By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)
When the war started between Russia and Ukraine on 24 Feb 22, it was appearing as if Russia would be able to capture Ukraine/ impose its national will in a very short span of time but none of these things happened despite the war continuing even beyond a year . Russia has been able to capture some areas in the Eastern Region of Ukraine but the progress has been very tardy. There have been large scale casualties of both – soldiers as well as the equipment on the Russian side.
While the equipment casualties on the Russian side have been far and wide, the tank fleet has suffered substantial losses. The long tank convoys moving towards Kyiv once symbolised the dare devil attack by Russians to capture the Ukrainian capital but later they became a symbol of big loss of face. The tank casualties in this battle have been so high that there has been wide ranging debate the world over as if the era of tank warfare has come to an end. While some think that the nature of changed warfare does not allow a major role to the tanks in today’s battle but some others think that the non performance of tanks in this conflict is primarily related to the manner in which they were employed as against any reduced importance of tank warfare.
While proponents of each thought will keep debating the issue, the end state has been huge losses of tanks by the Russians in T-72 category and all its later versions. The replenishment has not been able to match these losses as there is limited production capacity. Russia is attempting to surge its production capacity but that’s not easy due to the logistics chain of supplies disrupted by multiple sanctions and other associated reasons.
In such a situation, Russia has turned to its discarded fleet of T- 55 tanks and is trying to make them operational. These can contribute to war effort substantially even if they are inferior to T-72 tanks. While it has become a compulsion for Russia due to heavy losses of its tanks, in the process , it throws important lessons for India to look at its equipment management and employment of the obsolete/ discarded equipment. This is more important since the country has Line of Control (LOC) arrangement with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control (LAC) arrangement with China which is also gravitating towards LOC profile. In such an emerging situation, the potential fire power of the obsolete/discarded as well as captured equipment needs to be gainfully employed. It is not that the obsolete equipment in the discard domain are not being utilised at all as they have been dovetailed in the firepower matrix of the nation to the extent of ammunition available. But they still have much more potential towards war effort which needs to be harnessed. Some of the recommendations are as under:
Obsolete Defence Equipment : Needs to be Re- defined.
The term obsolete is defined wherein a new product has replaced the old one in terms of efficiency and output. In a real sense, the concept of obsolete items in defence and civil domain must vary. In case of a defence equipment, for example, if there is a gun with 15 km range but a newer gun with longer range, better accuracy and more effectiveness has been introduced, the former may shift to obsolete category in some time but there is still sufficient scope of utilising the earlier gun. The practice of using the obsolete equipment as sector stores in certain cases is a good idea but needs to be institutionalised further in view of LOC with Pakistan and LOC oriented LAC with China. Some of the challenges need to be addressed are as under:
MRO Support to Obsolete Equipment
This may pose a challenge but can be handled as skilled HR and maintenance resources have been available in the past. The issue of spare parts can be sourced from the indigenous industry.
This could be another challenge especially beyond the balance munition stocks. This can also be easily surmounted as both the cartridge cases as well as the explosive filling is available with the indigenous industry.
Inclusion in War Fighting Plan
The country’s war warfighting plan must include all such land force equipment as only then institutionalised norms for their sustenance and employment will be taken care of.
Substantial numbers of Pakistani tanks and other equipment have been captured in different wars. These are primarily being used as war trophies being displayed at public places/ defence institutions or exist as part of museums to showcase our prowess. There is a serious need to re-consider this. While some of such equipment which cannot be revived may continue to be used in the aforesaid manner but those which can be revived, even if these are part of so -called obsolete/ discarded category, must be deployed on the LOC even if possible in the static role. Imagine the Pakistani tank revived by our professional maintainers deployed on LOC and firing on Pakistani positions, a game changer approach. Connected with this will be our ability to use the captured equipment to our advantage even during the battles which may happen in the future.
While the thought has been explained with the state of tanks for Russia during ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, it holds good for all types of the equipment in the obsolete/discard category as well those captured from our adversaries. Our concept of Beyond Economical Repair (BER) also needs to be given a re-look for creating the equipment surge more so when indigenous manufacturing capacities can be appropriately developed. This integrated approach by all the defence forces will give a distinct edge to our country.
Author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at email@example.com and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.