Share this Article

The ongoing two major wars (the Ukraine and Gaza war) in the world have been persisting for many days, with no decisive victory being gained by either side. Recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked the two-year anniversary while the war has been stalemated. The Israel retaliation against the Hamas attack on October 7 with the aim of eliminating the militants has not succeeded. So, both wars have ensnared into ‘attrition warfare’.

What is ‘War of Attrition’?

The war of attrition can be defined as the sustained process of wearing down opponents by impelling their full military strength to target them. The relentless targeting of the enemy’s positions would impose detrimental effects on troops by leaving heavier casualties, adversely affect the economy and erode the morale of the troops.

Usually, the weaker side would employ the attrition strategy to target the stronger opponent to prolong the conflict rather than creating ground for the latter’s decisive victory. 

By referring to the attrition strategy, Clausewitz’s theory on war elucidates that ‘it is a mistake to believe that there is skilful method of disarming and overcoming the enemy without great bloodshed…war is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds’

The actor should have the capability to reinforce the troops despite the heavy losses and incessant supply of arms and ammunition, which is the nitty-gritty way for a combatant to deal with enduring attrition warfare.

The strategy of attrition played a pivotal role in World War 1. The strategy at the western front placed the entente powers in an advantageous position. The battles of Verdun and Somme have marked a significant shift by inflicting huge losses for German forces through trench warfare.

After the unsuccessful campaign against Israel in the 1967 war, Egypt has audaciously propounded the war of attrition against Israel (1969-1970) to reoccupy the Sinai Peninsula. The Soviet Union sidelined with Egypt and putatively, Israel has been backed by the United States. To cease the escalation, the U.S. introduced the Rogers Plan, which pressured both rivals to sign the ceasefire deal.  Despite the inconclusive nature of the conflict, the analysts suggest that Egypt’s forces have learned effective warfare lessons from the brief war that had influence over the Yom Kippur War (1973).

Israel’s War on Gaza

Despite the military superiority of Israel, it has been facing a stumbling block to annihilate the Hamas. According to the ‘Military Balance 2023’ report, Israel comprises 1,69,500 active military personnel, contrary to the scant number of 25,000–30,000 Hamas fighters. The Hamas are exploiting the battleground in northern Gaza through its guerilla tactics without creating favourable grounds for Israel.

The prolonged war has been impacting the economy of Israel and has flared up dissent among the people against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to retrieve the Israeli hostages captivated by Hamas. In addition, the Hezbollah, an Iran proxy in Lebanon, has launched a barrage of rockets into northern Israel since the start of the Gaza War.

Russia-Ukraine War

On February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, initially it had speculation for a short-term battle by amassing its troops and ammunition for the offensive against Ukraine. Hitherto, the western powers have been still backing the Ukraine by aiding sophisticated arms and ammunition to wear down its archrival Russia.

In comparison to the deaths of troops in the war against Chechnya and the invasion of Afghanistan, Russia has suffered huge losses, with more than 50,000 military personnel having lost their lives.

Promptly, Russia rebuilt the economy through the lens of ‘Military Keynesianism’ with a huge leap of investment flowing into the military-industrial complex which stabilised the economy by creating jobs and subsequently ramping up arms production. The unhindered supply of weapons to the battle field and the reinforcing capability of the Moscow equipped to fight attrition warfare.

Role of Drones 

In the context of attrition warfare, the proliferation of drones exerted stronger leverage on the weaker actors to resist their stronger opponents. The drone swarm technology has the capability to pose a lethal impact on opponents without human interference. Moreover, the prevalence of drones in the hands of non-state actors (especially Hamas, Hezbollah) has unveiled a new form of asymmetric warfare that would have the potential to enter the attrition phase.


Attrition warfare is here to stay. Many of the ongoing asymmetric wars have the potential to become an attrition war in the coming years. Wars can get extended in future and nations with large resources only can sustain their economy during the course of war.

Title image courtesy: The Times

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

By MP Yuvaraj

MP Yuvaraj has graduated in International Relations from the Central University of Kerala. Currently he is pursuing his post-graduate at South Asian University in Delhi.