Col Ashwani Sharma (Retd)


Russia’s special military operations have captured the world’s attention like no other.  Unlike wars in other parts of the world in recent history, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to have global implications with a strong possibility that reverberations emerging out of this theatre of war will give rise to new world order. It may be premature to predict the future given the immense possibilities that exist, but indications of ripple effects in multiple domains like security, financial, diplomacy and political alignments are certain.

The unipolar may continue for some more time, but the US’s leadership has suffered a serious blow. Russia has defied the US, EU and NATO by flexing its military muscle, China acts as an equal with the US, with Xi Jinping calling for joint responsibility to ensure global peace. With Russia firmly on its side, China is possibly exploring its own moves in the Indo – Pacific and elsewhere in the world. Saudi Arabia and UAE have added to the US discomfort as the petrodollar faces a serious threat. Ukraine, encouraged by the US and NATO mustered up enough courage to challenge Russia, only to invite its wrath and massive destruction. It now accuses NATO of inadequate support and is ready to backtrack on its belligerent stance. Russia has misjudged its own military strength and seems ready to water down its objectives and demands.

India, supposedly in a very difficult situation due to its friendship with both the countries (and blocs) and dependence on military hardware has done the tight rope walk in a commendable manner. With dextrous handling of the diplomatic challenges, India has manoeuvred itself into an enviable spot wherein a large number of countries look up to India to play a major role in bringing about a rapprochement. Even Pakistan’s PM complimented India for its steadfast foreign policy.

The conflict has also brought to the fore multiple dimensions of modern-day wars and in the process exposed vulnerabilities that we face. Cancellation of SWIFT, withdrawal of Social Media platforms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, the sudden closure of operations by MNCs and NGOs have alerted several sovereign nations to devise their own systems and platforms.

Trends and analyses emerging from social media platforms are indicative of Gen Z and millennials’ disenchantment with war and violence. This trend is visible even in Russia. The post-cold war era generations appear to be keener on progress and constructive engagements rather than physical violence to settle differences.

The conflict strongly endorses Prime Minister Modi’s call for AtamaNirbharta or self-reliance, if at all such an endorsement was needed. Ukraine led by President Zelenski, realised a bit late that when chips are down you have to fend for yourself. Russia, a military superpower, recognised chinks in its armour despite overwhelming military superiority.  It needed support from certain friendly countries as the West imposed sanctions. It is an interdependent world after all, and we live in the era of collaboration, despite being self-sufficient and strong in some areas.

Narrowing the narrative down to defence, what exactly defines Atamanirbharta – does it imply the design, development, production and integration of each and every nut and bolt going right up to a major weapon system? Or does it mean own design and development (to suit local conditions) while components and subsystems are imported and integrated in the host country? Or is it simply a happy mix of the two?

And then there is the larger determination to be made whether this push for Atamanirbharta is in consonance with the overall strategic environment and our indigenous philosophy of waging war.

Specific to India, we have so far been following a supermarket philosophy – determine the requirement and then buy the best-suited military hardware that is available on the rack for sale. Weapons and equipment thus procured are essentially add-ons rather than organic, entailing battle drills and philosophies to be amended to suit the armaments. Atamanirbharta however, dictates that the armed forces, on the basis of the National Security Policy, prepare their doctrines and tactical methods, and work out the capabilities and capacities required to achieve the aim. Performance parameters of the platforms, weapons and munitions will flow automatically from the process, thus facilitating indigenous design and development. True indigenization and resultant self-reliance will thus become natural corollaries of this process.

Can India, or for that matter any other nation, do it all on its own? The answer is a big no. Almost every major arms producer, to some degree,  depends on other friendly nations to import certain technologies, components and assemblies. This helps in cutting costs and improving manufacturing efficiencies. Internationally, it is the norm that barring core technologies, the rest is shared in a collaborative approach. Within the country, there is a dire need for collaboration amongst R&D, public and private sector industries. The end-user must accept the onus of harnessing the combined strength of the Indian ecosystem to synergize the competence and capabilities.

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