Lessons of Ukraine and Gaza: Perils of Long Wars

This may imply that there is scope for long wars in the Subcontinent as well which only time will tell.

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Railway lines in eastern Ukraine have been destroyed in the fighting

War historians seem to be reviewing possibility of a return to a phase of long wars. This comes as the War in Ukraine which Russia continues to call as Special Military Operation will enter the third year this month. There are expectations that fighting may spill over to 2025 given the hurting stalemate prevailing due to organisational, operational and logistics limitations preventing ascendancy by the adversaries.

While it is believed that Russia has mustered resources for launching a major offensive this year, will the Russian Armed Forces be able to achieve the objectives set for them by President Vladimir Putin remains to be seen as these are far too expansive to be realised in the near term. Even though there is a turmoil in the Ukrainian command but determination of Kyiv to sustain the war despite an increasingly limited support evident from the US going ahead implies that Ukrainian collapse is unlikely in 2024.

There are concerns that an imminent change in the US Presidency if it comes about in favour of Mr Donald Trump may lead to depletion of resource grant to Ukraine. Yet there is a greater determination in Europe to support Kyiv with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz leading the way. NATO is also preparing to deter if not fight an escalation by Russia in the case of debility or fall of Ukraine with the ongoing Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024.

The next in line is believed to be former Soviet Republics who are presently NATO members with the alliance having expanded to include Finland and Sweden now, a possibility dismissed by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as absurd.

The overall fear is the possibility of a long war in Europe if not also in West Asia [Middle East] as the superior fire and military power of Israel has not been able to achieve the goals of total elimination of the Hamas in the last five months or so.  How long the conflict will extend is unclear but the goals set for success of Israel’s Operation Swords of Iron indicate that this is not likely to be a short haul.

The main indicator of long war is ability of the belligerents to wage the same in terms of international support particularly in the UN Security Council implying that either side is either a permanent member with veto powers as Russia or is a close ally of one as Israel of the United States.

The other factor is resources. Russia has the military industrial complex and manpower which from the outset indicate the possibility of waging a long war. Ukraine supported by the West too has the same except for perhaps as large a manpower pool. In similar vein, Israel supported by the United States can continue with the war determined in period by a hawkish war cabinet with the objective of overcoming the ignominy imposed by Hamas on October 7. In other hotspots say the Korean Peninsula or Taiwan possibly similar circumstances could be obtained and wars in case these do break out may extend.

On the other hand, in the context of say India, given recognition of resource constraint of a developing country with just 13% plus spared for the armed forces in the last five years government expenditure though the defence budget figures in the top five in the World, sustaining a war has definite costs. Yet it appears that the No War No Peace posture also called as faceoffs with China and Pakistan on the Line of Actual Control [LAC] and Line of Control [LoC] respectively indicates that the two sides are willing to enforce their writ for territorial control and enforcing sovereignty. While these are logistically expensive in terms of fuel, special clothing, rations and so on, the pressure on ammunition and personnel casualties is limited thus cannot in classic terms be called a long war.

Yet independent India’s first war in 1947-48 extended over 15 months at a time when both nations – India and Pakistan had just discarded the yoke of British rule and could not have sustained the fighting economically. In contrast the 1962 India China War, the 1965 India Pakistan War and the 1971 War of Liberation of Bangladesh were relatively short. The last named 1971 war remained brief due to several factors from selection of the time to innovative military strategy.

This may imply that there is scope for long wars in the Subcontinent as well which only time will tell.

Importantly learning from lessons of the War in Ukraine and Gaza, provisioning for these needs to be made given the extensive material and human resources that have been expended by each side in these.  India may not lack manpower with the large youth which motivated to serve on the frontline witness the surge for recruitment for the Agnipath scheme despite the same only assuring short term employment for three fourths of those who join.

As per Oryx the Dutch open-source intelligence defence and warfare research group which has documented losses in the War in Ukraine for both sides, Russia lost 14483 numbers of destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available of which destroyed were 10124, damaged 664, abandoned: 760 and captured: 2935.

Comparatively losses of Ukraine are recorded at – 5193, of which: destroyed: 3598, damaged: 433, abandoned: 197, captured: 965. These figures were accessed on February 21.

In terms of use of artillery which has been extensive in the War in Ukraine, there are varied estimates from 5000 rounds per day to 20,000 the latter mostly by the Russian Army. This would imply a huge requirement of build of stocks of munitions for the guns.

On the record, for the War in Gaza, as per Breaking Defence, Israeli Air Force attacked 31,000 targets since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas including the Northern front against the Hezbollah. This comes to 228 targets struck every day and in each target multiple rounds of munitions including bombs and missiles are likely to have been used. Thus, the requirement of munitions is huge. Artillery which was also extensively used are not included in these figures thus adding to the requirement of munitions.

As per a report in the Times of India, quoting the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), China based on the lessons from the War in Ukraine is preparing for a protracted war in the Indo Pacific. Chinese tenacity in sustaining the standoff in Ladakh on the Line of Actual Control which enters the fifth year in May this year is a testimony of willingness to endure a long No War No Peace posture. With experience from Ukraine, China could well be prepared for a long war as well.

In recent years, India has reduced the scale of war wastage reserves [WWR] which is a measure for stocking of munitions and stores for conflict to 10 days (I) WWR from 40 days. In 1999, it was brought down to 20 days and further reduced to 10 days. Post the May 2020 standoff it is believed that these stocks have now been increased to 20 Days.

Clearly an overall review will have to be carried out by the military to be prepared for a protracted collusive war with China and Pakistan.

Rahul K Bhonsle

Brigadier (Retired) Rahul K Bhonsle, MSc, MPhil, MBA is an Indian army military veteran with 30 years active field experience in counter militancy and terrorism operations. He is presently Director of Sasia Security-Risks.com, a South Asian security risk and knowledge management consultancy which specializes in future scenarios, military capacity building and conflict trends in South Asia.

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