The report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), which highlights a serious shortage of ammunition in the Indian Army, has caused considerable concern and raised questions about the preparedness of the armed forces to fight a war.
An earlier CAG report had mentioned the poor state of ammunition management in the army for the period 2008-13. The latest report is a follow-up audit and it has not noted any significant improvement in the availability and quality of ammunition supplied by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to the forces. The CAG has stated that the army faces a shortfall of 40 per cent.
This would mean that 61 out of 152 types of ammunition available were meant for less than 10 days of fighting a war, whereas the army is supposed to hold stocks of ammunition for 40 days of an intense war.
The shortage of artillery and tank ammunition is very serious and critical, as 83 per cent of this high calibre ammunition might turn out to be useless because of the dearth of “fuses” which are essential components of ammunition activation. The report has also mentioned “irregularities and inefficiencies” in purchases which have made the situation worse. Imports of equipment at prices higher than the actual cost, overhaul of engines that exceeded the cost of a new engine, choice of manufactures without the necessary skills and unreliable suppliers are many other problems highlighted by the report.
One wonders why the three Chiefs of the armed forces have not expressed concern over the serious lapses in the procurement of ammunition?
They should have brought this crucial issue to the notice of the Prime Minister if the Ministry of Defence was not paying heed to their demand.
How can the defence forces be treated so shabbily?
The opposition members raised the issue of defence preparedness in the wake of a CAG report flagging that the Army was facing a critical shortage of ammunition. In response, the ad hoc Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley ,said on 25 July that the armed forces are “reasonably and sufficiently equipped” to defend the sovereignty of the country.
Jaitley said the CAG report has 2013 as a reference point and there have been follow-ups ~ “Subsequently thereafter, significant progress has been made,” he said. “Procedures (for procurement of arms and ammunition) have been simplified, powers decentralised and the armed forces are reasonably and sufficiently equipped.”
The claim that the forces are “reasonably and sufficiently” equipped does not fully answer the concerns. The word “reasonably” is vague and gives the impression that stocks are below the norms.
The minister’s statement that the CAG report was about the situation in 2013 is also incorrect. Even if the figures presented by the CAG are overstated, they present the picture of an army ill-equipped to fight a war.
The deficiencies mentioned in the report call for action over a long-term, but earnest efforts should have started by now. With tensions rising on the borders and the serious internal situation, security preparedness should get the highest priority.
However, the Opposition was not satisfied with the reply and put tough posers to the government. It wanted the government to appoint a permanent defence minister in view of the tension on the Jammu and Kashmir and India-China-Bhutan borders. The dire need of appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) recommended by various committees for “single advice” on matters pertaining to defence and national security is imperative.
The armed forces have sought an allocation of Rs.26.84 lakh crore ($416 billion) over the next five years to ensure military modernisation and maintenance to take on the collusive threat from Pakistan and China as well as to safeguard India’s expanding geostrategic interests.
Defence ministry sources said the 13th consolidated defence five-year plan for 2017-22, which has been pegged at Rs.26,83,924 crore after extensive consultations with all stakeholders, including the DRDO, was presented at the Unified Commanders’ Conference on July 10-11.
The armed forces pitched for an early approval to the 13th Plan because their annual acquisition plans are based on it. These projections for higher defence outlays come at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a tense but “non-aggressive” face-off near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction, while the daily firing duels with Pakistan along the Line of Control continue to take a toll on both sides.
Jaitley, who addressed the conference, assured the armed forces that capital expenditure for modernisation projects would be “a priority area” with resource availability increasing within the economy. But it is also true that the actual annual defence budgets have shown a discernible trend of declining modernisation budgets, unspent funds and skewed revenue-to-capital expenditure ratio, which have meant that the Army, Navy and IAF continue to grapple with critical operational gaps on several fronts. In the 2017-18-defence budget, for instance, the Rs.1,72,774 crorerevenue outlay by far outstrips the capital one of Rs.86,488 crore for modern weapon systems.
Moreover, the Rs.2.74 lakh crore-defence budget works out to just 1.56 per cent of the projected GDP, the lowest such figure since the 1962 war with China.
The forces want the defence budget to progressively reach at least 2.5 to 3 per cent of the GDP for their operational requirements.
As per the 13th Defence Plan, Rs.12,88,654 crore has been projected for the capital outlay, while Rs 13,95,271 crore for revenue expenditure. With an eye firmly on China, there is also a separate section in the plan on the “capability development” of the strategically-located tri-Service Andaman and Nicobar Command, which was set up in October 2001 but has suffered from relative neglect, lack of infrastructure and turfwars.
The armed forces will concurrently work to improve their poor teeth-to-tail ratio as well as ensure proper inter-service prioritisation in procurement, thrust on indigenisation, and optimal utilisation of funds. They also want a concerted effort to prevent the yearly surrender of funds.
The defence five-year plans are formulated in consonance with existing threat perceptions, the “RakshaMantri’s operational directives” and the 15-year longterm integrated perspective plan (LTIPP). However, they have not received much attention from successive governments, with the 10th (2002-07), 11th (2007- 12) and 12th (2012-17) Plans failing to get approval from the finance ministry.
Shortage of ammunition, inefficiency and irregularities in procurement of modern defence equipment and also the neglect of the army is affecting the morale and battle-worthiness of the defence forces.
This should be the highest priority of the government, specifically to make its army strong like Israel if it desires to make India free from enemy hostilities.