place vis-à-vis Ukraine, as a big proportion of its weapons platforms come from Russia.

At the similar time, there may be appreciable pleasure and, to a sure extent, confusion as the Indian army is enterprise its most consequential post-independence transformation but. This effort was triggered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s considerably stunning choice in August 2019 to determine the place of chief of protection, empowered with an express mandate to create joint theater instructions. This set off an ongoing debate surrounding the place’s powers vis-à-vis the service chiefs, in addition to the organizational construction of the proposed theater command and its relations with current service formations. Some of those reform initiatives will take time, whereas in the meantime the Indian army needed to cope with three strategic shocks. First, the Chinese incursions in Ladakh halted plans for theaterization of the military’s Northern Command, out of fears that organizational restructuring may result in pressure imbalances. Second, the fall of Kabul has created new uncertainties, significantly in regard to the insurgency in Kashmir. Finally, the tragic loss of life of the nation’s first chief of protection, Gen. Bipin Rawat, in a December 2021 helicopter accident has additionally slowed the tempo of reforms. Inexplicably, the authorities has but to nominate a substitute, giving rise to questions on its dedication to reforms. Thus, regardless of a lot preliminary promise and acclaim, the end result of the protection reforms course of is much from sure. Needless to say, this makes it tougher for the army to concentrate on a warfare going down a continent away.

Dependence on Russian Equipment

The warfare has additionally generated extra urgent difficulties. The Indian army is at present targeted on sustaining its Russian-made tools in the face of provide shortages and Western sanctions. Within weeks of the warfare, the authorities postponed its showpiece Defense Expo, ostensibly as a consequence of “logistics problems being experienced by participants.” The Indian Air Force pulled out of beforehand deliberate multilateral air workouts in the United Kingdom and, extra considerably, postponed its showpiece large-scale triennial air train involving round 150 plane, “due to the developing situation.” This occurred amidst experiences that the air pressure was curbing workouts and sorties to protect the lifetime of its airframes. And these precautions lengthen past Russian-origin platforms. In the first few months after the outbreak of the warfare, the army reportedly additionally curtailed flights of its American-made Chinook helicopters. That such orders have been handed displays not solely the army’s uneasiness about potential Western sanctions but in addition their fears about Washington’s reliability.

India’s dependence on Russian weapons can also be mirrored in its cautious diplomatic response to the warfare. One unbiased evaluation means that Russian-origin platforms represent nearly “85 percent of major Indian weapons systems,” though Indian officers argue it’s extra prone to be between 60 to 70 p.c. Differences in methodology and interpretation of indigenous manufacturing might clarify the various numbers, however they nonetheless reveal a excessive stage of dependency. With the imposition of Western sanctions and mounting Russian {hardware} losses, there are rising fears of a slowdown of sure weapon applications. For occasion, there are experiences of anticipated delays in the manufacturing of T-90 tanks and AK-203 assault rifles, the provision of plane upgrades, and the provide of spares for submarines and helicopters. In April, the Indian authorities additionally cancelled the deliberate acquisition of 48 Mi-17 helicopters, though it rejected the accusation that this mirrored Western strain by claiming the choice was “taken much before the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.” Similarly, in May India halted negotiations with Russia to accumulate 10 Kamov Ka-31 airborne early-warning helicopters “due to concerns over Moscow’s ability to execute orders as well as issues related to payment transfers.” All of those developments point out not solely India’s rising concern with the availability and reliability of Russian tools, but in addition, in gentle of sanctions on digital items like pc chips, its continued high quality.

What’s extra, even earlier than the present battle India’s weapons acquisitions have been already held hostage to the advanced dynamics of the bitter marriage, now absolutely a divorce, between the Ukrainian and Russian protection industries. The protection business in Ukraine was constructed throughout the time of the Soviet Union and, upon its dissolution, continued to share a considerably symbiotic relationship with that in Russia. As a consequence, India depended upon each nations to acquire spare elements for its legacy platforms, and even when making new acquisitions. After Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, India felt the antagonistic affect of this co-dependency and sought out inventive options, whereas persevering with its engagements with each nations. As not too long ago as final 12 months, the greatest exhibitor at the Aero India present was Ukraine, which had large plans to extend protection cooperation with New Delhi. As a consequence, the warfare has delayed, for the foreseeable future, the deliberate improve of India’s An-32 army transport plane and acquisition of Talwar-class frigates, that are constructed in Russia however powered by Ukrainian gasoline turbine engines.  

Silver Linings

Over the previous few months, the Indian protection institution has taken inventory, anticipating delays, sorting by way of advanced monetary preparations (primarily by exploring the rupee-ruble commerce), and securing spares and upkeep help. The Russo-Ukrainian warfare and the Indian army’s battle to make sure that its Russian platforms stay operational has added an urgency to indigenization efforts. The pace and extent of Western sanctions, particularly monetary and technological, have spurred larger curiosity in attaining “technological autonomy.”

As a consequence, one among the greatest results of the warfare is to strengthen help for the authorities’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) initiative. Under this marketing campaign, unveiled in 2020, the Modi authorities seeks to encourage home manufacturing and scale back dependency on international items. In the protection realm, the authorities has taken a number of steps to facilitate this course of. First, it’s encouraging the non-public sector to play a bigger function, underneath the assumption that such competitors will result in functionality accretion, innovation, and technological absorption. Second, it’s taking steps to raised set up the moribund state-owned protection business. Most prominently, it has reorganized ordnance factories and is pushing for extra public-private partnerships. Third, the authorities has positioned 310 protection gadgets, ranging from light-weight tanks and torpedoes to artillery weapons and different advanced techniques, on the “positive indigenization list,” which means that they’ll now not be imported. Fourth, the authorities has eased and inspired exports of various sorts of weapon techniques, main India’s protection exports to develop nearly six-fold over the final 5 years.

India’s want to scale back its reliance on Russian platforms can also be a chance for western powers to beat a few of the longstanding challenges to nearer cooperation with New Delhi. Previously, Western powers, particularly the United States, have been reluctant to share know-how. As Aditi Malhotra noticed in a superb temporary on the results of the warfare in Ukraine, “the West is unlikely to provide India with the advanced defense technologies that Russia readily offers.” Indeed, regardless of all the brouhaha over the U.S.-Indian relationship, “the two countries do not have a single project that they can claim symbolizes the depth of their defense relationship.” The fault is partly structural, as the U.S. protection business has only a few (if any) preexisting fashions for co-producing weapon platforms.

To successfully companion with India in creating its subsequent era of weapons platforms, Western companions must persuade New Delhi that these partnerships might be dependable and lasting. Fortunately, the Russo-Ukrainian warfare is resulting in an acknowledgement by some in the West that deepening protection and know-how ties with India is vital to their imaginative and prescient of a future world order. Yet whether or not policymakers in India and the West can notice a standard imaginative and prescient stays to be seen. While some Western powers, like France, have gone additional than others, partaking with India will nonetheless require a leap of religion.

Lessons Not Learned

Like most militaries, India’s has no devoted establishment both at the joint headquarters or in the providers with a mandate to check operational classes from “other people’s wars.” For that motive, there is no such thing as a workplace devoted to and appropriately staffed for analyzing such wars. Despite this, the authorities gave express orders to the Indian army “to study the Russian offensive into Ukraine and draw tactical lessons.” But it’s unclear who has been tasked to take action and whether or not they’ll have entry to enough knowledge to attract acceptable classes. This is exacerbated by the ongoing and unexplained lack of a chief of protection. As a consequence, the joint workers doesn’t carry as a lot institutional weight because it ought to, making it tough to undertake goal evaluation of the warfare free from service-specific prisms. To ensure, the service headquarters and decrease formations have to be finishing up particular person research at varied ranges, however they’ve restricted situational consciousness, institutional independence, and skill to affect coverage. Indeed, it will not be stunning if tales later emerge about how every of the providers drew their very own institutionally most popular “lessons” from this warfare.

Nonetheless, Indian army analysts have been busy. They have largely mentioned what’s extensively identified about this warfare — the relevance of pressure in worldwide relations, the return of standard wars, the significance of logistics and theater instructions for conducting operations, the risks of counting on a conscript military, and the salience of drones. In addition, others have written on the significance of Starlink techniques and of dominating the electromagnetic spectrum. Missing, nevertheless, is an in depth dialogue of what this implies for the Indian army’s present institutional buildings or working surroundings. To discover that one must learn the idiosyncratic Lt. Gen. H. S. Panag — by no means one to drag punches  — who in a must-read article argues that the Indian army is “tailored for the wars of a bygone era,” and doesn’t “have the technological military capability to defeat Pakistan or avoid a military embarrassment by China.” He then goes on to warning towards the potential short-term drawbacks of counting on indigenization in a rustic with low home manufacturing capabilities.

In spite of those warnings, there is no such thing as a proof that the Indian army has undertaken any substantive adjustments to include rising applied sciences in warfare. This must be the major focus for senior army officers as they suppose by way of the broader classes of the warfare in Ukraine. Based on publicly out there sources, there may be additionally little indication that the warfare will result in any important adjustments in India’s army buildings, doctrines, or coaching. On the opposite, to scale back its inflated manpower prices the Indian army has launched a controversial, extensively criticized “tour of duty” recruitment scheme — amounting to a quasi-conscript army. This has led to widespread public protests and is an all-consuming situation for senior protection officers. For them, consequently, the warfare in Ukraine should look like a distant afterthought.

Militaries throughout the world are intently observing the warfare in Ukraine, however some have confirmed vulnerable to hubris — concluding that they’ve little to study as a result of they’re totally different. It is tempting for international observers to attribute the failures of the Russian army to its lack of professionalism quite than the elevated problem of waging trendy warfare. In the quick time period, the Indian army is concentrated on managing the speedy disruption brought on by the present battle. In the medium to long run, it’s specializing in indigenization, together with exploring alternatives to companion with Western nations. Professionally, nevertheless, there are few indications that the army is embarking on protection reforms that draw on the classes of the warfare. Unfortunately, which may require a much bigger disaster someplace nearer to dwelling.



Anit Mukherjee is an affiliate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Image: Indian Air Force