OPED By Maj. Gen. (Dr) Ashok Kumar (Retd)
When looking for the relative strength of the countries’ defense forces the world over, the numbers are given priority, be it the foot soldiers, tanks, guns, aircraft, naval ships, carriers, and other such warlike equipment.
The qualitative profile of this equipment must be superimposed objectively to derive a relative weightage of the fighting potential of a country.
Also, the quality of military leadership, their war/warlike conditioning, and insight at strategic, operational, and tactical levels of leadership are invariably not considered in the relative evolution of the military power, thus resulting in faulty deductions towards the outcome of the war/conflict.
This became most evident during the Russia-Ukraine war, wherein Russia launched special operations against Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Ukraine Didn’t Fall Too Quickly
Since the size of the Russian military was more than four times in strength in terms of soldiers alone, superiority in total aircraft was close to 14 times more. In contrast, it favored Russia in almost all other domains.
Russia was a declared superpower and has been exporting defense equipment to close to 70 countries in the world. It was indicative of having a robust industrial base by all standards.
The geopolitical watchers predicted Ukraine to fall in just a few days, not giving Ukraine the capacity to fight even for a few weeks.
The sign of the long line of Russian tanks intended to head towards Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, indicated that Ukraine would collapse in ‘no time’, but none of these things happened.
The conflict initiated by Russia on February 24, 2022, continues to date. However, Ukraine is inching forward to regain at least some of its losses despite the numerical superiority of the Russian forces, thus indicating the waning invincibility of more significant and more robust conventional forces.
The losses suffered by the Russian tanks started a debate on the ‘irrelevance of tanks’ in modern-day battles.
However, the number of participants in this debate attributed the Russian tanks’ failure primarily to their faulty employment by Russian generals. The role of leadership, therefore, got accepted once again.
The above deduction is not only in the case of the Russia-Ukraine conflict but is becoming increasingly evident in today’s battles.
India Withstood Chinese Aggression
It has also been pronounced in India’s case, where the Chinese attacked India in 1962 with numerical superiority in considerable measure. It tasted success despite suffering substantial fatal casualties.
Still, the impact of Chinese superiority started losing its relevance due to strong Indian military leadership, which was demonstrated in the 1967 Nathu La-Chola clashes, the 1987 Samdurang Chu conflict-like situation, and the Doklam faceoff in 2017.
Despite numerical superiority, China had to back out as it faced reversals in all these three conflict-like situations.
Also, during its latest transgression along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh since April-May 2020, it has been effectively matched by Indian response negating Chinese numerical superiority.
The minor advantage it gained initially was due to disregard for mutual agreements related to peace and tranquility, wherein India has been honoring these by book.
The posturing of Indian defense forces under its military leadership will ensure that the Chinese gain nothing and suffer despite numerical superiority should they decide to go for an active conflict.
This is another manifestation of the warring invincibility of more significant conventional forces. If the Chinese don’t focus on the military leadership, which appears to be in shambles, it will face a defeat in a future conflict with India.
The numerical superiority of the conventional forces of Azerbaijan also did not turn out to be favorable as it lost the first Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia, spanning six years from 1988 to 1994.
This fight happened with Armenia, wherein the size of the Azerbaijan forces was close to four times that of the Armenian Army.
It is besides the point that Azerbaijan succeeded in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war conducted in 2020 due to less effectiveness of the Armenian military leadership, which finally resulted in almost the entire Armenian population vacating their native place of Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023.
Hamas May Withstand Israeli Ground Offensive
It will be worthwhile to examine the current Hamas-Israel ongoing conflict as well. This conflict is unequal. On one side is the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), a strong and well-equipped force superior in absolute numbers, whereas on the other is Hamas.
This terrorist organization not only surprised Israel on October 7 by launching surprise attacks on Israel and killing many Israeli civilians but has used all three dimensions (land, air, and water) for its mission.
Also, Hamas launched the attacks with many rockets, saturating the capacity of Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, which could not neutralize the incoming threat.
Hamas also effectively negated the Israeli border fence equipped with a high-tech surveillance and response system, which re-confirmed the supremacy of the human mind in the conflict.
Israel has picked up on its response wherein many airstrikes have been launched in Gaza, causing massive devastation to the civil population and targeting some of the critical Hamas leadership.
Even after such a superior air force launched many missions with destructive payloads, it has not succeeded in deterring Hamas as expected by the world, and it continues to fire rockets toward Israel even now.
Israel has also mobilized and positioned its ground forces close to the border for the launch of its ground offensive. Still, despite multiple statements, the ground offensive is yet to commence.
As and when it starts, its numerical superiority will come under real test while fighting in built-up areas against Hamas terrorists who would have positioned themselves tactically at advantageous positions and will be leveraging even the networks of the tunnels prepared for the purpose.
Unless Israel continues to invest in quality military leadership, which it has done over the years, fighting some battle or the other regularly, its numerical superiority alone will not lead it to victory unless combined with innovative plans.
All said and done, modern warfare demands qualitative superiority in the defense equipment, professional military leadership, and quality training, all simultaneously to excuse the decisive wins.
- Major General (Dr) Ashok Kumar, VSM, (Retd), is a 1999 Kargil war veteran, visiting fellow of the New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), and defense & strategic analyst with a special focus on China. He tweets @ChanakyaOracle. VIEWS PERSONAL OF THE AUTHOR
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