The country may have been shocked by the revelation that the armed forces, especially the army, were not ready to go to war because of key shortages of equipment and ammunition, but for the Ministry of Defence, this is business as usual.
A 2007 Comptroller and Auditor General’s report looked at the “achievement” of the five year plans on acquisitions and was shocked to find that out that the number of items that could be procured during the plan-- out the items listed for acquisition-- was very low. For example, the acquisition of armour in the 8th plan (1992-1997) was just 5 per cent of the planned acquisition. While this could be excused because the country and its principal supplier, Russia, were undergoing economic crises at the time, there is no explanation why in the period of the 9th plan (1997-2002) only 10 per cent of the targeted acquisitions could be made. Or why in the more recent 10th Plan (2002-2007) period only 30 per cent of the tanks could be acquired.
The story is the same for other arms, in the 2002-2007 period, infantry could only manage 48 per cent of their target, the mechanized infantry 42, artillery 48, air defence 23, signals, 35 per cent. The report goes on to add, “of the 250 items planned for acquisition in the 10th plan, only 96 items were acquired up to March 2006.” Some 46 items in the list of items that could not be acquired “were identified as capability gaps in the Army plans.”
On paper, our defence acquisitions take place in a systematic planned process led by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). But the practice is something else altogether. The government is yet to accord approval to the 11th Defence Plan that began in April 2007. The 10th plan (2002-2007) never received approval from the Ministry of Finance. As for the DAC’s long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP) that would span a 15-year time horizon, it is nowhere in sight, though the Defence ministry babus now say it will be approved in October 2009.
Just how the Ministry mandarins handle the issue is evident from this exchange revealed in a report of the standing committee of the Lok Sabha for the ministry of defence. In an earlier report, the committee had said that the annual plan for 2007-2008 be based on targets set by the Ministry for the 11th five year plan and that the LTIPP be also periodically updated. The Ministry’s response was that the ministry was making concerted efforts to “get the 11th Defence Plan approved” but at the same time noted that the ministry was working on the 2007-2017 LTIPP.
The committee’s tart response was that the committee “are distressed to note that the 11th plan had not been approved” and that “the committee are unable to comprehend as to how the Ministry actually work out the priorities for incorporating the same in the LTIPP in the absence of any perception about the current Defence Five Year Plan.”
Besides the contortions of the Ministry babus, there is a serious mismatch between the demands of the armed forces and the government response. For example, the army projected a demand of Rs 56,491 crore for acquiring weapons and equipment in the 2002-2007 period. The government actually budgeted Rs 21,290 crore. This could be one reason for why the army is reeling from shortages. On the other hand, the army planning process itself had problems that resulted in some unplanned acquisitions in this period. Among these were anti-mine boots which were proposed for procurement in 2000, yet not included in the plan.
If you think that the problem was the complexity of the weapons and systems needed and its import, you would be wrong. The system is not even able to supply the troops ordinary things like clothing. India has been in the Siachen glacier since 1984, but the shortage of special clothing ranged from 44 to a staggering 70 per cent, according to a C&AG report in the 10th plan 2002-2007) period. A survey conducted by the auditors revealed that 50 per cent of the users were not satisfied by the quality and fitting of clothing—mismatch trousers and shirts of the wrong size, boots that are useless after 10-12 months against a claimed life of 26 months, and “lack of water-proofing in respect of water-proof cap.”