Lessons for India From the War in Ukraine

Induction Of AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopter in Indian Air Force.

Induction Of AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopter in Indian Air Force.

“If Indian Apaches have any role to play against Pakistan or China, it will most likely be in a reconnaissance role or missions involving close air support for ground forces.”

The Indian Armed Forces carried out an exercise in the summer of 2022 that drew on the lessons from the first few months of the war in Ukraine.[i] The accompanying excerpted article from the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), an independent think-tank in India, examines some additional lessons the Indian armed forces can draw from the war in Ukraine. While the article is not an official Indian position, ORF does have influence on Indian policy making.  In early March 2023, the think-tank co-hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with India’s Ministry of External Affairs as part of the Raisina Dialogue. The Raisina Dialogue is an annual event that brings in policymakers from around the world; while it only began in 2016, it has become one of the most significant forums in India on geopolitical issues. The article’s authors enumerate six lessons that India can learn from the war in Ukraine. First, the authors cite the battle for Bakhmut as an example of the importance of securing territory even when the battle is not important for the outcome of the war overall. This leads to the second lesson: “attritional warfare still matters” as armor, artillery, and engineers are not replaceable by cyber or other non-kinetic capabilities. From its perspective, this makes an army and land power vital for India’s security and defense.. Third, the authors note the importance of having “land-based ballistic and cruise missile forces” after having watched what happened to several ships in Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Fourth, the authors note that rotary and fixed-wing aircraft have not had much of a strategic impact on the conflict. Thus, India’s own capabilities in this domain would most likely take on a reconnaissance or close air support role in a potential war with Pakistan or China. As a result, the authors believe India should develop counter-UAV systems. Lastly, they note that the fifth and sixth lessons show how airborne and amphibious forces should be used selectively and that artificial intelligence can be used to increase targeting capabilities, respectively. The article concludes by noting that the Indian Army “has its task cut out” for itself and it should invest in kinetic capabilities and apply emerging technologies alongside them, “not as substitutes but as enablers.” While it remains to be seen what changes Indian officials make for the armed forces, the article articulates how the war in Ukraine could influence these decisions.


Harsh V. Pant and Kartik Bommakanti, “Learnings from the Ukraine battlefield for armed forces,” Observer Research Foundation (independent think-tank in India), 22 March 2023. https://www.orfonline.org/research/learnings-from-the-ukraine-battlefield-for-armed-forces/

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, visibly evident in the bloody fighting in the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, has again drawn attention to the constant – war is the ultima ratio or the supreme arbiter in international politics…

There are six key takeaways for India from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

First, and specifically in the war underway between Russia and Ukraine, strategically, the success in the battle of Bakhmut is not consequential for the overall direction of the war for either party. Yet, despite its limited strategic or military value, the two warring States have been fighting a brutal campaign to win it for the last several months, reflecting how visceral the motivation remains in securing land-based territorial possession…

Second, this leads us to a corollary and related variable – attritional warfare still matters, making armies and land power vital to a nation’s security and defence, including India’s…Critical capabilities such as armour, artillery and technical personnel, such as engineers, will still matter, and they are not replaceable by cyber, space and other non-kinetic information-related capabilities.

Third, the Russia-Ukraine war has revealed the vulnerability of maritime forces to interdiction and destruction…As a result, the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet has effectively retreated to its bases or been compelled to maintain a safe distance from Ukrainian shore-based missiles. It is not for nothing the Chinese have built a whole range of “carrier killing” shore- and land-based projectiles in the form of Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles and Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles…India can also emulate Ukraine and China by building its land-based ballistic and cruise missile forces.

Fourth, deep penetration attacks inside enemy territory, employing rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, have proved ineffective in producing a strategic effect…

Take rotary-wing aircraft such as the Apache, which India operates, and is geared for deep strike missions…If Indian Apaches have any role to play against Pakistan or China, it will most likely be in a reconnaissance role or missions involving close air support for ground forces.

Ukrainian forces have used short-range anti-aircraft weapons and small arms fire with lethal effect against Russian fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. On the other hand, the Ukrainians have yet to gain much either, as they have been compelled to use their air assets to support ground forces and preserve combat strength. Consequently, neither side has gained air superiority. India could benefit considerably by developing Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems, instead of investing heavily in deep-penetration strike capabilities, which are highly vulnerable to adversary interdiction…

The fifth issue that Indian defence planners must consider is that airborne and amphibious missions are susceptible to lethal targeting by the enemy…For example, Russian airborne forces incurred heavy losses in trying to seize Hostomel airport in the early stages…Amphibious and airborne forces might not be relics of the past, but they must be used in selective and specific missions. Acquiring capabilities that increase the survivability and lethality of Indian forces should be the core aim of Indian military planners.

Finally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already played an important role in the Ukraine conflict and will do so in future wars…Ukrainian forces have employed AI with devastating impact by deploying or embedding software engineers with combat units on the battlefront in Bakhmut.

The engineers have precisely adjusted functions of algorithms to augment their target-acquisition capabilities, enabling commanders to accurately locate Russian forces for destruction…Ukrainians have used a combination of sensor data derived from satellite intelligence and AI instruments to execute precise strikes against Russian forces…The Indian armed services, especially the Indian Army, has its task cut out. It must invest in armour, missile and artillery capabilities and apply emerging technologies not as substitutes but as enablers of these firepower-intensive capabilities.


[i] For more on India’s exercise in 2022 drawing from lessons learned in the war in Ukraine, see: Matthew Stein “India Draws Lessons on Cyber and Electronic Effects From the War in Ukraine,” OE Watch, 9-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/p/oe-watch-issues

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Image: Induction Of AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopter in Indian Air Force.
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