• 21 February, 2024
Geopolitics & National Security
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Lessons For India: From Russia And China With Love

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Sun, 05 Mar 2023   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

In January 2022, I predicted the exact timeline of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The United States was the only country that was making noise about the imminent Russian attack on Ukraine. The rest of the western world was living in Utopia.

https://twitter.com/InsightGL/status/1485657113385144322?s=20

Eventually, Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, smashing the western Tower of Babel. France was so taken aback by the intelligence failure that it fired the French military intelligence chief, Gen Eric Vidaud. Western analysts immediately declared that Russia will have a cakewalk and decimate Ukraine in no time. The first anniversary of the invasion has just gone past and the war rages on with no end in sight. So why mighty Russia could not subdue puny Ukraine or why in a future conflict with India, Japan, or Taiwan, China will meet a similar fate? Let us analyse.

The Secrecy

Before the war started the Russian leadership knew that its war plans were leaked to the United States. Strangely, despite that Russian President Putin didn’t share his intentions with most of the country’s senior leaders. The military leaders were informed about the invasion plan just a few days or hours before the war. Putin depended upon a small group of yes-men, who were too scared to challenge Putin’s decisions.

This is going to be the exact case with China too since Chinese President Xi Jinping will trust no one and has surrounded himself with incompetent yes-men. Secrecy is a double-edged sword. Russia had many strengths before the war with a much bigger and better-equipped force. The delay in the dissemination of war plans to the troops in the field made them ill-prepared. The forces had not done intense war gaming and exercise keeping in mind the objective. The war objective itself was confusing. On paper it was a ‘special operation’ but in reality, it was an invasion.

Similar assumptions by the Chinese forces would become their nemesis. Chinese have been calling land disputes with India and maritime disputes with Japan a historic injustice. They call the future invasion of Taiwan — reunification.

The Planning and the Execution

Pitfalls in the Russian invasion plan:

  • Faulty Assumptions: Ukraine would not put up much resistance and may receive the Russian soldier as their saviours.
  • Unnecessary Political Guidance: Looks like war planning was done by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his closest confidants. The idea was to rapidly invade on multiple fronts, quickly lay seize on Kyiv and eventually neutralize Ukrainian President Zelensky. Sound professional inputs would have displayed that such kind of undertaking was suicidal.
  • Ignoring Key Russian Military Principles: “The initial period of war” is a concept used by Russia against the enemy sharing the land border. Four to six weeks of intense air and missile attacks are undertaken to cripple the enemy’s military and critical infrastructure. Thereafter the ground forces move in. But, Russia diverted from its standard operating procedures assuming a quick victory, and desired to run the country, intact.
  • Overly Ambitious Objectives — Multiple lines of invasion vis-à-vis the size of the Russian forces.
  • No Follow-on Force: All professional forces were deployed at once without keeping any reserves.
  • Ineffective Military Reforms: The decades-old Russian reforms were either incompatible with high-intensity modern warfare or mostly remained on paper. Russia had shifted to less-bulkier brigades and battalion tactical groups (BTGs). But, these BTGs displayed that they were incapable of protracted and fierce combat along a vast border. Understaffing of BTGs further added to the trouble.
  • Training: Year-long deployment sent the training calendar haywire. Electronic warfare is one of the most important aspects of modern warfare. Due to a lack of intense war gaming and training in the initial phase, the Russian forces landed up jamming their equipment while trying to jam Ukrainian equipment.
  • Equipment: In 2020, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu declared that 70 percent of Russian equipment was either modernized or new. However, the reality looks a little different. High failure rates of missiles and the vulnerability of tanks to antitank weapons were evident. Year-long deployment had also jeopardized maintenance schedules, along with commanders fudging the records.
  • Logistics: Secrecy led to the discarding of the strategic Russian “special period.” A special period is a time of classifying, accumulating, and organizing resources to undertake a major war. This further got aggravated when ground forces trying to meet the schedule of reaching a certain point at a certain time overran their logistics supplies.
  • Defence Industry: The backbone of any military operation, the defence industry, was also kept in the dark, and they went about their business as usual. The Russian defence industry is facing many challenges and that is evident from the fact that Russia had only two successful tests of the Sarmat missile in the last one year. Compared to that technologically backward North Korea had five successful tests of similar ICBMs — Hwasong-15 and Hwasong-17.
  • Haphazard Decision Making: On realizing the plight of Russian ground forces, Aerospace Forces (VKS) shifted from air superiority to a close air support role. Russian pilots who were used to flying unopposed in Syrian airspace didn’t have sufficient training to tackle heavily defended Ukrainian airspace. They were flying low and getting knocked down by Ukrainian Stinger missiles. General Sergey Surovikin brought in realistic changes by using a mix of offensive or defensive techniques and moved command sites and many logistics depots out of range of HIMARS. But, strangely he was demoted in favour of General Valeriy Gerasimov.

China Versus India, Japan and Taiwan

China has almost all the vulnerabilities that Russia has, but they also have some compelling strengths:

  • Blitzkrieg: China would have no option but to go for a quick and all-out invasion of India, Japan, or Taiwan to keep an element of surprise before external help arrives. That means Beijing would be forced to repeat the Russian mistake of committing all forces at once. India and Japan must come together and utilize this opportunity to settle scores with China. Although China would keep its plans under wraps, its biggest giveaway of an impending war would be intense non-kinetic activities before the full-fledged war.
  • Lack of Combat Experience: The Russian forces have had combat experience in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova, Syria, and Ukraine (2014). Whereas, China fought its last war in 1979 and came a distant third.
  • Dilemma: China would be in a dilemma when it invades Taiwan. Acquiring Taiwan’s mouth-watering research institutes, semiconductor facilities, businesses, power grids, and other infrastructure and not offending Taiwanese citizens would be China’s priority. However, when it comes to India and Japan, China would not have those noble thoughts.
  • All-out Attack: If China gives up the idea of enjoying the fruits of Taiwanese industry even then the air and naval battles would be very complex with a high attrition rate. The less risky Battle of Okinawa saw 368 allied ships damaged or destroyed.
  • Complexity of a Joint Island Landing Campaign: It is not a small matter, and China has a lot of work to do in that area. Even the U.S. gave up Operation Causeway — the plan to invade Taiwan in 1944, labelling it too risky.
  • Occupation: Even if China succeeds in the Taiwan invasion, as per research China would need 600,000 soldiers to maintain the island under its control. Occupying India or Japan is beyond Chinese capabilities.
  • Reforms and strategies: Chinese reforms of 2016 and modern strategies are unproven.
  • Training: Chinese forces are known for poor training standards and depend too much on the directives from the commander.
  • Decision Making: PLA’s dual-command system of the commanding officer and political officers would gravely affect the decision-making that is already too top-heavy.
  • Equipment: None of the Chinese equipment has proven its worth in the war. Most of the equipment they have sold to other countries has proven itself to be substandard.
  • China’s (A2/AD): The A2/AD arsenal that the Chinese have designed is primarily designed to defeat air and maritime capabilities, and secondarily to degrade, disrupt, and deny space and cyber, however, it has a major hole. It is not designed to find, fix, and finish mobile, networked, dispersed, reloadable ground forces.
  • Logistics: PLA’s ability to replenish and replace its widely dispersed forces on various fronts would also be a big challenge. China’s merchant vessel’s logistics program would come under attack. At the same time, China can’t risk attacking other countries that are supporting and supplying Japan and Taiwan.
  • Economy and Defence Industry: Unlike Russia, these two would be the biggest strengths of China. In 2021, China’s industrial output was double that of the United States. China produces more smartphones, steel, and ships than any other country. It is a world leader in the production of chemicals, electrons, heavy industrial equipment, and metals — the basic building blocks of a military-industrial economy. Therefore, forces taking on China would require to break the backbone of Chinese industrial supremacy and hurt its economy before the war begins.

Russia And China — Fast Learners

One should not take Russia and China lightly. Despite initial debacles in the Ukraine conflict, the Russian forces are among very few forces in the world that can undertake complex military manoeuvres with ease. VKS has also stopped wasting efforts on costly flight missions. Instead, they are wearing down Ukrainian air defences by using obsolete empty missiles and cheap Iranian Shaheed drones.

The Russian army’s river crossings have improved and their EW efforts are more effective. Even poorly and hastily trained draftees have improved and eased the pressure on the regular army. Despite running low on the stockpile of missiles, they are innovatively repurposing air-defence missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles. Russian strikes have also improved and damaged close to 40 percent of Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

The Russian economy has remained robust and factories have picked up the pace, whereas the western nations are straining under the demands to replenish Ukraine.

Conclusion

Russia and the western powers have learned the hard way that sustained high-intensity, high-attrition combined-arms warfare is extraordinarily difficult and expensive.

India must prepare for a war with China keeping all the lessons learned from the Russia-Ukraine conflict in mind and understand that China is no Pakistan. Because China is on a suicidal path and it won’t appreciate that India is no Ukraine and Taiwan is no Hong Kong. And above all, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in his hubris is capable of doing the unthinkable.


Author
A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.

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POST COMMENTS (14)

Narendar

Mar 12, 2023
Factors missed out entirely by the Russian leadership was the swift response of NATO and NATO's clear strategy of prolonging the war for dubious considerations. The war is presently being strategised, managed and progressed by NATO. These factors were never considered by the Russians. Eventually Ukraine will be decimated and Russia will have to wait out for war fatigue to set into NATO nations and then negotiations would be hammered out. China's situation is very different as they're dealing with some very tough customers. They only hv a bit of nuisance value against India and Japan. If ever there's a war with Taiwan, the Taiwanese may hv to take some heavy losses initially but wd bounce back as the Chinese forces do not appear to hv the requisite motivation for sustained campaign... All in all the eastern theater wd be very different

Cosby Mann

Mar 10, 2023
Thank you for the thoughtful analysis. One thing to keep in mind is that it is dangerous to assume what Xi Ping will do within the range of options available to him. I would posit that unable to invade Taiwan at an acceptable cost, he will launch a blitz against India later this year with twin objectives: first to strike at the weakest link in the Quad and, second to humiliate PM Modi before the election. They would count on the opposition in India to attack Modi. They will blitz to capture and occupy land and put the onus of escalation on India. Any response by India cannot be defensive and we will have to see how the Indian forces can carry the war to the Chinese if invaded.

Ashish Popli

Mar 08, 2023
A fine analysis. Objective views with logic. Good read.

Kalidan Singh

Mar 08, 2023
Commander Dhawan, thanks for a great article. Here is what is unclear. What are you predicting, exactly? Will China invade Taiwan? If it does, what does India do? Any predictions in this regard?

Rajeev Dalal

Mar 07, 2023
Clear headed article

Vinod Sivaraman

Mar 07, 2023
A succinct and quite thought provoking article. It will give the GOI some thinking points, on how to best be prepared for the Chinese leadership's unfolding desire for world dominance. Russia has a history of long drawn conflicts, with high attrition rates and poor success. The Ukrainians have found themselves in a position of multiple disadvantage. Can't repulse the Russians, can't stop resisting, can't have an economy or social life, can't stop western cynical nations from using them as cannon fodder against the Russians. They have suffered total power loss in more than one sense of the phrase. India as a target nation will be quite different. We are not going to have anyone on our side. We will have to be prepared, as a nation, to go it alone. The arms industry of India needs to go into a kind of booster phase, or fail the nation. R&D, testing, quality control, production, secrecy, security, protection establishment of logistical plans, building storage, redundancies, working out deployments, realistic war gaming, training training training and political synchronization with the military, will all need to happen while the rest of the nation continues in normalcy. Most of this is already in place on the ground. Just needs to be upped by several orders of magnitude, within resources that can be made available.

Cdr Deepak Singh

Mar 06, 2023
Very good analysis. China can't afford a war. They may be manufacturing was machines, but their economy is in doldrums.

Commander NK Kulkarni

Mar 06, 2023
A major decisive factor in China's favour, which Russia did not enjoy & as per your previous articles, is the leaps & bounds in Information technology that China has supplemented in its warfare domain. The intelligence gathering efforts undertaken by China is a phenomena by itself. Therefore it is most unlikely that China would adopt a Blitzkrieg approach

Raghu Vir

Mar 06, 2023
Excellent analysis !

Wendell Bruges

Mar 06, 2023
Excellent read.

Sreenivas

Mar 06, 2023
Well summarised Sandy. China being China will never indulge in an overt War as they know their weaknesses. They know the World depends upon them from minerals to goods to pharma. You have got to think like a Cunning person if you have to analyse China. They will not play the straight game . They are Bat and Virus specialists. Besides they aren't fools like Russia to get provoked by US to attack. They know it will affect their economic might. Whatever they do will be covert!

M Thakur

Mar 06, 2023
Excellent article with detailed research

Swarnava Paul

Mar 06, 2023
Very informative. Knew a lot from it about the conditions of Russia-Ukraine conflict. Conditions of China is also very apparantly described.

Raman

Mar 06, 2023
A very comprehensive analysis.

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