Critical shortages – Where is the money?

- 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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