Crit­i­cal short­ages – Where is the money?

SP's MAI - - MILITARY | VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the author.

Me­dia re­ports head­lin­ing ur­gent arms deals of ` 20,000 crore have been signed to keep the armed forces ‘ready’ cre­ate an im­pres­sion that all is go­ing to be hunky-dory in a jiffy is a mis­nomer. If you read be­tween the lines, the re­ports are talk­ing of only am­mu­ni­tion. More sig­nif­i­cantly, the noise is be­ing made over the fact that gov­ern­ment wants to en­sure mil­i­tary must have suf­fi­cient am­mu­ni­tion to fight for at least 10 days.

As per op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments, the Army is re­quired to hold War Wastage Re­serves (WWR) suf­fi­cient for 30 days of ‘in­tense’ fight­ing plus 30 days of ‘nor­mal’ fight­ing (to­tal of 60 days) but these have been al­lowed to de­plete as part of the ne­glected de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity past sev­eral years. Noth­ing much hap­pened when the let­ter by Gen­eral V.K. Singh, then Army Chief (now the Min­is­ter of State for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs), wrote to then Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh about the crit­i­cal de­fi­cien­cies in the Army, in­clud­ing am­mu­ni­tion hold­ings. Though the let­ter was de­lib­er­ately leaked to the me­dia be­cause of ul­te­rior mo­tives, there was to­tal in­ac­tion for mak­ing up the crit­i­cal voids.

Now this news about mak­ing sure that at least 10 days worth of am­mu­ni­tion for fight­ing will be made avail­able does not cut much ice. Can the gov­ern­ment vouch that any fu­ture war will end in 10 days? If not, does the gov­ern­ment plan to re­quest the en­emy take a break mid­way in the bat­tle so that we can pro­cure more am­mu­ni­tion. But that is not all. Ex­pe­ri­ence will tell you that it usu­ally takes a num­ber of years be­fore a deal is inked and its fruc­ti­fi­ca­tion. One ex­am­ple is the ‘emer­gent’ pro­cure­ment of 50,000 bul­let proof jack­ets an­nounced by De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar which have still not fully fetched up, even as the over­all de­fi­ciency of bul­let proof jack­ets in the Army shot past the fig­ure of 3,50,000 dur­ing 2016. Now if that is the norm for just bul­let proof jack­ets, in what time frame will am­mu­ni­tion of var­i­ous types worth ` 20,000 crore be pro­cured? Sure, the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia (CAG) has taken note of crit­i­cal short­age of am­mu­ni­tion when the alarming re­port was tabled in Par­lia­ment. So has this me­dia re­port been re­leased to sat­isfy CAG’s ob­ser­va­tions? The harsh truth is that the Fi­nance

Min­is­ter has pre­sented a sec­ond suc­ces­sive bud- get that is ‘neg­a­tive’ de­spite that height­en­ing of ten­sions on the bor­ders and the China-Pak­istan anti-In­dia nexus mag­ni­fy­ing.

Fac­tu­ally, the de­fence al­lo­ca­tion made on Fe­bru­ary 1, 2017, and the hype about the 6 per cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year’s al­lo­ca­tion is poor at­tempt to white­wash the 10-15 per cent an­nual in­crease in de­fence costs. Given the mea­gre de­fence al­lo­ca­tion of ` 2,74,000 crore, ` 86,500 crore of which is for cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture, can the gov­ern­ment re­ally buy ` 20,000 crore of am­mu­ni­tion from the rev­enue bud­get given the ris­ing man­power costs in­clud­ing for ac­cre­tion man­power on ac­count of new rais­ings, which would en­tail salaries, 7th Cen­tral Pay Com­mis­sion hikes, food, cloth­ing, tavel, med­i­cal, etc., even if pen­sions are not part of the an­nounced de­fence bud­get. So in all prob­a­bil­ity, the same old tac­tics of ‘red tape’ will be ap­plied — spread­ing this pro­cure­ment over years.

De­spite paint­ing the op­ti­mistic note, me­dia ob­vi­ously is privy to the true pic­ture when elab­o­rat­ing that while the 2017-18 may not have al­lo­cated much, but the armed forces are gung-ho about the fast-track pro­ce­dure now in place to en­sure ‘ser­vice­abil­ity and avail­abil­ity’ of ex­ist­ing weapon sys­tems and plat­forms. Now who are we fool­ing? Sure the gov­ern­ment has set up em­pow­ered pro­cure­ment com­mit­tees un­der the Vice Chiefs of the three Ser­vices with emer­gency fi­nan­cial pow­ers to make up de­fi­cien­cies in stock­piles, and ‘some’ con­tracts have been con­cluded by the Army and the Air Force, but have suf­fi­cient funds been put aside for these em­pow­ered com­mit­tees to make up the crit­i­cal voids?

The fact is that there are enor­mous crit­i­cal de­fi­cien­cies in a host of com­po­nents of op­er­a­tional com­po­nents, not just am­mu­ni­tion. Have we for­got­ten that Gen­eral (later Field Mar­shal) S.H.F.J. Manek­shaw had told then Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi that he would need few months of prepa­ra­tion, even though the Prime Min­is­ter wanted im­me­di­ate in­ter­ven­tion in East Pak­istan (now Bangladesh). We can­not have such lux­ury when en­emy is at­tack­ing us. It is time the ac­cu­mu­lated crit­i­cal de­fi­cien­cies and their ad­verse strate­gic fall­out be taken more se­ri­ously.

The Army is re­quired to hold War Wastage Re­serves (WWR) suf­fi­cient for 30 days of ‘in­tense’ fight­ing plus 30 days of ‘nor­mal’ fight­ing (to­tal of 60 days) but these have been al­lowed to de­plete as part of the ne­glected de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity past sev­eral years



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