Indian Army low on ammunition and supplies, but Nirmala Sitharaman insists vice chiefs given enough power to solve problem

Hyper-nationalistic sentiment extolling the Indian Army’s glory and supreme valour cannot place an iron shield on the truth that the defence forces are low on ammunition. A CAG Audit Report on Ammunition Management in Army presented on 8 May, 2015 states: "In disregard of the approved authorisation of 40 (I) days, AHQ procured ammunition based on the basis of Bottom Line or Minimum Acceptable Risk Level (MARL) requirements which averaged to 20 (I) days i.e. 50 percent of the War Wastage Reserve that is intended to meet the requirements for the expected duration of war."

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaking at the News18 Rising India Summit. News18

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaking at the News18 Rising India Summit. News18

Nearly two years after that report became public, Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh painted a grim picture of India’s ammunition arsenal at the News18 Rising India Summit. The minister, who served in the infantry in the 60s and 70s, said that we need 42 squadrons of Air Force for a collision with Pakistan and China but we have only around 21 or 22: Of which seven squadrons are obsolete. He went on to share that as many as 66 regiments of the army didn’t have ammunition and were using practice ammunition that has been lying around for far too long.

Amarinder revealed that his regiment, currently posted in Kashmir, just lost a major and three jawans. He added that young men on India’s borders are being made to use the 5.56 mm assault rifles against their wishes and are quickly losing confidence in their weapons, and as a result, feel more comfortable using AK-47s seized from terrorists.

Until now, about one lakh AK-47s have been seized by the Indian forces. “Every day, we are losing a soldier in Kashmir. I know because I pay Rs 12 lakh compensation for every soldier’s body that comes back to Punjab,” said Amarinder, adding that 68 percent of the army’s equipment is vintage and modernisation of weaponry won’t happen unless adequate funds are pumped into the nerves of the army.

Sources within the forces, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed that there is a dearth of 155 mm guns and regiments are being equipped with 105 mm guns instead. They expressed the need for more TNT explosives which can be delivered to enemy locations and more ammunition for rockets such as Pinaka and Smerch. They also shared that the programme to equip infantry with state-of-the-art navigation system, night fighting capability and bulletproof jackets is far behind schedule.

On the penultimate session of the final day of the News18 Rising India Summit, Defence Minister Niramala Sitharam was asked to address Amarinder's concerns. Regarding the preparedness of the armed forces, Sitharaman said, "We have addressed the issue of low reserves of ammunition. Chiefs have been given enough power to take a call on the need of equipment."

Speaking about budget allocation for defence, Sitharaman first separated allocation for pensions and modernisation and added she is happy that the defence ministry got both. “Both my predecessors and myself reviewed pending projects and took action. I understand a lot more funds are required for modernisation, but everything has been done after consultation,” said Sitharaman, the first female defence minister with full charge of the ministry (for former prime minister Indira Gandhi, defence was an additional charge).

Less than a week ago, Vice Chief Lt Gen Sarath Chand, told a parliamentary panel that the defence budget dashed the hopes of the army. “Allocation of Rs 21,388 crore for modernisation is insufficient even to cater for committed payments of Rs 29,033 crore for 125 ongoing schemes, emergency procurement and other requirements,” he said. The vice chief further indicated that one of the results of this could possibly be the foreclosure of 25 Make in India Defence projects in the pipeline.

Sitharaman said she did not wish to comment on the vice chief’s remarks on outdated weaponry while Parliament is in session, but said she would speak on it in Parliament at the appropriate time.

Asked whether Make in India has succeeded, Sitharaman said the government is now extremely confident that defence procurement will be smoother and procedures will be simpler.

She added that nearly 21 projects have been given out to Indian private sector. “If one wants to invest, you can come and tell us suo motu and we will consider it.” Under the Arms Rules, 2016, government opened up the ammunition manufacturing to the private sector, which was, until quite recently, restricted to the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU). The annual ammunition market size in India exceeds $1 billion and there is scope of additional annual capacity of approximately $250 million in the private sector.

Earlier this week, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in association with Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS) a military policy think-tank, held an event entitled Ammo India 2018 - an International Conference on Military Ammunition: Make in India Opportunities and Challenges.

The literature about the event on the website makes it clear that a push is being given to developing domestic production and reducing reliance on imports. It states that ‘the present policy of ammunition manufacture juxtaposed with the volumes provides unique opportunities to the private industry to develop the capacity and capability and engage in Joint Ventures with foreign OEMs. Several overseas defence companies, are already negotiating with private Indian companies to provide cutting-edge technology for manufacture of multiple ammunition programs.’

The same sentiment reverberated on the stage at the News18 Rising India Summit with Sitharaman saying that the focus should be on making India a manufacturing hub of defence equipment with the mission being a reduction of dependence on imports and at the same time boosting India's defence preparedness.

Is India war ready? “I am glad to say we have addressed the issue and have enough ammunition for 10(I) or ten days of intensive war. The vice chiefs have been given enough power and enough financial limits have also been sanctioned,” the defence minister stated.

Whether the machinery is being made in India or abroad, the soldier is waiting.

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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2018 16:43:16 IST

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