Indian Army: State of War Readiness – A Contemporary Perspective
Brig (retd) Rahul Bhonsle

Overview of State of Readiness

There has been much focus on capital procurements regarding artillery guns, fighter aircraft and submarines for fighting wars in the future. These are no doubt essential to ensure that the nation is ready to face a future challenge given the uncertain security environment in the neighbourhood and programme of rapid modernization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). At the same time given the constant threat of proxy war waged by Pakistan, the Pathankot terrorist attack being a grim reminder, there is as much need to ensure readiness to fight wars today as in the future. A series of exposures in the media in 2012-13 revealed a high state of hollowness in the Indian armed forces and more particularly in the Army. The state of ammunition, in particular, was considered critical while the level of holdings indicated to be adequate for fighting a ten days war. The Ministry of Defence has reported in the parliament that appropriate measures have been undertaken to redress this shortcoming. Indian Army’s challenge of preparedness thus envisages being ready for battle today while preparing to deter a war tomorrow. Provision of budgeting for both these contingencies is a sine qua nan. In the light of the above, some issues which need to be examined include the current state of ammunition, availability of funds for procurement and raising of the mountain strike corps.

Status of Ammunition Holdings – An Assessment

Ammunition is a critical warfighting requirement. Scales of holdings are laid down for this purpose at the national level regarding War Wastage Reserves which are estimates of ammunition that will be expended in the case of an outbreak of hostilities. This is regarding intense (I) and Normal (N) rates that are in the case of intense and normal battlefield activity.

In the recent past, the a Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG) report had passed severe strictures on the Indian Army for shortages in ammunition. "While availability of authorised stock against War Wastage Reserve (WWR) to meet the expected duration of operation formed the basic criteria for ensuring the operational readiness of the Army, we found during the review that against the WWR of 40 (I) days, the availability of ammunition was only in 10 per cent of the total types of ammunition held (March 2013),” the report said. “Further, in 50 per cent of the total types of ammunition, the holding was 'critical, ' i.e., less than 10 (I) days," it said.

"To tide over the persistent acute shortages, the AHQ had set (1999) a minimum threshold of MARL (Minimum Acceptable Risk Level) 20 (I) days to be achieved first. We found that even after 15 years, the threshold of MARL could not be achieved. The acute shortage was a serious cause of concern directly impairing the operational readiness of the Army," it said.

The report is for the period 2008-2013. As of now the shortage may not be 15-25 % of various types of ammunition as the Army has managed to make up deficiencies given the exposure of the issue in the public domain from time to time. The entire ammunition is likely to be made up in a couple of years.

The exposure of the deficiency and its persistence for one and a half decades from 1999 to 2013 indicates the need for a structured approach to effective management of ammunition as it affects operational readiness of the Army. With two primary sources of acquisition - Ordnance Factory Board and import - forecasting, follow up and timely action in the case of shortfall rather than accepting the same as a matter, of course, is necessary. This was lacking from 2008-2013 but is now hopefully on stream.

The roadmap for making up deficiencies o f ammunition is planned to cost Rs 19,250 Crore to make up 50 percent war wastage reserves of ammunition by end of 2015 and 100 percent by 2019 at a cost of Rs 19,250 crore.

As ammunition is procured from production agencies based on a five-year roll plan, streamlining the planning process, coordination and interaction with production agencies should be effectively managed to ensure that alarming deficiencies which are indicative of poor management do not recur. A holistic roll on plan to include procurement ex-import and ex-trade to build up adequately targeted stocks in addition to training requirements will ensure adequate stocks are available at all times.

There are issues related to ammunition manufacturing capacities. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is reportedly capable of manufacturing all types of ammunition. Modern tank and artillery ammunition, however, have to be imported. Concerning indigenous production, there appears to be a lack of accountability in the OFB as even though there is a five-year roll on indent by the services it has failed to meet the requirements with deficiencies of approximately 25 percent which is inexcusable. Greater accountability of the OFB is necessary to ensure that indents placed as per roll on the plan are provisioned and the requirements for the services are met in full.

Funding Challenges

Ammunition is a part of the Stores head of the Revenue Budget of the Army. As per the structured plan of the Army deficiencies in the War Wastage Reserve of ammunition are projected to be completed by 2017-18. This was ensured by provision of an additional Rs 700 Crore in the Revised Budget Estimates in 2014-15 and Rs 1500 Crore from the budget estimates of the same year and an increase of Rs 2500 Crore from the 2013-14 expenditure. The approximate requirement under the Stores head for the Army is Rs 20,000 Crore per year as against the same the Army was allocated Rs 15,990 Crore in the Revised Estimates for 2014-15 and Rs 16697.84 Crores in the Budget Estimates for 2015-16. This would imply a shortfall in funding of Rs 7300 Crore in the past two years. This would have necessitated cutting quantities in procurements be it ammunition or other items. However, the reduction in allocations in the budget concerning demands made remains a perennial challenge.

The Parliamentary Committee on Defence has noted that while each year the Army got a major share of Defence Budget. However, it has been getting less than projections. Thus, while the Army projected a requirement of Rs. 93355.38 Crore for the Revenue outlay, it was allocated only Rs. 81119.20 Crore in the budget for 2013-14. This is almost a 15 percent shortfall. For the Capital outlay, as against Rs. 25528.08 Crore projected, Rs. 17883.83 Crore was allocated. Here the shortfall in 2013-14 is likely to be as large as 25 percent.

There is shortage of funds as generally projections by the MOD for the armed forces are reduced by the Ministry of Finance in the final budget by 25 percent or so. This is a vicious cycle - there is a problem of budget management wherein surrender from capital account and internal adjustments have led to the loss of credibility of the MOD financial management which in turn leads the Ministry of Finance to believe that the services can do with lesser allocations.

However, the Army has streamlined budget management which was one of the shortcomings of the past. Thus as per six monthly statement of expenditure for 2015-16 [April – September 2015] of the Rs 104158.95 Crore allocated under the Revenue head to the Army Rs 50318.44 Crore or 48% has been expended. The performance was even better in the previous budget year 2014-15 for the comparative period where expenditure was 53% up to September. Thus hopefully, the Budget allocations for 2016-17 which are being considered by the Finance Ministry will ensure that Services projections are fully met.

Streamlining Procurement – Case of Bullet Proof Jacket

The necessity for streamlining procurement to ensure deficiencies do not accumulate is well established. A case in point is that of acquisition of bullet proof jackets (BPJ) by the Indian Army. The BPJ is an essential protection for a soldier fighting in a counterinsurgency environment. A good BPJ is a life saver as well as gives the requisite confidence to the soldier to engage in close quarter combat in the counterinsurgency environment. While there is a long-standing requirement of 1,86, 138 BPJs for the Indian Army accepted by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) through Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) in October 2009 for capital procurement by 2012, these have yet to be acquired.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar in a question in the parliament recently stated that the tender or the request for proposal (RFP) "was retracted on October 5 as the bullet-proof jackets fielded by the vendors failed in the trials". There are reports that the Ministry of Defence is now carrying out "emergency revenue procurement" of 50,000 jackets. Two Indian firms (Tata Advanced Materials and MKU) have been shortlisted and trials are due shortly. It is pertinent to note that a critical warfighting aid for the soldier could not be procured for the past six years and is likely to be delayed for at least a couple of years, indicating the necessity for streamlining procurement of essential items. Such equipment has to pre-trialed and inducted through the Buy (Indian) or even Buy (Global) route so that soldier safety and battlefield efficiency is not impacted.

Mountain Strike Corps

The aim of raising a mountain strike corps is to provide adequate capability to the armed forces to deter attempts by the adversary, China to upset the status quo and grab land in claimed area of Arunachal Pradesh or other sectors. Reports indicate that the plan has been delayed given paucity of funds with competing requirements of the services. There is an impression in some quarters that induction of technology will reduce the dependence on manpower. While technology has brought about revolutionary changes in conventional warfare in the plains and the desert sectors, the impact of wars in the mountains or on counter-insurgency militancy operations remains limited. The adage that mountains eat away troops is true even in the 21st Century as intervening terrain features in the mountains severely restricted visibility, fields of fire of direct firing weapons while restricting mobility to foot or light vehicles. This necessitates a greater number of troop deployment on the ground.

The delay in raising of the mountain strike corps comes even as China has undertaken major reforms of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). A united front has now been formed by combining the Lanzhou and Chengdu Military Area Commands into a West Zone with the aim of jointness synergy and flexible application of force in Xinjiang and Tibet. This development has increased the level of threat on the Northern borders as the West Zone commander would have at his disposal forces from Xinjiang for application in the Medog sector opposite Arunachal Pradesh. This has effectively overcome the local force superiority that was created by raising of two new divisions in the defensive role in the Eastern Command. There is, therefore, a necessity for prioritising raising of 17 Mountain Strike Corps so that the formation is battle ready by 2020 thus deterring any designs for an adventure in the Eastern sector by China.

Conclusion

The necessity for enhancing efficiency in planning and provisioning of essential items of equipment for the armed forces procurements is underlined. Systemic measures are necessary to ensure that requirements are anticipated well in advance and procurement process initiated, so that contemporary and state of the art equipment is available to the defence forces. Deficiencies in WWR ammunition in no case can be acceptable. Budgeting for defence requirements has to be streamlined so that adequate funds are available for essential purchases. At the same time creating long term capacities such as the 17 Mountain Strike Corps cannot be relegated to the background due to alternative competing requirements.


Published Date: 22nd February 2016, Image Source: http://www.indiatimes.com
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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