On a Ventilator

The Indian Army desperately needs modernisation

A FORCE Report

The Indian Army may not have ammunition to fight the next war (with Pakistan, not to mention China) beyond three to five days. Holdings for all types of missiles, and anti-tank ammunition are critically low. Stockings for artillery (70 per cent fuses needed for firing are unavailable) and armour fighting vehicles ammunition are unlikely to last beyond four to five days of intense war. War Wastage Reserves (WWR) for most ammunition categories do not exist. (It is mandatory for the army to have ammunition stocks (WWR) for 40 days of intense war for long-shelf life category, and 21 days intense fighting for short-shelf life category like anti-tank, rocket artillery, and missiles. In addition, the army holds critical ammunition for two days of war as unit reserves, first and second line holdings). All this is when the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) responsible for ammunition has an annual turnover of USD2.5 billion and it regularly passes off its profits to the defence ministry as dividends.

BAE Systems’ M777 155mm ultra-light howitzer procurement for the Indian Army has been mired in delays. The company has now offered to shift the final assembly line for the M777 to India
BAE Systems’ M777 155mm ultra-light howitzer procurement for the Indian Army has been mired in delays. The company has now offered to shift the final assembly line for the M777 to India

This is not all. Mission reliability of mechanised vehicles is poor. The artillery is obsolete and inadequate; air defence is antiquated; armour is unreliable due to regular barrel accidents caused by mismatch between indigenous barrels and ammunition; and night fighting devices are insufficient. In military parlance, some would say that the army is unfit for war. To such people, it would be said that patriotic citizens should not discuss these matters in public as it lowers soldiers’ morale. Ironically, it ought to be the other way round: Right noises should be made, publicly if needed, to ensure that soldiers do not bleed in war.

Artillery: Nearly, 70 per cent of artillery ammunition is without fuses and hence, cannot be used. Units have found sealed ammunition with fungus on them and there have been regular cases of propellant leakages from charges. Any artillery man will explain how dangerous it is to handle such defective ammunition. The OFB makes mechanical fuses and despite claims has been unable to build electronic fuses. The OFB does not make 23mm ammunition for air defence guns. Some attempts were made in 1986 after money was spent on transfer of technology (ToT), and then given up; the entire ammunition is now imported. The situation regarding artillery guns holding is well-known. The indigenous 105mm Light Field Gun is unreliable as its cradle cracks/breaks during firing.

The Indian Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) was to have resulted in the acquisition of an estimated 3,000 modern artillery systems of various types and calibres, to equip its 220 artillery regiments by 2027. A decade and a half into the FARP, which saw the first competition get underway in 2002; not a single contract has been signed for an artillery system. With no indications of final contracts for a modern artillery system to be signed anytime soon, the year 2017 will mark three decades since the 1987 acquisition of 410 Bofors FH77B02 howitzer. Since then no acquisitions have been made. Perversely, the delay in induction of artillery systems coupled with the current push for ‘Make in India’ and large order sizes for artillery systems, ammunition and spares, presents a real opportunity for the setting up of indigenous capability to manufacture war winning artillery guns.

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