The holding of ammunition in the Indian Army specially the tank ammunition has reached a low. This is a cause of concern and the Govt needs to take immediate steps to make up the shortfall. The author examines the reason for the shortfall and suggested measures.
A recent media report has pointed towards the alarming state of holding of war wastage reserves (WWR) of ammunition in the Army specially the tank ammunition, needs to be analyzed as it reflects our war preparedness. Though, as per norm, the IA is required to maintain a WWR ammunition of all types for 40 days i.e.100 % reserve, however, presently its holding is less than 20 days i.e. around 40 % reserve. The need to have high level of WWR also a subject of deliberation but not in scope of one article. It is also reported that if the Govt is willing to spend approx INR 4000 Cr annually for 5 years, the WWR can be made up to 100 % by 2019 and the same was reiterated recently, by the present COAS that, if there is proper budgetary support for the new ammunition roadmap, the Army should have 50 per cent WWR and three years of training ammunition by 2015. Hopefully, Indian Army will not have to engage itself in 40 days of intense war entirely on its own, but there is no reason for the world's second-largest standing Army to have run out of ammunition and to reach such a critical state. The Army is, obviously, tight-lipped on the ammunition shortage but a simple calculation will reveal that presently, army may not have enough ammunition reserves to sustain a full-fledged war for even 20 days.
It is for sure that spending Rs 4000Cr annually on ammunition should not be a problem for the government as it is just a fraction of the total defence budget. But, it seems that the problem lies somewhere else i.e. lack of planning for procurement /manufacture of ammunition while inducting the main weapon system and this has become more acute in the case of Army, as normally the main system is procured from the capital budget while the ammunition is procured from the revenue budget. The other reason is being full dependence on OFB/DPSUs, who are unable to deliver and most importantly, not permitting the private players to contribute their immense potential for the development & production of ammunition. Tanks, artillery guns and infantry soldiers are all facing the crunch due to acute shortage. The analysis of depleted strength of WWR ammunition and the way forward is discussed in succeeding paragraphs.
While inducting the T-72 and T-90 series tanks, we got the technology for making chemical energy ammunition (CE) i.e. HE and HEAT, but we did not obtain the technology for kinetic
energy (KE) ammunition i.e. FSAPDS, which is not only vital but the primary Tank ammunition and is carried by a tank in a ratio of 80% vis-a vis 20 % of (CE) ammunition. Unfortunately, we have not been able to produce the KE ammunition even after 35 years of induction of T-72s and 10-15 years of induction of T-90 & Arjun tanks, and are still importing them.
The ordnance factories tried making the KE ammunition for T-72 & T-90, and produced approximately 1.30 lacs rounds of 125 mm FSAPDS between 2001-03, however it was found to be of poor quality and unsatisfactory in performance and hence, the production was stopped. Though, this ammunition was issued to the users but was later withdrawn. During the same period 46,000 rounds were imported from Israel to cater for the existing large deficiency. Later OFB tied up with IMI of Israel for production under ToT, but this could not fructify initially and later the IAI was barred due to blacklisting on allegations of corruption. A recent CAG report stated that DRDO failed to develop required ammunition and the ammunition is being imported even after 15 years. In 2010 the Army had approved accelerated user trials with 500 rounds of the improved ammunition but it failed to achieve the desired results.
According to the CAG report in 2009, ARDE accepted the limitations of the practice ammunition it had developed and stated that the new technology established in the project will be utilized for development of practice ammunition for T-90 and Arjun tanks. With the alarming deficiency, Army was forced to call for tenders again in late 2010 for 75,000-100,000
rounds of FSAPDS (AMK-339) ammunition and under a panic situation India signed a contract with Russia in 2012 for import of 66,000 125mm BM-42 rounds and 25,000 3UBK-Invar missiles for T-90. Of these 10,000 missiles were to be imported from Russia while 15,000 missiles were to be bought
from BDL. It is said that Russians charged 3 to 4 times of the actual price for the 125mm ammunition purchased under this contract.
Similarly, the FSAPDS ammunition for the Arjun MBT is also not performing satisfactorily. DRDO has developed the 120mm round; which has not been accepted by the army due certain technical problems with the projectile and is still being rectified.
Similar is the story for Bi-Modular Charge system (BMCS) for 155 mm Gun. The tie up with two Successive OEMs ran in to problem and DRDO development also did not succeed. Till date we are dependent on import.
BMCS are the propellant required for firing ammunition of high-calibre howitzers and artillery guns. BMCS production in India has been marred with controversies. Earlier in February 2002, the project in Nalanda, was slated to be undertaken by the South African firm Denel and an initial $60 million were spent. A second contract was signed at the same time with M/s Denel for supply of 300,000 High Zone Modules and 100,000 Low Zone modules. In June 2005 a ban was imposed on Denel and the contract with Denel was cancelled. By then Denel had supplied 178,000 High Zone modules of which only 87,750 were accepted and the balance 90,500 were rejected in Joint Receipt Inspection. Thus, out of total quantity of 300,000 High zone modules, only qty 87,750 was received / accepted. Another, contract was signed in March 2009 between OFB and IMI of Israel to set-up an ordnance complex of five plants at Nalanda, Bihar. The collaboration was to manufacture 155mm Bi-Modular Charge Systems and other propellant charges for heavy calibre artillery ammunition at a project cost of $260 million. An advance amount of $120 million was paid to IMI. However, due to the controversy on IMI deals on some other count, this deal was cancelled.
Thus, plagued by delays in procurement owing to series of failed attempts at producing critical components for artillery shells, now the OFB has decided to take on the responsibility to produce BMCS indigenously. OFB has now tied up with the DRDO for indigenizing the bi-modular charges that have already undergone trials. Significantly, the army issued a RFI for BMCS for 155 mm howitzers in 2011.
Procurement of Electronic fuzes for Artillery is yet another example. India continues to use mechanical fuzes over electronic fuzes which offer greater precision. There is an existing deficiency of more than 1 million electronic fuses for artillery guns alone. Army had been buying fuzes, though from Public Sector Undertaking ECIL but fact of the matter is, it is route adapted by Foreign OEM for easy entry. Sadly even after more than 15 years, the Indian PSU claims to be sole Indian supplier but dependent on OEM for critical subsystems. Given an opportunity, some Indian private sector companies could make the fuzes but for one reason or the other this has not happened.
The artillery also needs large quantities of precision guided munitions (PGMs) for more accurate targeting in future battles. At present less than 1% of Indian munition is Precision Guided. The present stocking levels are rather low. India had previously imported 3,000 Krasnapol terminally-guided munitions (TGMs) and 81 laser-designators from Russia for Rs 522.44 crore which have failed to perform adequately. Further, last year, a deal worth $100 million was signed with Israel's Rafael for 500 NGPGMs.
We have failed miserably in indigenization effort and are still dependant on import ammunition from other countries; why not permit certain range of ammunition product to be made in Private sector.
India's requirement of ATGM is presently being met by the licensed production of Milan and Konkurs, which are 2nd generation missiles. Its own development of 3rd generation of Nag missiles has met repeated delays & does not meet user's aspirations and is presently under trials. The country today is faced by a shortage of almost 44,000 missiles (approximately 50%) of its requirement. The CCS in 2012 cleared a Rs 1200 Cr proposal to acquire Russian-origin 10,000 Konkurs-M anti-tank guided missiles for the Army from Russia. The CCS also cleared the purchase of 25,000 Invar missiles for the T-90 tank fleet under a Rs 2,000 crore proposal.
The IA is presently considering two options, both of them exclusive the FGM-148 Javelin, proposed under a Government-to-Government (G2G) program via U.S. Foreign Military Sale (FMS), and the Spike MR, proposed by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.
The above clearly indicates that we have failed miserably in our indigenization effort and are still dependant on import. The question arises, if we can import ammunition from other countries; why not permit certain range of ammunition product to be made in Private sector. The manufacture and production of armaments & ammunition in India is fully controlled by Government of India and it is regulated under a licensing system established by the Arms Acts (1959) and Arms Rules (1962). The defence industry was opened to the private industry only in 2001; however the production of arms and ammunition is still largely the prerogative of the public sector. The Govt may impose this restriction on certain specific calibre of small arms and amn for controlled production, but allow the production of other calibre arms & ammunition by the private industries. In any case certain categories of explosives like flares etc. are presently being manufactured by the private Industries. Given a chance some of the Indian Private sector can deliver the ammunition, electronic fuzes and BMCs etc which are presently being imported. Some of the Ammunition subsystems, which do not have excessive use of high explosives can be very well taken on by private sector such as Fuzes, Propelling charges etc. The issue always raised is the consequences of these items being made in private sector, These have to be under Licensed. In any case the Govt so far has not been able to control the illegal manufacture of substandard small arms all over the country, like Moradabad & Munger; however, if the private industries are co-opted, at least, they will be accountable.
Almost every policy of defence production and acquisition refers to the need for self-reliance but the government is yet to allow private players to play a strategic and leading role. Though, the Indian private industry is willing to invest and play a major role in defence indigenization, but, the government needs to create the right conditions on the ground and stop nomination of major projects to PSUs and introduce competitiveness in the defence sector. This will open more avenues for public-private partnership, promote indigenisation, create the much needed defence industrial base and generate economic spin-offs. Tata Power SED, Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra & Mahindra, Bharat Forge, Ashok Leyland, Punj Lloyd and many others have invested in developing defence capabilities and are prepared to invest much more. But they face an uncertain policy environment, and staunch opposition from the DPSUs that opposes any move the government makes to allow the private sector to participate.
Weapon system should only be inducted once a plan for indigenous procurement/ manufacture of ammunition required for the system being considered is in place. MoD needs to involve the private sector in this endeavor in a big way, either working independently or in tandem with the OFs/PSUs in the form of joint ventures. Indian private industries, over a period have matured and with their modern approach and wherewithal, today they are capable of producing critical technology, as evident in the phenomenal success that India achieved in the strategic nuclear and space sectors. Unless private sectors are involved and their full potentials are tapped, India will not be able to achieve self reliance and the efforts towards indigenization will just remain a slogan.