Principles of War can be traced back to the Arthasashtra, the oldest treatise on warfare. These can be found in Sun Tzu, Carl Von Clausewitz and many other writings of famous military thinkers. These principles need revaluation in today’s battlefield conditions and Ukraine provides a good battleground for such an exercise. A few of these principles and how they were applied by the contesting nations or violated at times are debated in this article. Along with these principles, the overwhelming impact of technology and the defence industry is also discussed since the narrative would remain incomplete without delving into these decisive elements. Part II of this piece will focus on technologies and industry.
Warfare is primarily an attempt to achieve political objectives through military means. In the Ukraine War, both contestants, Russia and Ukraine, have brought every dimension of warfare into play to achieve their desired politico-military end states. The issues that have been churned out are of immense value. These can be viewed from different perspectives. Among them are the Principles of War, technology’s ingress, and increasing weightage to industrial capabilities in a war.
The Indian army has adopted 10 Principles, including Selection and Maintenance of Aim, Economy of Effort, Flexibility, Concentration of Force Offensive Action, Cooperation, Surprise, Security, Administration, and Maintenance of Morale.
The first lesson of the Ukraine War lies in the area of higher direction of war. The possible Russian political objectives were:
- A regime change in Kyiv
- Causing disunity in NATO and stalling its further expansion
- Diminishing the status of the US as the sole global superpower.
One of the Principles of War, which differ as enunciated by different militaries, is the Selection and Maintenance of Aim. The Russian military strategic objectives called for the capture of Kyiv and maximum territories along the Ukraine-Russia borders while denying Ukraine a coastline along the Mediterranean, thus applying a tourniquet to its economy. These pincers of economic strangulation and military objectives possibly guided the apex Russian leadership. The advance to the south would have also de-risked Russian-occupied Crimea.
The Russian appreciation was, possibly, that Ukraine, with its limited military capabilities, would not be able to blunt a superpower’s rapid advance from Belarus. Once Kyiv fell, the Ukrainian morale would collapse and, with thrusts advancing from the East, lead to its capitulation.
The Russians’ aim reflected Simplicity and Concentration of Force, both principles of war. They launched an armoured spearhead with a formation from the North through Belarus, an excellent launch pad.
However, the Ukrainians responded with a commendable battle design by optimally utilising limited resources skillfully. They took Offensive Actions and achieved Surprise in selecting the areas where they would attack the advancing Russian armour and scoot before retaliation could materialise. It stalled the Russian armour’s advance, thus unhinging the entire calculus of the Russian political and military Czars. The initiative on the Belarus front was passed to the Ukrainians, and they made sure they retained it.
Had the Russians limited their objectives to Ukraine’s southern coastal and eastern regions and denied the Ukrainians the opportunity to move forces from Kyiv to reinforce its eastern front by posing just about a threat to the city with much lesser force, perhaps the results could have been different.
The use of armour leads to the possible conclusion that the quality of Russian Generalship has deteriorated. Authoritarian regimes tend to appoint military leaders based on loyalty rather than professional competence. It could also be a case of formation commanders being bullied into employing their formations as dictated by the Kremlin. The top planned the war on faulty intelligence assessments that painted Zelensky as a clown with an army that would crumble once the Russian tanks roared.
The following major lesson lies in the area of quality of leadership. Leadership is intrinsic to the capability of a force. In the Army War College in India, officers of the rank of Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels undergo the Senior Command Course. Even such relatively junior officers would not draw the thrust lines of an armoured division on the map like the Russian Generals seemingly did. Tanks lined up one behind the other, apparently expecting to cross rivers flowing across the line of advance on existing bridges, the surest recipe for the destruction of the formation. The influence of terrain on operational plans was not in evidence. All basics of mechanised warfare, such as moving on a broad front on multiple thrust lines and suitable terrain, had been dumped.
Weighed down by poor operational plans and tactical blunders, the Russians failed to ensure the Security of their force, breaching an essential principle of war. The Ukrainians proved lethal and agile, using a combination of drones, anti-tank platforms, and artillery to target and repeatedly bring the thrust to a halt.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd), Editor, Bharatshakti
(Note: The article is presented in two parts. Part II will follow)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)