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Lessons from the Ukraine War

Learning from the battlefield by the Indian Army on the Evolution and Effectiveness of Artillery in Modern Conflict

Issue 4 - 2023 By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd)Photo(s): By adgpi / X, AVNL
The K9 Vajra tracked self-propelled gun system was delivered to the Indian Army ahead of schedule

Russia’s special military operations in Ukraine starting February 24, 2022, were the first large-scale act of aggression in Europe since World War II. The Ukraine war has brought many unexpected impacts and is different in many ways:

First, this is the first war between two global powers in the ‘modern’ era. The West terms it Russo-Ukrainian War but it actually is a US-led NATO war on Russia using Ukraine as proxy; having posed an existential threat to Russia that forced it to launch special military operations in Ukraine.

Second, it is a mix of 20th and 21st century warfare – hi-tech weaponry but holding the frontline as important as before.

Third, it has nixed the belief that technological advancements plus increased lethality and precision of weapons will force modern era wars to be short and swift.

Fourth, it reflects the changing character of war with high intensity multi-domain operations, heightened C4I2SR, employment of hitherto unseen AI-driven systems, hypersonic and advanced autonomous weapons inflicting unprecedented high level of casualties; necessitating changes in the methodology of warfighting.

Multi-Domain Operations

The war in Ukraine is five dimensional, aerospace, land, sea, Cyber and Electro-Magnetic (EM). Information Warfare includes Network Centric Warfare, C4I2 Warfare, Electronic Warfare (EW), Cyber Warfare and all other forms of operationalised Cyber Space; like hypersonic missiles. Space Combat, Cyber Space Combat, Robotic Combat and Nano-technology Combat are added forms of combat.

The war has seen a significant use of electronic warfare (EW) systems, which are used to disrupt communications, radar systems, and other electronics. EW systems are being used to jam enemy communications and GPS signals, ensuring own communications infrastructure remains protected to the extent possible.

AI and Drones

Ukraine is estimated to be losing about 10,000 drones in combat every month. Germany’s Rheinmetall is to supply LUNA reconnaissance drones to Ukraine having datalink range of up to 300 km and capability to loiter for 12 hours. Autonomous systems like the Phalanx close-in point defence gun and the Patriot surface-to-air missile have not performed well against Russian forces.

As the use of drones has become more prevalent in the conflict, both sides have also developed counter-drone systems to detect and neutralise enemy UAVs. The Ukrainian military has used anti-drone systems such as the Turkish-made KARGU drone, which can autonomously track and attack targets. News reports of June 13, 2023 stated Russia scored the first AI kill by using its AI-controlled S-350 Vityaz antiaircraft missile system by downing a Ukrainian aircraft autonomously. AI systems are also being used in combat for facial recognition to identify dead enemy soldiers.

The M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers can be airlifted straight into forward Army posts

AI-enabled voice transcription and translation services are processing intercepted communications and automatically highlighting information concerning enemy forces. AI could play a significant role in future conflicts with AI systems predicting enemy movements and analysing large amounts of data to identify potential threats. Drawing upon the Ukraine war, the US Army is seeking AI help for continuous, real-time predictive visualisation of enemy actions, spurred by fears that human analysts won’t be able to keep up with complex warfare. The project ‘Real-Time Threat Forecasting’ wants the system to predict what the enemy will do just minutes before the enemy actually does it and continuously update that forecast as adversaries change tactics. The Decision Centric Warfare currently being developed by the US Department of Defence (DoD) states that the role of AI will be to support human decision-making, for example, AI will create operational plans and propose them to the commander.

Artillery and Missile Systems

Ukraine is using an assortment of artillery systems. This included heavy artillery like the Poland-supplied ‘Krab gun, the turret of which license-produced in Poland. It is fitted with a 155mm/L52 howitzer, which is compatible with all standard NATO 155mm ammunition. The Krab has an automatic shell loading system and modular charge system. Maximum range of fire is 30 km with standard HE-FRAG shell and 40 km with rocket assisted shell. Ukraine is also using the US-made M109 self-propelled 155mm howitzer, which has a range of 30 km. Ukraine, has been asking for longer range artillery from the West. The US has also supplied the Patriot missile system to Ukraine, with Germany and the Netherlands following suit.

Addressing artillery ammunition production, stocking, and storage, regarding quality control and strategic resourcing is critical amid evolving conflict scenarios

Ukrainian air defence is no match to the Russian Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missile, which has a range of 1500-2000 km, speed of Mach 10 and can carry a conventional HE warhead or a low yield 5-15 kt nuclear warhead. The Kinzhal can be launched by Tu-22M3 bombers or MiG-31K interceptor aircraft. In addition to the Kinzhal, Russia has been using an assortment of cruise missiles in the Ukraine war including newly produced ones. These include the Kh-22, Kh-29, Kh-31, Kh-101 and Kh-555 missiles, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Ammunition Expenditure

Ammunition expenditure is extremely high in the Ukraine war. The global media has been periodically reporting that Western ammunition supplies are unable to meet the rate at which ammunition is being expended by the Ukrainian army. Ukraine President Volodymyr has been repeatedly crying for the West to speed up ammunition supplies. During his recent visit to Washington, the US has announced joint US-Ukraine ammunition production in order to step up ammunition supply to the Ukrainian army.

In contrast, Russia apparently has no shortage of ammunition with adequate production lines. The important issue, however, is to note that both Russia and Ukraine have significantly used artillery, with 10,000 to 20,000 artillery rounds being fired on a single day; indicating employment of guns in role of destruction and not just neutralisation.


The war in Ukraine indicates multiple challenges that the Indian Army and the Artillery will likely face in the next war with China. Drawing upon the lessons, the requirement is to review the changes required from doctrinal, organisational to the tactics, training and equipping, given the primacy of firepower as witnessed in Ukraine. The urgency to effect these changes needs no elaboration.

Command and Control

Traditional static headquarters and command post would be easily targeted by the enemy. The requirement now is of greater dispersed deployment with headquarters suitably divided into smaller functional entities, dug down and moved to another location frequently, preferably on mobile armoured vehicles. Same goes for mobile command posts. Command and Control systems and mobile command posts must enable continuous movement, allow distributed collaboration, and synchronisation across all warfighting functions.


Communications and electronic signals will be very easily picked up by enemy and targeted using electronic warfare (EW) sensors to scan own troops for detectable transmissions. Therefore, maximum reliance should be placed on ruggedised fiber optic cable. Advancing troops used to carry Cable JWD to set up telephone communications. Now there would need to move up ruggedised fiber optic cable. The use of cell phones in the battle zone would need to be discarded.

Obviously, radio communication cannot be discarded altogether in the battlefield. But the requirement will be to minimise radio transmissions. Moreover, radio communications must be shut down periodically and only essential data should be transmitted, that too through encrypted cloud.

Artillery Specific

Lessons for the Indian Army are equally applicable to the Artillery. However, some specific issues relevant more to Artillery are as under:

Equipping: The Indian Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan 1999, envisaged of all artillery gun regiments to be converted to 155mm caliber for destructive effect on the target. This was modified in 2008 to have a mix of 155mm/39 calibre, 155mm/45 calibre and 155mm/52 calibre gun system. However, the progress has been extremely slow and the time-line of 2040 set to complete this artillery modernisation requires urgent review in backdrop of the three-year plus standoff with China, deteriorating India-China relations and fast changing geostrategic dynamics in the Indo-Pacific. Inductions in the artillery include: 145 x M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers; 100 x K9 Vajra-T guns with another order of 100 x K9 Vajra reportedly in the pipeline; one regiment of 155mm/45-calibre Dhanush towed guns and order place for another 114 x Dhanush guns; four regiment of 130mm M46 towed artillery have been upgraded to 155mm/45-calibre guns. The Artillery has seven M777 ULH and five K9 Vajra regiments operational with the latter likely to go to ten regiments. 300 advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS) are to eventually be inducted but will take considerable time. The overall shortfall in the guns in the artillery is evident with only 120 of the 1,580 towed, 100 self-propelled tracked, and 145 ultra-light guns inducted. All this demands a massive acceleration in artillery modernisation. This is also essential acknowledging that artillery systems would be prime targets of the enemy, causing attrition.

Sharang Gun was upgraded from 130mm to 155mm indigenously

Ammunition: A serious review is required in context of: ammunition production; ammunition stocking, and ammunition storage. It is no secret that the quality of ammunition being produced in the country by the governmental defence-industrial complex is far from satisfactory. Just three years back, the Army wrote to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that the amount of defective ammunition lying around could have funded procurement of 100 medium artillery guns. Ammunition stocking also needs serious review looking at the ammunition expenditure in the Ukraine war. We have scaled down the stocking of ammunition from the erstwhile 40 days (intense) to 10 days Intense. This would leave us without ammunition in a Ukraine-like war. Moreover, the requirement of artillery ammunition in the mountains will be much higher with China the main adversary. We must plan and create additional ammunition stocks. This implies fresh authorisation of holdings and requisite quality production lines. Finally, ammunition dumps will be prime targets for the enemy. This would need tunneling that cannot be easily targeted by missiles, air or accessed by loitering munitions.

Railgun: In February 2018, China successfully test-fired its electromagnetic (EM) railgun prototype at sea using a 25 kg projectile, hitting a target 25 km away with a velocity of 2,575 metre per second. The US intelligence had predicted in June 2018 that China will have the world’s most powerful gun ready for war by 2025. A railgun projectile travelling on hypersonic velocity would be more effective than a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) or anti-ship missile because it would be nearly impossible to shoot it down and has the ability to penetrate the latest armour materials. India needs to revive the nascent railgun experiment the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) under the Defence and Research Development Organisation (DRDO) undertook in 1994.


The arrival of artificial intelligence, autonomous and hypersonic weapons systems point to fundamental changes in the character of war and the way military forces fight. The Artillery will continue to play a major role in modern era wars, both by way of neutralisation and destruction of the enemy. The requirement is to draw lessons from the war in Ukraine and speedily adapt to ground realities.