The Standing Committee on Defence in a recent report tabled before the parliament has noted that the Indian Army, the third largest in the world, is being haunted by severe shortage of critical ammunitions. The report notes that these shortages are severe enough to dent India’s war making capabilities and also threatens to nullify India’s traditional supremacy.

The report has raised serious concerns about the shortage of ammunitions ranging from basic war making equipments such as rifles, BPJs and night-fighting devices to critical equipment such as howitzers, missiles and helicopters.

The army has been on the hunt for reliable equipments to arm its infantrymen who toil in some of the most inhospitable operational environments. Army’s multiple global and indigenous tenders to acquire even basic equipments such as assault rifles, Bullet Proof Jackets (BJP) and night vision aids have all but faltered under the tiring procurement process.

According to multiple sources, the army has an urgent need for at least 185,000 assault rifles and 360,000 BPJs to arm its infantrymen. Further, the army needs at least 1,200 field artillery equipments to guard the troubled borders along the Eastern and Western theaters. On the aerial front, the situation is even bleaker as the army is left to operate decades old Chetak helicopters, which have time and again crashed putting the morale of the army men at stake.

Army’s successive global tenders to acquire modern assault rifles, which are the need of the hour, have time and again faltered giving little reprise from the situation. Indigenous efforts to manufacture these rifles have made little headway following the army’s rejection to stand committed to the INSAS rifle. Army’s ambitious ‘Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP)’, which was floated decades back to equip the army with howitzers and field guns, is yet to gain steady ground. Retirement of rapidly aging platforms has made the situation only worst for the army.

The dismal performance has also been noted in the all crucial War Wastage Reserves (WWR) level. According to the report, India lacks WWR to sustain barely for even 25 days of intense fighting against the mandated 40 days. WWR is the collection of military equipments which are held in reserve to support the forces in times of intense fighting before production of these equipments are increased by the respective vendors.

According to the report, out of the 160 equipments listed under WWR at least 89 war making equipments are operationally important. The report notes that 79 equipments out of these 89 operationally important equipments have reached critical levels with some touching availability rates of less than 50%. The government following the ‘Uri attack’ had sent multiple high-powered teams to acquire these critical equipments off-the-shelf from foreign vendors. This is rumoured to have considerably boosted WWR levels.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has attributed the shortage of ammunition and equipments squarely on the inability of the sole supplier — the state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Multiple reports of the ministry have indicated that the limited production capabilities of OFB and repeated spillages in meeting production targets have led to this alarming level.  MoD officials have called for the involvement of the untapped private sector to tide through the alarming situation.

MoD has in a written reply said that it constantly reviews security scenarios across all operational theatres and decides to induct requisite defence equipments to keep the forces in a high state of readiness. To meet the surging demands of the forces, MOD notes that there is an exigent need to diversify procurement sources by creating a level playing field.

The standing committee, however, has raised questions about the capabilities of the private sector as even OFB, which boasts of established production base, grapples to meet the demands.

Indian Army soldiers with the 99th Mountain Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Gurkha Rifles, execute an ambush for paratroopers with the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, May 7, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The soldiers are participating in Yudh Abhyas, an annual bilateral training event between the armies of the United States and India sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

The end user of these equipments, Indian Army, has noted that mismatches in requirement and availability rates as the prime reason for this alarming situation. In a report detailing issues plaguing procurement programs, army has noted that OFB — the sole supplier of ammunitions — lacks credible capability and expertise to meet the demands. Another reason according to army is the dismal performance of contracted foreign vendors in supplying the requisite systems.

MoD has stated that multiple procurement schemes have been launched and the noted deficiencies are expected to be substantially reduced by 2019. It has also claimed that a five year roll on indent worth over INR 26,000 Crore has been placed on OFB to facilitate capacity planning and to achieve zero spillages. Further, the ministry is working relentlessly to add traction to the ammunition acquisition road map which was approved in 2013.

The ministry has claimed that these measures will by 2019 revive the WWR levels and will also drastically boost India’s war making and sustainability levels.

© Karthik Kakoor