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Seven major characteristics required of an army to win wars

Are you a defence enthusiast? Do you get to compare the capabilities of armed forces as part of your defence studies curriculum? Learn here some of the major characteristics that go a long way in helping an army win a war.

Ours is a country blessed with strategic location. Indian Ocean in the south, Arabian Sea in the west and Bay of Bengal in the east. The mighty Himalayas safeguards us from attacks from hostile neighbours up north. Considering the hostile posture of some of our neighbours, it is all the more essential for our country to have a fighting fit defence unit. Even though ours is primarily a force meant to defend our borders against armed aggression by enemy forces, it need to have enough punch to strike deep inside enemy territory, as and when the need arises. It is a big question deciding how big should our army be or how well it should be equipped to deter our enemies from attacking us. With the world's third largest standing army, ours is definitely a larger armed force than that of Pakistan's. However, when considering China our northern neighbour, we fall way short. With the world's largest army, China is way above us in terms of numbers. Does that mean that to defeat Pakistan we won't have to struggle much, but stand no chance against the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China? Not necessarily so, as size of an army alone is not the decisive factor for winning a war. A lot many other factors and characteristics play an equally important role for an army to win a war. We will discuss here some of these characteristics.

A few glimpses from the history of armed conflicts

Before we discuss a few important characteristics required of an army to win a war, let us have a quick glance through history. Many of us are aware that when Babur from Central Asia attacked India he had a face-off with the heroic Rajputs. Rana Sanga of Mewar who was then the Rajput supremo pitched an army that was numerically much larger than Babur's. There were famed war elephants in the service of Rana Sanga's forces that had the reputation of destroying armies in no time. Rana Sanga's men were also known for their valour and bravery. But in the all-important battle of Khanwa, Rana Sanga and his forces, fighting the traditional way, lost heavily to the invaders. How a smaller army could defeat a larger foe can be explained from the fact that Babur's forces were much better prepared, trained, strategically advanced, had superior weapons like cannons and knew the weaknesses of their opponents very well. Various other factors like propaganda and treachery by Raja Silhadi contributed to Babur's victory which ultimately led him to set up an empire in the Indian sub-continent. The main point here is; however good your forces may look on paper, it may not be enough to win a war. It may require a good many other things too.

Similar was the case during the World War II when during the initial stages the Germans easily overran the larger, but ill-prepared Russian army. In the later stages however, as the fortunes reversed, the Germans had to bite the dust in their bid to capture Moscow. The Russians managed to land a devastating blow on the superior German forces by pursuing various strategies that took their enemies by surprise. The Germans were done by the harsh winter while they were in Soviet territory. The strategically advantaged scorched earth policy followed by the retreating Russian army, which the Germans were themselves master at, took the toll of the German forces heavily. The Russians also upgraded their war production, even producing more than what the German war machine was producing then. Indecisiveness of its frontline commanders, low morale of its men and many other factors at the western front broke the backbone of the German armed forces and finally resulted in Nazi Germany's defeat.

Let's now see some of these decisive characteristics that have the potential of changing fortunes of opposing forces in a battle.

  1. Numbers provide the biggest psychological strength

    Even though not the lone factor, size of army, airforce or navy does matter. It is the foremost characteristic that helps in boosting the morale of an army. With numbers an army gets added psychological strength. Numbers do matter, whether number of soldiers, tanks, aircrafts, missiles, frigates, destroyers or submarines. China with its vastly superior land and air forces has a big psychological edge over the Indian army. The Chinese army is almost two times that of the Indian army. Their Airforce too is huge. Outnumbered massively, India can however still draw comfort from the fact that the treacherous Himalayan terrain will not provide the Chinese army or airforce an easy path to mobilize its resources against India. The Himalayas provide a natural barrier and defence against the aggressive Chinese forces that India could make well use of. With a good bit of strategy and effective deployment of its forces, India can very well neutralize the advantage that China has over India due to the sheer size of its army. Having the numbers however, is a big plus point.

  2. A strong airforce and naval power

    During the Gulf war between the US and Iraq, the Americans used precision bombing system to neutralize much of the war potential of its opponent. The bombing blitzkrieg and the rockets and missiles were targeted so efficiently by the American Airforce that it left Iraq without much options to resist the attack. A strong airforce and a battery of missile power is what an efficient armed force of a country should have, if it wants to surprise its enemy and gain an upper hand right in the early stages of the war. A strong naval force too can be very effective in surprising the enemy by targeting its ports and creating a naval blockade..

  3. A mighty strong ground force

    However strong a country's airforce or navy might be, it makes no sense if the country doesn't have a strong army. Not only to defend the border, the army is essential to seize enemy territory in times of war. Ground forces are very much essential to provide the final finish in a battle. Wars cannot be simply won from afar. It is the infantry or the soldier fighting on the ground that are instrumental in landing the final punch on the enemy. The Airforce, Navy and their missiles definitely do the bulk of the damage to the enemy's forces in the initial stage of the war, but it's the ground forces who bring the war to a conclusion. For that to happen, an army needs to have sufficient manpower in its ranks. So strength of the army does matter and it will be foolish for a country to believe that it can win a war by simply relying on its air and naval power.

  4. Requires years of preparation to raise a fighting-fit army

    Many people, especially at positions that matter, have the wrong notion that an army can be raised in no time. Yes, in case of emergency a country has to raise an army as quick as possible, but that's not the best way to prepare your armed forces. Raising a strong and effective army requires years of training and preparation. It's not the physical strength alone that makes a soldier. More than physical, a soldier's skill lies in his or her mind. It's more about mental strength and stamina. It's got to do with judgement that comes with years and years of preparation. Then there are technicalities of handling arms and equipment that comes after long duration of training and practice only. An army can buy the best of the war equipment, perhaps at short notices, but not so with its manpower. It takes years and years of training to transform men and women into battle units.

  5. Strategic planning

    Strategies and tactics have always played a very important role in every kind of war. That we have seen in the Battle of Khanwa. Babur was an expert in strategic planning. The Great Maratha warrior Shivaji made well use of them during his numerous encounters with the numerically larger Mughal forces. Sheer strength alone doesn't win you a war. With an effective strategy and deployment of forces an army can win even with a numerically smaller force. Some such strategies that are employed by forces world over are deception, distraction, encirclement, guerrilla operation, surgical strikes, ambush, blockade, counter-attack, attrition (wearing down) and so many others. An army that makes the right use of them will definitely gain an upper hand over its opponent.

  6. Experience

    It helps if an army has lots of war experience. On this count India is at an advantage over China. The country has numerous war experiences through its various wars with Pakistan. Indian forces have very much acclimatised themselves to the vagaries of fighting a high altitude war through its numerous experiences of operating at high altitude in the Himalayas. This will definitely come handy in case it gets into a conflict with China. India has been on and off sending its troop as part of United Nations peace keeping troops to various parts of the world. All these experiences are of great importance for a fighting force. It ensures that you are not taken by surprise during an actual war.

  7. Morale of its men and women

    Coming at the last but never the least, this is one characteristic that can make up for a lot many things. You may be numerically inferior, you may not have the latest gadgetry, but if the morale of your men and women in the ranks is high then the impossible can be achieved. It is one thing that every army strives for. It doesn't come with money or you cannot buy it off the shelf. It is an inner feeling that comes with love for one's country, its people and its way of life. In case of any future war with China or even Pakistan, the morale of the Indian army or even the citizens will never be low. It was never low even in the 1962 war with China. It was only that we were not prepared and we didn't have the resources to fight the war. We were taken by surprise. The Chinese were taken by surprise too with the show of valour from the Indian soldiers even though the Indians were ill-equipped and numerically less. Fighting to save the honour of the Motherland, the morale of the Indian soldiers was at its peak then.

The characteristics, features and strategies enumerated above are not the only ones that could be a decisive factor between two warring factions in case of a war. Numerous other factors come into consideration too. The concept of electronic warfare is gaining rapid ground these days. Military equipment and hardware are getting high tech. Modernization is must for an armed force to remain relevant. Radio communication, radars, sonars and other such devices are being increasingly used by land, air and naval forces. Forces need to invest on technologies that could help intercept messages, jam radio receptions and avoid detection by radars and sonars. An effective intelligence gathering system is all the more important that one can't do without. These and many other factors go a long way in ensuring that you gain an upper hand over your opponent.

Article by Dhruv
Dhruv is an electrical engineer by profession. Apart from liking his job, he has a special love for writing and has often dabbled in writing scripts for skits and short plays. As a Content Developer at ISC, Dhruv is having a whale of a time, showcasing his writing skills.

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Author: Nomita Mitra24 Aug 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 5

Kudos to the author for the trouble he has taken in composing this well-researched and well explained article. Every effort has been made to justify the points by taking examples from the history as well as from the recent pat. However, I would like to add a few other points which are absolutely necessary for winning wars even against stronger opponents:

1. Strong political leadership
No army, how brave, strong or technically advanced may it be, can win a war until and unless the political leadership of the country is strong enough providing moral support to them .
2. Competency of the persons commanding the army
The real worth and competency of the army commanders are judged truly in the event of an war. If the commander, sitting at the helms, can prepare strategies and planning fit for the army, they can beat even a much stronger opponent.

Our historical heroes like Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji knew well that the Mughal army was large in number and well-equipped. They knew well that they could not defeat them in a direct confrontation. so they resorted to Gurilla warfare and defeated their enemies. The recent case of the Vietnamese Army, though small in number and ill-equipped compared to one of the most powerful countries, compelled them to withdraw by using the same tactics.

Author: Partha K.25 Aug 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 8

The author has chosen an excellent subject which is not generally discussed. However, we, the common people, must have an idea about the factors which bring victory in wars. I have read the article of the author with great interest but I do not agree to most of the points mentioned by the author. I am hereby submitting my opinion relating to the factors which bring victory in war.

Propaganda warfare and Information: I would like to start by quoting Sun Tzu's two famous quotes . The first one is: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting". The second one: “ Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warrior go to war first and then seek to win". What do these two famous quotes imply? I feel that these two quotes of Sun Tzu give stress on warfare at different level and information. These two quotes are more than necessary in present context of all-out war. The enemy must be weakened by cultural warfare, propaganda warfare and warfare at different level. For example, if we can stop supply of petroleum of the enemy at the time of war, it would cause devastating effect on the movement of forces of the enemy.

Furthermore, information is very much necessary to win war. We must know the movement of forces of enemy, his concentration, planning, area of strength, weak points and line of communication. The more information we have about the enemy, the more chance we have to win the war.

2. Deception: Again I will quote Sun Tzu: “ All warfare is based on deception". Sun Tzu again says “Let your plan be direct and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt". Deception is a key aspect which determines the victor and the vanquished. We have to deceive the enemy. We must have complete information about enemy's movement and planning and at the same time the enemy must be kept in the dark about our own movement and planning.

3. Preparation: Preparation is the key aspect of warfare. The party which is more prepared for the war will be victorious. In the history of war in India we can say that we lost the 1962 war against China because we were not prepared. At the same time China was well prepared and the preparation of PLA of China started long back (much before September 1962). On the other hand we emerged victorious in 1971 in Indo-Pak war because we were mentally prepared for the war and logistical and military preparation started at least eight months before the actual war.

4. Cohesion: That is another important factor. In modern warfare, infantry, artillery and armored regiment must move in total cohesion. Cohesion with navy and air force is also required for striking a lethal blow to the enemy.

5. Logistics: That is another important aspect. In a long-drawn war the party with stronger logistical capabilities will ultimately become successful. In the Second World War, Germany was in a much advantageous position than USSR in the initial stage. However, the USSR with its strong logistical capabilities ultimately became victorious and captured Germany.

6. Morale of Armed forces and citizens: Morale of armed forces and citizens are very important. If the morale remains intact on the face of creation the country will definitely become victorious. Undue political interference in military operations must be stopped. 1962 war has taught this to Indians.

7. Speed of movement: The army which moves faster has greater chance to win the war. In medieval and anscient period, the country or king which had large cavalry used to win was which had slower army of elephants,

Concluding comments: I do not agree to the author's contention that numbers provide the biggest psychological strength. In the history of warfare, it has been seen many a time that a force that is less numerically strong, becomes victorious because of better planning and cohesive movement with better weaponry. The article requires much more detailed response.

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