The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has already crossed the 700-day mark and is due to complete two years on 23rd Feb 2024. In the annals of history, this war will go down as a war that ought not to have taken place.
But for the folly of Ukrainian President Zelensky, who has no political background, the US would not have been able to entice Ukraine to join NATO. The US, for once, succeeded in fighting a proxy war against Russia.
However, this war throws up a few extremely important politico-military lessons for most nations, India in particular, with two hostile nations to handle.
Briefly, the lessons are:
Emergence Of Nukes As Currency Of Power & Deterrence
From the Cold War era, nukes have been successfully deployed to maintain uneasy peace globally. In order to stop the proliferation of nukes (also called Weapons of Mass Destruction), the P-5 nations decided to enforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It is ironic but true that the US, the only nation to use nukes, led the campaign in the late 60s. NPT came into force in 1970. India declined to sign the most unequal treaty to date.
However, after China exploded its nuke on 16th October 1964, former PM Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee postulated that “this weapon can only be challenged by the same type,” thus advocating that India should go nuclear.
It took a decade before India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974. The fabric of the balance of power was altered permanently and irreversibly. Indeed it also led to Pakistan going nuclear.
The prevailing situation between China and Pakistan is crystal clear. China, which claims to practice No First Use (NFU), has been categorical in stating that Chinese NFU policy is “not applicable in case of nations which illegally occupy Chinese territory.”
Do we need any further clarification? As far as Pakistan is concerned, its leaders, both civilian and military, have openly threatened to use nukes against India in any future full-blown war.
Hostile neighbors can and must be put in place by India, making a categorical announcement that henceforth, India will not practice the utterly flawed NFU policy in respect of China and Pakistan. India must alter its NFU policy to Need-Based First Use (NBFU).
The above recommendation must be viewed in the context that would Russia have attacked Ukraine had Kyiv decided to keep the nukes deployed in its territory before the USSR disintegrated.
Duration of War
Wise men of the Pentagon had announced that the Russia-Ukraine war if it happened, would last one week. It has already lasted for nearly 100 weeks with no end in sight.
Even a country like Russia has found sustaining such long duration offensive a tall order. Ukraine is surviving because of billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition being provided by NATO countries at the behest of the US.
Military strategists of India often talk about two-front wars rather glibly. Two-front war, if it happens, will demand huge resources of arms and ammunition even for a thirty-day intense war. Are we prepared for that?
Use Of Air Power
India continues to live with the trauma of the 1962 battering by China. Alas, the history would have been entirely different if the then-decision makers had allowed the Indian Air Force to decimate the advancing Chinese Army.
The Bogey of conflict escalation supposedly prevented Indian decision-makers from using the most formidable component of the military, the Air Power. In 1962 IAF was the most formidable Air Power in the region. PLAAF, the Chinese Air Force could not have been able to counter IAF assault.
Russia failed to impose its overwhelming superiority of Air Power in the initial days. It allowed Ukrainian land forces to regroup and challenge the Russian advance.
Air Power must be used to annihilate the enemy and cause shock and awe at the commencement of conflict. Bogey of fear of escalation must be given a decent burial.
Weapon System Performance
SAMs. The performance of the most modern SAM system, the Russia S-400, is not even worth mentioning. The kills made by Ukrainians have mostly been achieved by shoulder-launched missiles.
Platforms viz S-300 and S-400 and many others in the same category are ‘trashy’ platforms, which are extremely difficult to manage and are hugely expensive. Indian decision-makers wasted $5 Billion in acquiring five regiments of S-400.
The best and most formidable real-time protection for ground forces can only be provided by shoulder-launched missiles. Each battalion-defended area must have at least two shoulder-launched missile systems as an integral part of an infantry battalion.
Indian Army must seriously consider this aspect. No AirPower will ever be able to ensure that adversary air elements do not attack ground forces out in the open viz large armored formations. Integral protection elements must form part of every ground formation.
PGMs. The performance of hugely expensive precision-guided missiles has been, at best, no better than what was seen during Op Desert Storm in 1991. PGMs are merely complimentary systems and not an end in itself.
Hypersonic Missile. The latest weapon to be inducted in the theatre of war still remains an elusive weapon platform about which nothing can be stated with certainty. Ranges of around 1000km and pinpoint accuracy are merely a claim.
Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile has been used. Whatever its performance at present, the proliferation of this weapon will alter the concept of war, especially with the anti-shipping role. At present, only China and Russia claim to have operational hypersonic missiles. USAF is also developing hypersonic missiles, but two recent trials have been unsuccessful.
Surveillance of Tactical Battle Area (TBA). This issue has emerged as one of the most important favorable aspects when viewed in the context of protection from aerial attacks. However, 24 x 7 surveillance of TBA is not possible due to the paucity of surveillance resources. India’s decision to acquire MQ-9Bs from the US will be a game changer.
Military Alliances as Catalyst of New Conflict. The most outstanding decision taken by former PM Nehru was to ensure that India remained non-aligned even during the height of the Cold War.
India’s relations with Russia have weathered all storms in the past 60-plus years. We have not succumbed to US pressures over the years to join any military alliance in spite of the US propagating the precept of “those who are not with us are against us.”
The primary cause of Russia’s attack on Ukraine was the US desire to include Ukraine in the NATO fold in spite of commitments made verbally by the then US Secretary of State, Mr James Baker, at the time of the unification of Germany. India must not join any military alliance. Although QUAD is evolving into a military alliance, slowly but surely.
Continued US insistence on expanding NATO from the initial 12 nations to the present 31 nations may have serious global consequences. Sweden is slated to become the 32nd NATO member after Turkey greenlight.
President Erdogan of Turkiye has also fallen in line and cleared Sweden’s membership. Likewise, President Macron of France has been vocal about questioning the US desire to take Ukraine into the NATO fold.
Hopefully, due to opposition from existing members, Ukraine may not be welcomed into the NATO fold. But if that happens, the world must be ready to witness a nuke exploding again, this time in Europe.
It is time India changed its mindset from ‘no first use’ to ‘need-based first use’ (NBFU). If a permanent member of the UNSC like China can categorically declare that nukes will be used even against a non-nuclear conventional weapons attack, why can’t New Delhi take the new initiative and announce, ‘We have nukes, will use them if the need arises’?
- Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare. VIEWS PERSONAL OF THE AUTHOR
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