The 13-lakh strong Army is now slowly but steadily building its ammunition stocks ranging from rockets and missiles to high-caliber tank and artillery shells to ensure it can comfortably fight a full-blown war for over 10 days, with the eventual aim to have adequate stockpiles in place to last 40 days.
Defence ministry sources say all the different types of ammunition for the Army will be built up to “10(I) levels”, which mean adequate stocks to undertake 10 days of “intensive” full-spectrum fighting, by 2022-2023, as per the latest assessment.
This, of course, does not mean the Army is not operationally ready for war as of now. “It is, especially on the western front. But ammunition reserves have to be built keeping both Pakistan and China in mind,” said a source.
The “earlier huge deficiencies” in several types of “critical” ammunition have already been “substantially plugged”, with more supplies in the pipeline under the 24 contracts (19 with foreign arms companies) worth Rs 12,890 crore inked for the Army.
“The next target will be to gradually achieve 40(I) levels after some major rationalisation because not all types of ammunition are needed in such large numbers. Holding large reserves is neither economically nor logistically feasible,” said the source.
The MoD is also in the process of contracting the domestic private sector to manufacture with foreign collaboration eight different types of tank, artillery and infantry ammunition worth around Rs 1,700 crore per year for a decade from 2022-2023 onwards.
Over the last several years, at least since 2012, TOI has repeatedly reported the Army was fast running out of ammunition, with tanks and air defence units, artillery batteries and infantry soldiers all facing the crunch under the hugely depleted war wastage reserves (WWR). Successive parliamentary and CAG reports have also underscored the critical operational deficiency.
But it took the Uri terror attack in September 2016 for the government to swing into action and delegate financial powers to the Army, Navy and IAF for “emergency and critical 10(I) contracts” after finding that the armed forces simply did not have enough ammunition stocks for a prolonged full-fledged war.
Since then, contracts worth over Rs 24,000 crore for ammunition, spares, engines and other reserves have been inked for the three Services. The Army, for instance, is getting Smerch rockets, Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles, 125mm APFSDS (armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) ammunition for its T-90S and T-72 tanks and other ammunition under the 19 contracts inked mainly with Russian and some other foreign companies.
The defence ministry is also working to improve the functioning and quality control of the 41 factories under the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which supplies around 90 of the total 163 types of ammunition used by the Army.
This came after the Army sounded the alarm about the unacceptably high number of accidents taking place due to the defective quality of ammunition being supplied for tanks, artillery, air defence and other guns by the OFB as well as the huge slippages in supply, as was reported by TOI in May last year.
Just last month, the CAG had again slammed the OFB for compromising operational military readiness by failing to meet “a significant quantity” of the Army’s requirements as well as supplying defective fuses leading to multiple accidents.
The Army, on its part, wants accountability to be fixed on those responsible for faulty quality checks and defective ammunition, which are leading to frequent accidents during firings of 105mm Indian field guns, 105mm light field guns, 130mm MA1 medium guns, 40mm L-70 air defence guns as well as the main guns of the T-72, T-90 and Arjun main-battle tanks.