Rajnath Singh warns Pakistan, but bullets aren't limitless and neither is optimism about weapons made in India

Home Minister Rajnath Singh's assertion that India will respond to each Pakistani shot with limitless bullets is flawed on two counts: The first is grammatical. Although to many the words ‘unlimited’ and ‘limitless’ are identical, there is a difference. The unlimited supply is subject to change: There might be an unlimited amount today but it could be curtailed by a prescribed limit tomorrow. Limitless suggest a more infinite supply: Forever, with no chance of the supply deteriorating.

File image of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

File image of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

For those that see this as nitpicking, the fact remains: We do not have a limitless supply of bullets and it is doubtful whether it is, at present, unlimited. When placed in perspective, Singh's brave words address a major issue in the armed forces.

Recall the furore last year over the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) report which unequivocally stated we were woefully low in 61 of the 152 categories of firepower. That is a 40 percent shortfall across the board. In fact, it was a worrying revelation that instead of the requisite 40 days of capability in an all-out conflict, we'd be scraping the bottom of the ammunition box by day 10.

With the defence budget not as robust as expected in 2018, it became a matter of deep urgency that we import ammunition of different calibres or make in India. To this effect, eight selected munitions ranging from 30 mm bullets to 125 mm armour-piercing shells to a variety of grenades and mortars were chosen for indigenous manufacture some months ago. The shortage of the standard 7.62 bullets for the army’s SLR (self-loading rifle) and 9mm sten guns also needed to be addressed. It is not clear, as of now, to what extent that slack was covered in these few weeks.

A 10-year contract was given for indigenous manufacture of ammunition in order to reduce the dependence on imports and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave it the go-ahead. The problem then, is quality control of the ‘make in India’ endorsement and there is nothing worse for morale than sub-standard firepower. If a soldier has no faith in his weapon’s ability to hold its own and not jam or play dud on the firing pin, his efficiency is dramatically reduced.

Earlier this week, news emerged that 1,430 out of 4,600 bulletproof vests — ordered by the Maharashtra police from a Kanpur-based manufacturer — were returned after being easily penetrated by bullets from AK-47s. And herein lies the test. Whenever we buy from abroad, the stench of scandal never seems to be far behind. The Bofors 155 mm scoot and shoot field gun, the Czech pistols, the Agusta choppers, now even the poor Rafale fourth-generation fighter: They all paid the price of human folly.

If we decide to make in India, not only do we often get it wrong (remember the Kirkee factory .12 gauge shells as compared to the Eleys from the United Kingdom?) and ironically, there are not many contenders in the military shopping arcade in India. Last year, the army rejected the 7.62 mm assault rifle made in Ishapore because of weak firepower and below-par quality. Prior to that, it dumped the Excalibur, a 5.56 mm rifle made by the Defence Research and Development Organisation because it failed to meet standards. Even the Arjun and Bhishma armour have been assessed as mediocre and we carry on with Russian T-90s.

Having lagged behind for seventy years the military (inferiority) complex has now become a mindset. Even though Modi encouraging the manufacturing sector to pick up the slack on military assembly lines has seen nods of assent, the absence of a nationwide infrastructure and the shortage of trained personnel on the shop floor and high quality and hugely expensive machines to make weapons generate commercial hesitation. Dealing with the military is always a bit intimidating and civilians often balk.

We are far behind where we should be. For one of the largest standing forces in the world to not be self-reliant makes no sense. It is a sobering thought that we spend seven times the money on maintaining our forces than we do on weaponry.

Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 19:57 PM

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