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Indian Army still battling with insufficient arsenal

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-08-2017 Shashi Shekhar

There is bad news for those Facebook warriors in India thirsting for a war with China and Pakistan. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on the Indian Army submitted to Parliament has some significantly disturbing findings. Despite all its bravery, our army is battling with a drastic shortfall of necessary arsenal.

The report is a follow-up to the conclusions of May 2015. Its objective was to evaluate the progress that has been made over the last three years. The CAG report on ammunition management reveals that the situation in September 2016 has not changed much since March 2013.

The reason? Our ordnance factories have not improved their output or quality and the procurement process continues to run on the old pattern. The wish list of weaponry that the army headquarters wanted to acquire, which was on the government’s files, had not been fulfilled even till January 2017.

The CAG report also says that of the 170 kinds of ammunition in 2013, just 27% was ready for 20 days of intense fighting, while in September 2016, 80% ammunition was below the required levels. The situation has improved only marginally in the months that followed. The government has given the rights for procurement to the vice-chief of the army staff in the event of an emergency. With this, the risk has reduced but it hasn’t entirely vanished.

In this situation, the question that may come to one’s mind is whether the government has set a standard where it should have a minimum level of arsenal and the associated ammunition. The ministry of defence had devised a roadmap in 2013 according to which it had to procure 20 days of ammunition that was necessary to win a small-scale war, by 2015. It was also decided that these supplies would be increased to 40 days by 2019 so that we can prepare for bigger battles. Both these objectives are hanging fire.

Another thing is that even the biggest marksman and commando can forget his craft without adequate practice. According to this report, the army has had to cut down on its training drills in the light of the shortage of essential resources. The shortfall in resources required for training is between 77% and 88%. Can you imagine any country winning a war without the requisite ammunition and training?

The situation continues to be so bad despite facing the repercussions of such shortfalls during the war with China in 1962. Even then, our soldiers were neither equipped with the requisite weapons, nor maps that are essential in the dangerous mountainous terrain. 

We may have won the Kargil war in 1999, but at what cost? At the end of Operation Vijay, the shoulders of the Indian nation-state were drooping with the burden of 537 martyrs. Even during this war, the shortfall of essential ammunition had been revealed. When the initial group of soldiers tried to scale the high peaks, they didn’t have the requisite clothes and shoes essential for snow-bound terrain. This has been the sorry picture of our military affairs from 1962 to 1999. Who should be held accountable for this mess? 

With utmost humility, I hold the nation’s political class responsible for this. The manner in which the Bofors ghost was invoked and then used to pursue selfish political goals for years together instilled terror in Delhi’s political corridors. Politicians began to be reluctant of buying the ammunition essential for the army and an issue critical to the nation’s security was pushed to the background.

The time has come when our politicians stop the mudslinging and create a consensus on subjects of national interest. Just because our soldiers are not afraid of making the highest sacrifice, none of us have a right to push them into the mouth of death. On 26 July, in the memory of Operation Vijay, many Indians organized events and sang patriotic songs. But how many of those participating in this group of loudmouths was perturbed over the findings of the CAG report?

The country’s foreign and military policy should be guided by facts, not emotions. When we choose a government, we should also allow it to work. The government in Delhi these days displays adequate sensitivity towards our soldiers on international borders. You may recall that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent last Diwali with the soldiers guarding our borders. The defence ministry is being led by the sharp and astute-minded Arun Jaitley. We can sincerely hope that the duo gets rid of this old malaise afflicting the country. 

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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