Artillery and Firepower : Part 8 – Lessons from the Ukrainian War by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Part 1 : Preamble




Part 2 : Effects on Firepower in the Himalayas


Part 3 : Chinese Operational Concepts and Employment of Firepower


Part 4: Fire & Move and Historical Evolution of Firepower 




Part 5 : Operational Evolution and Key Tenets of Firepower




Part 6 : Firepower Enhancement




Part 7 : Role of Firepower




In December 2021,  I wrote on the future roles of Artillery and Firepower in a series of articles @  In a span of 3-6 months what I had spelt out conceptually is coming true in battle. It is time we took note of the emerging trends to do a course correction in India. 


I had then put forth that,  the days of Artillery providing fire support to Infantry and Mechanised Forces are over. The Kargil Conflict had brought home to everyone the value of destruction and interdiction by Artillery.   But for the firepower of ‘Gunners’, the whole conflict would have ended in a national disaster. In future this role will be enlarged. Without  the enhanced range, lethality, accuracy and strategic mobility, now available with ‘Gunners’, China, our main adversary will have a walk over.  Pakistan, the smaller foe, will continue to believe that it can take us on. Whether it is against Pakistan or China, India’s new look firepower will dominate the battlefield (provided we are able to put it together. The elements of the new look firepower are partly in place). Against Pakistan it will be an overwhelming and punishing force. Against China it will be a deterring force.  In mountains and high altitudes the main Combat Arms’ will be Infantry and Artillery. Further, the main source of firepower in mountains is Artillery since Air Force might not  be as effective due to vagaries of weather and terrain conditions. Further the increasing density and lethality of air defence systems like S400, especially in the Sino-Indian context,  will limit the role and effectiveness of offensive Air Power.


The neo modern role of  firepower is strategic in nature.  Artillery is now an instrument  of  ‘conventional deterrence’. In India, this factor is not even recognised. However, the deterrent role of Artillery is constantly increasing. This  subtle shift needs to be understood. Nuclear and conventional deterrence theories, scripted largely in the West,  will not work in the Sino Indian or Indo Pak ‘eyeball to eyeball’ context. On the other hand, suitably tailored conventional deterrence is likely to work. It is discriminatory, can be calibrated and the resulting damage is politically more acceptable than a nuclear holocaust. General deterrence can be put in place, before a crisis occurs, through long range vectors which will be effective over the long term. When a crisis is imminent or occurs, firepower is a potent tool of immediate deterrence.  Influence operations are a convenient medium to project the deterrence value into political thinking. Hence,  conventional deterrence becomes a credible and transparent system to convey national intent. This is now possible due to increased ranges, warhead lethality and precision of conventional firepower. Additionally, conventional deterrence can be focused on counterforce targets with minimal counter value effect. Most importantly it can be delivered at a standoff through multiple modes. Conventional deterrence is far more flexible in application. It is also for this reason that Long Range Precision Fires is the priority program of the US Army’s Futures Command. It also explains the emphasis that China places on precision fire”.


Not many people read what I had written. Most people felt that I was propagating a parochial thought process to present my case for the larger benefit of the Regiment of Artillery. However that was far from the case. My case has been proven by the 100 plus days of the Russo-Ukrainian war. In this war, Artillery has held centre stage. Oh! By the way, this is not what I am propagating. This is what leading media has said and what Ukrainians have experienced.  All that is reproduced below :- .    


Ukraine’s Artillery Might Be Winning The War With Russia



Ukraine’s New Heavy Artillery Will Cause Russia a World of Pain

Popular Mechanics


‘They’re in hell’: Hail of Russian Artillery Tests Ukrainian Morale

Washington Post

Artillery is playing a Vital Role in Ukraine

The Economist


 One Village at a Time: The Grinding Artillery War in Ukraine

The New York Times



A report from New York Times says … Just to move about town, Ukrainian soldiers accelerate to breakneck speeds in their SUVs, screech around corners, zip into courtyards, then pile out and run for cover. “They see us and they open fire,” Colonel Yuriy Vashchuk said of the need to move quickly or become a vulnerable target for Russian artillery. “There’s no place in this town that is safe.” Some other soldiers at the receiving end of Artillery felt “It starts with a loud whistle and you feel something fly past. Then comes the explosion, followed by the blast wave. Last is the shrapnel, which swarms through the air like flies: thpht thpht thpht…All you want to do is hide, not breathe, dig deeper in the ground…When a person is shooting at you, you have a clear idea of how to fight back, of where to direct your adrenaline…But when a piece of metal is flying at you, you don’t know where the enemy is and how to survive. I’m a rifleman, I have no weapon to defend myself from that.


There are no such reports of Infantry or Mechanised Forces in this war. The dash of the Armour and the elan of the Infantry has been missing in action in this war much to the dismay of many  Indian military veterans and analysts who are still fighting the last war. The Russo-Ukrainian war signifies the  future battlefield in which ‘non-contact firepower’ in the form of drones, fighter aircraft  and artillery (guns, rockets and missiles) will dominate. It is a new type of ‘lethal long distance’ warfare which has evolved.  Any fundamental analysis will reveal in this paradigm , the boring, unseen, repetitive and ubiquitous Artillery will dictate the pace of the war and its outcomes in battles. It will not be out of place to reiterate Stalin who said that “Artillery is the God of War” and  Churchill who stated “Renown awaits the commander who first restores artillery to its prime importance on the battlefield.” Having stated this let us analyse the role and effect of Artillery in the Russo Ukrainian war. 


The war commenced at a time of  the mud thaw due to melting snows in Ukraine. At this  time the terrain became slushy.  Cross country movement was virtually impossible. Most movement was confined to roads and tracks. Infantry and Armour could not be deployed over wide frontages to conduct manoeuvre. Till date, employment and operational effectiveness of Armour and Infantry has been grossly restricted in this war. However, employment of Artillery (guns, rockets, missiles – guided, cruise and hypersonic) has been unrestricted. One thing has clearly emerged from this war . Terrain, ground, weather and all other factors might deter, inhibit or preclude employment of Air, Infantry and Armour but very little deters Artillery. The importance and value of Artillery has been reinforced manifold in this war. Till now it was understood that God fights on the side with big guns. This war has proven that God fights on the side with big guns, rockets and missiles with longer ranges. The terrain conditions in the Himalayas are almost similar to the Rasputitsa conditions in Ukraine. Movement will be restricted to the roads to a large extent like it happened in Ukraine. Move of infantry and mechanised forces will be severely limited.  Employment of Air  will be restricted by fickle Himalayan weather. The battles will be largely fought by Infantry and Artillery. Hence the value of firepower will increase manifold. 


Ukraine also reminds us that conventional battles can and will continue to be fought. Peace time and CI specialists in India simply forget the violence, shock and awe which firepower generates. The prime constituent of any Himalayan battlefield will be firepower through its unrestricted and premeditated violence. In Ukraine, big guns and firepower have subordinated other forces – tanks and infantry. The Russian Army’s initial three-pronged invasion in Feb, resulted in static battlefields for long periods. Seemingly there were no major moves or manoeuvres by either side due to the ‘Rasputitsa’ factor. However Russia used long range ground based firepower to open up the battlefield to generate strategic and battlefield  manoeuvre. Firepower overcame terrain friction to enable strikes in the depth. While the frontages remained largely as they were, only incrementally changing with each action, the daily situation was rapidly changing due to orchestrated firepower strikes which were carried out all over the length and breadth of Ukraine. It was a deep battle of a different kind. This will happen along the LAC also. 

 A striking aspect of this war has been that firepower has been used to achieve political aims in a very deliberate manner. Russia used nuclear and conventional firepower power in a destructive and deterrent role simultaneously and interchangeably. Initially, Russia had laid  down four conditions to end the war – Ukraine not to be part of NATO, Donetsk and Luhansk  to be recognised as independent states, Crimea to be recognised as part of Russia and demilitarisation of Ukraine. Firepower was applied in a planned manner to achieve each of these conditions. Russia used  air, hypersonic/cruise/guided missiles, rockets, and guns extensively to deter NATO from getting directly involved in this war. Along with a nuclear threat, it fired hypersonic missiles to convey credibility of its intent and demonstrate its willingness to escalate. This combination of nuclear and conventional deterrence conveyed Russian resolve to escalate the situation beyond Ukraine if warranted. In the event, NATO has kept out of the conflict till date. Further, Ukraine capitulated to this demand and renounced its desire to join NATO. Firepower was used overwhelmingly in its traditional role which enabled rapid expansion of Russian controlled territory in the South in areas adjoining Crimea and Donbas regions. This gave tremendous weight to the Russian demands that Donetsk and Luhansk be recognised as independent states and Crimea to be recognised as part of Russia. Demilitarisation of Ukraine was carried out through systematic destruction of military assets. Air and missile strikes were carried out on Ukrainian bases especially in the West to cut off military aid flowing in and where joint training with NATO used to be carried out. Systematic destruction of Ukrainian war waging capability was undertaken. Ammunition, fuel and logistics dumps were targeted extensively. Destruction of Ukrainian defence industry was done methodically. Lastly, Ukrainian firepower and military elements were repeatedly targeted and degraded. At this stage of the war, Ukraine had almost capitulated. If the Russians had been flexible and smart during the negotiations which were undertaken at that time, it might have ended in a victory of sorts. However that was not to be due to many geopolitical factors. 


A noteworthy feature of this war was that at tactical levels, Artillery was used innovatively in executing ‘ambushes’ by firepower and undertaking ‘track and kill’ operations. Firepower ambushes were carried out extensively by Ukrainian forces. As Russian forces advanced into Ukraine, ambush areas were designated along the roads. These sections of roads were kept under surveillance by drones, radars and observers. When the designated section was packed with slow moving or halted Russian convoys, a Ukrainian gun or rocket fire unit (s) would execute a fire assault on it from a hide. Invariably the high intensity fire assault would cause extensive damage. The Ukrainian fire unit /launcher would scoot off from the hide before the Russians could deploy or retaliate. When the Russians got wise to Ukrainian tactics, they deployed their drones as surveillance outposts. The moment an Ukrainian fire unit /launcher started its scoot from the hide, it was tracked by a Russian drone till its base. Then the base used to be engaged conclusively by a long range rocket / missile. Retaliatory track and kill operations warded off Ukrainian firepower ambushes and enabled Russian Forces to advance to a large extent. These tactics will pay handsome dividends in the Himalayas. However, it needs detailed intelligence, planning and networking.   


In the ongoing operations in southern and eastern Ukraine, the two sides are more entrenched. In this scenario, firepower has become even more pivotal and dominant.  Artillery has been used to punch holes in the enemy defences to enable and generate movement. Conversely, firepower has also been used to plug holes, fix and restrict manoeuvre by the enemy. In this phase of the war, the Russian aim has been to seize maximum territory in the Donbas region through overwhelming firepower. The Washington Post has reported that “The war has seen relatively few infantry engagements or tank-on-tank battles; Russia, rather, is concentrating overwhelming artillery power on relatively small areas to blast its way forward in a path of grave destruction”. The general pattern has been that the Russian Forces operate in small groups. They used a sizable fleet of drones, to identify and target Ukrainian positions, hitting them with lethal and deadly artillery and air strikes. When a particular target, zone or village has effectively been levelled by firepower, ground troops carry out mop up operations. Russian forces are also destroying roads and buildings as they advance , leaving few places for Ukrainian troops to take up defences. Russia has also resorted to use of firepower to fix the enemy and isolate it to either promote own move or deny space for move or reinforcements by Ukrainian forces. Even the Ukrainians have relied heavily on Artillery to hold off Russian forces to the extent feasible. Ever since Western countries have started to give Ukraine some sophisticated artillery including the M777 ULH, some qualitative balance has been achieved. To an extent,  Ukraine has been able to mount some limited counter attacks. At times when Russian Artillery is in the process of getting deployed for an impending operation or about to fire, Ukrainians have fired and engaged them with the M777s in a spoiling attack mode. Such tactics will be invaluable against the Chinese.   


In India, firepower has been traditionally used  to ‘neutralise’ enemy or keep his firepower down. With time,  Artillery progressed from ‘neutralisation and suppression’ to ‘destruction and degradation’. We have stopped and frozen at that since ‘Combat Support’ stops us there mentally.  Analyse all this objectively. Unless we think of Air and Artillery as ‘Combat’ forces  we will not employ them as such. The role of firepower in supressing enemy firepower and interdiction of the battlefield has also increased. The role and employment of firepower to deter PLA from any misadventure will be critical. This aspect is not even discussed or fully understood by our ‘General Cadre ’ Commanders. I wonder as to how many interdiction plans are made by formations? I have not seen many. Deterrence plans? Are we joking? This war is teaching us many things. It is time Indian Army and those whizz kids at the Military Operations Directorate  and in the Operation Branches of formations put their heads down and come up with some out of the box and innovative ideas. However, it is largely dependent on our fast politicising Military Leadership to have the time and inclination to allow this to happen.  


This war will be analysed minutely by the Chinese. They will go into details the way Russia and Ukraine have employed Artillery amongst other things. It will do well for us to remember that China also lays great emphasis on firepower and employment of rockets and missiles. It also lays a lot of emphasis on fighting wars under conditions of informatisation using precision strike capabilities to paralyse enemy operational systems as part of their system destruction warfare.  Hence imbibing lessons from this war and adapting to a future scenario in the Himalayas will be high priority for them. Further…a western commentator has stated “Moscow is obliterating towns with faraway Artillery to minimize its losses and play to the Russian military’s strengths as an artillery-focused force. Moscow is also relying on those tactics because Russian forces have been gutted by casualties and disenchantment from the first phase of the war and have shown an inability to fight successfully otherwise.” We might do well to prepare and expect a similar but slightly varied  approach from China. The inexperienced PLA will not risk causalities in war by resorting to close battles with Infantry or Tank attacks (as we expect them). They will in all eventuality go hell for leather with overwhelming firepower so that they can reduce their casualties. Let us be prepared for a firepower based battle of the Russo-Ukrainian kind but suitably adapted to high altitude terrain and conditions. Indian Army should be prepared and not get Ukrained. 


What does Indian Army have to do? 


First of all sit with the IAF and discuss openly as to how to jointly sort out the PLA. 


The next is to revisit the basics of what Artillery achieved in Kargil. To recount : the Pakistanis gained renown when their Artillery was used imaginatively and prime on the battlefield in the initial phases of OP VIJAY when they were able to heavily interdict National Highway 1A. They achieved infamy when they ran short of firepower. They could not press home their initial advantage. India gained infamy initially when Artillery was inadequate, used piecemeal and relegated to a side show. It was only when Artillery was restored to its prime importance on the battlefield that India could gain renown.


India has to RETHINK ON EMPLOYMENT OF FIREPOWER including air, air defence and artillery holistically. The very thought that air and artillery are supporting arms is primitive and no more relevant in the current and futuristic battle field. That is amply proven in Ukraine.  India must start thinking of employing firepower in offensive and deterrence roles and be able to control the deep battle. Stop getting fixated by the close and contact battle. 


To realise full value and effect of firepower, it has to be integrated with other elements of the battle field. Application of integrated firepower must be the order of the day. In this context, firepower integration involves integration between sensors and shooters at one level and integration between air and ground elements at another level. The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as also the Russo-Ukrainian conflict has indicated that there is a symbiotic relationship between long range Artillery and drones. We need to re-establish it, since all drones in the Indian Army were once part of Artillery. There were  close sensor-shooter linkages which had been developed over a decade and a half. For reasons unknown, the ‘genius’ of the Indian Army ‘General Cadre ’ top brass divorced the Indian Artillery form drones and have made it blind. Time to revisit the issue lest we are quoted as a blind international joke. India needs to develop a ‘Reconnaissance Strike Integration’ capability where its sensors and shooters are fully conjoined with a fail-safe data network. This must span air and ground elements including special forces operating deep in enemy territory.


India also needs to develop deep battle concepts. It should be able to block enemy forces by exercising interdictory control of depth communications, especially in Tibet. Very significantly India needs to develop capacities to overcome Himalayan terrain by using long range vectorsFire ambushes and track and destroy operations will pay handsome dividends in Tibetan terrain. These concepts require a joint approach. Also, there is requirement to develop a capability road map for acquisition of long-range vectors indigenously. We have adequate know how to maximise on this aspect. 


Rethink ‘General Cadre by Commission ’ principle. Just because an officer has been commissioned into Infantry or Armoured Corps should not make him eligible automatically to get a better shot at deciding the future of the nation. A major resultant problem in the Army leadership has been tunnelled short-sightedness consistent with the colour of a lanyard and beret. This has resulted in a system which has denied the best to itself but has given the mediocre a shot at the top. How about some merit? This is a fundamental reform which is needed if Indian Army is to transform into a force to win conclusively against our Himalayan adversaries.  


Lastly. All the best to the Indian Army and MOD. I hope it’s leadership has the time to think of some of this. It seems as if there is no time for anything but the ‘Tour of Duty’ these days.   



References : ––%20High%20Minus%20Dormant%20and%2090%20Day%20Non%20



5 responses to “Artillery and Firepower : Part 8 – Lessons from the Ukrainian War by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Excellent and extremely well articulated sir….it is a treat reading the article again and again!

  2. Well explained. Hope our Generals read this and put up to Def Min at the earliest. The present Def Min, surely, will do the needful, considering the improvement/upgradation of CAPF, almost equal to Army. The generals at AHQ should walk the extra mile with commitment.

  3. Sir, very thought provoking and insightful. A high volume of artillery usage will also require a big push in the production and logistics realms to resupply guns & munitions. The logistic challenge will be all the more daunting in the mountainous areas. Hope to see a discussion of these aspects. Wrt the sensor requirements, perhaps relatively inexpensive cubesat type LEO satellites for all weather sar purposes would be very useful. It would be good to develop the ability to rapidly launch and co-ordinate 1000s of these on demand, in addition to the tech that would need to be packaged to give at least the reconnaissance abilities that drones can provide.

  4. Thanks General. Very informative and thought provoking. It is a pleasure to read such exhaustive articles with in-depth analysis. The preceding seven articles too have been a boon. Nevertheless, I have a query perhaps a stupid one at that. For whom are these meant; army personnel or the bureaucrats or the politicians or the common man?I presume that the army professionals are knowledgeable and are well aware. If not (which seems unlikely), is it an appropriate forum to share this kind of information in the public domain. Will not the adversaries benefit? For the other category of people the information might be excessive to comprehend and assimilate completely. The articles however are excellent detailing the subject matter in a simple and cogent manner for an average Indian to appropriate nuances of warfare.

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