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The aim is to develop capability in the private sector companies, which can set up joint ventures with foreign manufacturers, to bridge the gaps in the production capacity of the 41 factories of the Ordnance Factory Board. “This indigenization of ammunition production over a 10-year time-frame will gradually reduce our heavy import dependence,” said a senior official.
The government was rudely jolted out of its slumber after the terror attack at Uri in September 2016 when it found that the 13-lakh strong Army simply did not have certain categories of ammunition to undertake a full-blown war with “intense fighting” for 10 days.
Similar was the case with the IAF and Navy. This when the conventional norm is that the force should have adequate the war wastage reserves (WWR) to last 40 days of “intense fighting”.
Since then, contracts worth around Rs 24,000 crore for ammunition, spares, engines and other reserves have been inked or are in the process of being finalized, mainly with Russia and Israel, under the revenue financial powers delegated to the three Services as well as capital acquisitions to build up adequate stocks for at least 10 days of war.
Under the 19 contracts worth Rs 11,740 crore finalized for the Army, for instance, the force will get 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 in the 2019-2020 timeframe, as earlier reported by TOI.
This has come as a big relief for the armed forces, which continue to maintain high operational readiness all along the 778-km Line of Control with Pakistan as well as the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control with China.
The new Rs 15,000 crore plan aims to get the Indian industry to manufacture ammunition for infantry weapons like UBGLs (under-barrel grenade launchers) and AGLs (automatic grenade launchers), 122mm Grad rockets, electronic fuzes and bi-modular charge systems for the artillery, and 30mm high-explosive incendiary ammunition for BMP-II infantry combat vehicles.
“The bids of 11 Indian private companies for these contracts to produce some initial quantities of ammunition were opened last month. The technical evaluation is now underway,” said the official.
Once the selected companies develop the capability to produce the required ammunition, contracts worth around Rs 15,000 crore over the next 10 years will be progressively awarded to them, said officials.
Earlier this year, Army vice-chief Lt-General Sarath Chand had told the parliamentary standing committee on defence that the Rs 21,338 crore allocated for modernization of his force in the 2018-2019 budget had “dashed our hopes” since it did not cater for even “committed payments” of Rs 29,033 crore for ongoing schemes and emergency procurements.
He said the Army was grappling with an alarming mix of 8% (state-of-the-art), 24% (current) and 68% (vintage) weaponry in its arsenal while engaged in daily cross-border firing duels with Pakistan as well as heightened tensions with China since the Doklam stand-off last year.
Even a CAG report tabled in Parliament last year had held the Army’s stocks of 121 (80%) of the 152 types of ammunition were below the authorization level required for 40 days of “intensive fighting” as per WWR norms.
“Further, availability of 83 (55%) types of ammunition was below the MARL (minimum acceptable risk level of ammunition stocks for 20 days) and 61 (40%) types were at a critical level (less than 10 days). Availability of high-calibre ammunition for tanks and artillery are in a more alarming state. Moreover, in the absence of fuses, 83% of the high-calibre ammunition currently held by Army is not in a state to be used operationally,” it had added.