The WOR­RI­SOME STATE OF In­dian army



Two days from today, the Army will cel­e­brate Army Day with the Chief of Army Staff tak­ing the salute at the cus­tom­ary Army pa­rade in the Delhi Can­ton­ment pa­rade ground with much fan­fare. The same Army Day pa­rade con­tin­gents will form a dom­i­nant part of the an­nual Repub­lic Day pa­rade on 26 Jan­uary on Raj Path, Delhi’s most iconic road that links Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van to India Gate.

But be­hind the im­pres­sive dis­play of sol­diers and war fight­ing equip­ment at these two mon­u­men­tal pa­rades con­tin­ues an un­sat­is­fac­tory story: A dis­ap­point­ing and wor­ri­some story of un­der­pre­pared­ness, de­fi­ciency and ob­so­les­cence. This sor­did state of af­fairs has been in per­pe­tu­ity since long and noth­ing tan­gi­ble seems to have been done to re­verse this neg­a­tive state of af­fairs.

Con­sider the fol­low­ing: A stag­ger­ing 68% of the Army’s equip­ment is of vin­tage category against the norm of one-third vin­tage, one-third cur­rent and one-third sta­teof-the-art category. In­stead, the Army’s equip­ment is of­fi­cially cal­cu­lated at 68% vin­tage, 24% cur­rent and only 8% state-of-the-art. No won­der the Army had to go on a quick and fast buy­ing spree for cer­tain spe­cialised equip­ment to ex­e­cute the five si­mul­ta­ne­ous re­tal­ia­tory strikes on the Pak­istani side of the Line of Con­trol.

How pre­pared is the Army to fight an in­tense or long con­ven­tional war? “Not very”, is the short an­swer. The Army is suf­fer­ing a se­vere short­age of ev­ery type of am­mu­ni­tion in its in­ven­tory. The War Wastage Re­serve (WWR) am­mu­ni­tion, the re­serves of am­mu­ni­tion needed for meet­ing the re­quire­ments of 40 days of in­tense war or a full scale war, con­tin­ues to be at a crit­i­cal level es­pe­cially for the Army’s tank and ar­tillery reg­i­ments.

A re­port pre­pared by the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral tabled in Par­lia- ment last July was sub­se­quently soon re­moved from the web­site be­cause of the highly sen­si­tive rev­e­la­tions that it con­tains. The rather star­tling data re­veals that as many as 55 types of am­mu­ni­tion are be­low the Min­i­mum Ac­cept­able Risk Level (MARL). MARL is the Army’s re­quire­ment for am­mu­ni­tion for 20 days and is con­sid­ered the “min­i­mum in­escapable re­quire­ment” to be main­tained at all times to meet the Army’s op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness.

Fur­ther­more, 40% of the am­mu­ni­tion is at a shock­ingly crit­i­cal level with a stock of less than 10 days. This means the Army lacks the abil­ity to fight even a short in­tense war last­ing about 10 to 15 days. Then again, out of the to­tal 152 types of am­mu­ni­tion, the stock of 121 types of am­mu­ni­tion (80%) is be­low the au­tho­ri­sa­tion level of 40 days WWR. Worse, “the avail­abil­ity of high cal­i­bre am­mu­ni­tion re­lat­ing to Ar­moured Fight­ing Ve­hi­cles (tanks) and Ar­tillery are in a more alarm­ing state”, the re­port states.

More re­cently, in his de­po­si­tion be­fore mem­bers of the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence, the Vice Chief of Army Staff ad­mit­ted that the al­lo­ca­tion for mod­erni­sa­tion in the cur­rent fis­cal year (20182019) was in­suf­fi­cient to cater for com­mit­ted li­a­bil­i­ties, on­go­ing schemes, “Make in India” projects, in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment, policy of strate­gic part­ner­ship of for­eign and In­dian com­pa­nies and pro­cure­ment of arms and am­mu­ni­tion. Fur­ther, the Cap­i­tal bud­get has not pro­vided any money to back the fi­nan­cial pow­ers of the Army’s Vice Chief, thereby re­duc­ing the se­cu­rity of mil­i­tary sta­tions and com­pro­mis­ing on other ac­qui­si­tions, not­with­stand­ing the dis­turb­ing ter­ror at­tacks on Army lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing at Uri in Septem­ber 2016.

The prob­lem is sys­temic as much as it is at­ti­tu­di­nal. A lit­tle over a year ago, in De­cem­ber 2017, a 27-point re­port pre­pared by Min­is­ter of State for De­fence Sub­hash Bhamre nar­rates a telling story of the in­cred­u­lous state of af­fairs in the Min­istry of De­fence, not­with­stand­ing a more prag­mat­i­cally re­vised and pre­pared De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP2016) and the “Make in India” an­nounce­ment that is aimed at en­cour­ag­ing, speed­ing up and ex­pand­ing the coun­try’s self-re­liance in its de­fence re­quire­ments.

Point­ing to how dif­fer­ent de­part­ments of the Min­istry of De­fence (MOD) “ap­pear to be work­ing in in­de­pen­dent si­los” driven by their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of policy and pro­ce­dures, the rather can­did re­port states how in the last three fi­nan­cial years (201415, 2015-16 and 2016-17), only 8%-10% of the 144 de­fence pro­cure­ment deals ma­te­ri­alised within the stip­u­lated time pe­riod. This makes it a max­i­mum 14 deals out of 144. The de­lays, a mat­ter of no­to­ri­ety, range be­tween an av­er­age 2.6 to 15.4 times the dead­line of the nine-stage or­der­ing process for de­fence equip­ment.

From the Re­quest for Pro­posal or RFP stage, which is when the gov­ern­ment for­mally reaches out to arms man­u­fac­tur­ers for their pro­pos­als to the fi­nal pur­chase clear­ances, it takes an av­er­age 120 weeks (about two-and-a-quar­ter years), which is six times more than the rules laid down by the MOD in 2016. Most amaz­ingly, the min­is­ter’s re­port points to how the fastest RFP clear­ance was ac­corded in just 17 weeks (about four months), while the slow­est RFP took a stag­ger­ing 422 weeks or slightly over eight long years. Tri­als and Eval­u­a­tion of weapon sys­tems by the Armed Forces takes “an av­er­age time of 89 weeks”, which is three times more than au­tho­rised. The Cost Ne­go­ti­a­tions Com­mit­tee (CNC) stage in­volves de­lays “about ten times more than that al­lowed” be­cause of the Mod’s in­abil­ity to bench­mark costs with global stan­dards “es­pe­cially where an item is be­ing pro­cured for the first time or is in­volved in Trans­fer of Tech­nol­ogy”.

The prob­lem does not lie with just the MOD. The ju­nior min­is­ter’s re­port also as­signs responsibility on the Armed Forces which he terms as “part of the prob­lem” as they list “am­bigu­ous trial di­rec­tives, leav­ing scope for var­ied in­ter­pre­ta­tion”. Also, the Ser­vices too are lack­ing in syn­ergy, the re­port states. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard do not work as a sys­tem, which “puts greater strain on the limited de­fence bud­get and as a re­sult we are un­able to meet the crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity re­quire­ments”, the re­port points out.

But on the whole, re­veals the re­port, ac­qui­si­tion of equip­ment for India’s de­fence needs are be­ing fre­quently crip­pled by “mul­ti­ple and dif­fused struc­tures with no sin­gle point ac­count­abil­ity, Multi-decision heads, du­pli­ca­tion of pro­cesses, de­layed com­ments, de­layed ex­e­cu­tion, no real-time mon­i­tor­ing, no project-based ap­proach and a ten­dency to fault-find rather than to fa­cil­i­tate”, ob­serves the highly ex­plo­sive re­port.

No won­der, the re­port points out, that the Armed Forces, as even­tual users of the weapon sys­tems, “con­tinue to view the Ac­qui­si­tion Wing (of the MOD) as an ob­sta­cle rather than a fa­cil­i­ta­tor”. So there needs to be a “tec­tonic change in the mind­set of the (de­fence) min­istry of­fi­cials and the need of the hour is as­sign­ing responsibility and ac­count­abil­ity”, the re­port ad­vises, while damn­ingly ob­serv­ing how as a re­sult of these flaws the gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship “Make in India” ini­tia­tive for the de­fence sec­tor (launched in 2014) “con­tin­ues to lan­guish at the al­tar of pro­ce­dural de­lays and has failed to demon­strate its true po­ten­tial”.

Pa­rades and brave state­ments apart, the gov­ern­ment needs to en­sure that the coun­try’s last and ul­ti­mate in­stru­ment is never found want­ing. This is a ne­glect that India can ill af­ford.

Di­nesh Ku­mar is a de­fence an­a­lyst.

Sol­diers from In­dian Army and China’s Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) take part in the Hand-in-hand joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cise in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince, China, on 11 De­cem­ber 2018. REUTERS

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