Ammo shortage, a grave concern

Ammo shortage, a grave concern

The report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) which says there is a serious shortage of ammunition in the Indian Army has caused concern and raised questions about the preparedness of the armed forces to fight a war. The problem of ammunition shortage is old and has been highlighted in the past. An earlier CAG report had mentioned the poor state of ammunition management in the army for the period 2008-13. The latest report is a follow-up audit and it has not found any significant improvement in the availability and quality of ammunition supplied by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to the forces. The report has also drawn attention to the well-known problems in the procurement process. It has criticised the state-run ordnance factories, the DRDO, the heavy vehicle factory at Avadi and other agencies for such shortages which have plagued the army for many years.

According to norms, the army should have adequate stocks of munitions to fight intensively for 40 days. But the report says that stocks of 121 of the 152 types of ammunition used by the army were below the level required for 40 days. It was also found that 40% of the ammunition would not last for 10 days and another 55% would run out in 20 days. The shortage of artillery and tank ammunition is very serious, as 83% of this high calibre ammunition might turn out to be useless because of the paucity of “fuzes” which are essential components. The report has also mentioned “irregularities and inefficiencies” in purchases which have made the situation worse. Imports of equipment at prices higher than the actual cost, overhaul of engines that exceeded the cost of a new engine, choice of manufactures without the necessary skills and unreliable suppliers are many other problems highlighted by the report.

These are longstanding problems which should not have been left unaddressed. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement that the forces are “reasonably and sufficiently” equipped does not fully answer the concerns. The word “reasonably” is actually vague and gives the impression that the stocks are below the norms, as stated in the report. The minister’s statement that the CAG report was about the situation in 2013 is also not correct. Even if the figures presented by the CAG are overstated, they present the picture of an army ill-equipped to fight a war. The deficiencies mentioned in the report call for actions over a long-term but earnest efforts should start now. With tensions rising on the border and serious internal situation facing the nation, security preparedness should get the highest priority.

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