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August 25, 2014

Army's ammunition won't last 20 days of war

 Even as mortars and guns once again boom along the border with Pakistan, alarm bells continue to clang over the crippling shortage of ammunition reserves in the 1.18-million strong Indian Army.

In a grim reality check in March, TOI had reported that India did not have enough ammunition to undertake a full-blown war with "intense fighting" for even 20 days. Six months down the line, the situation on the ground has not changed much.

Officials, however, contend the Modi government is "fully cognizant" of the "shocking state of affairs". Though "urgent steps" are being taken, it will take time to build up the war wastage reserves (WWR) due to the "long-winded" arms procurement procedures as well as the sluggish performance of the 39 factories under the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), they say.

The WWR, incidentally, should be sufficient for 30 days of "intense" and 30 days of "normal" fighting. With three days of "normal" equal to one of "intense", the WWR should consequently be adequate for 40 days of "intense" fighting.
"But there are deficiencies across the board. The critical ones are for tank and air defence ammunition, anti-tank guided missiles, specialized machine-gun magazines, grenades, mine fuses and the like. Some types of ammunition will not last even a week in a full-fledged war," said a source.As per the overall Army "ammunition roadmap", the WWR will reach 100% only by 2019 if there is budgetary support of around Rs 97,000 crore. "While 23 types of ammunition have to be imported, OFB will manufacture the rest," said another source.

Phase-I of the roadmap will ensure deficiency of critical ammunition is made up to sustain 20 days of "intense" fighting and three years of training ammunition by March 2015. This will cost Rs 19,250 crore.

Under it, Rs 963 crore worth of ammunition was ordered from the OFB in 2013-2014, while contracts worth another Rs 1,964 crore are already underway in the ongoing fiscal. Similarly, orders for 15,000 3UBK-Invar missiles and 66,000 armour-piercing rounds for the T-90S main-battle tanks have already been inked.
Moreover, 17 import cases are now being "progressed'' for specialized ammunition. "Around 10 RFPs (request for proposals) have already been issued. These things take time. Overall, for instance, there were 23 contracts worth Rs 16,177 crore inked for the Army in 2013-2014," said an official.
But ammunition shortages have become the norm in the world's second-largest Army over the last couple of decades. India, in fact, had to undertake "emergency purchases" at exorbitant prices from Israel during the almost 70-day but limited Kargil conflict in 1999.
Ammunition, incidentally, is held at three levels. The "first line" of "on-weapon" and "unit reserve" is held at the battalion-level. The "second line" is with brigades and divisions. Finally, there is the WWR held in a dispersed manner in different depots.
- Timesofindia 

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