Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why the army is short of ammunition

EVERY October, the Indian Army carries out an annual provisioning review ( APR) of its explosives and ammunition holdings.The idea is to determine deficiencies after taking into account the war wastage reserves, scales of ammunition authorised to basic units such as battalions and regiments of infantry, artillery and armour, outstanding supplies against earlier orders and the quantity held in stock.

Thereafter, it places an indent to the Ordnance Factory Board ( OFB) for the coming year. The two then get together and fix production targets before the financial year begins.While this is the theory, the reality is that the Army and the ministry of defence do not like to keep too large an inventory of ammunition and explosives because they have a shelf- life and after that they must be used up or thrown away. The Army brass figure that the money saved can then be fruitfully employed elsewhere.

So, as the Comptroller and Auditor General ( C& AG) discovered according to a report issued in October 2008, annual production targets are suspiciously low. The Army had an outstanding order of 68,000 filled shells for the top- of- the- line extended range base bleed ammunition for its Bofors 155mm guns in 2006- 07. But it only set a target of 20,000 to the ordnance factories at Chanda and Badmal who have a combined capacity of 1,70,000 shells per annum. This is despite the fact that the Army’s outstanding demand for this ammunition was 2,41,721 shells.

Likewise the Army had an outstanding demand of 1.15 lakh FSAPDS anti- tank ammunition in the same year; the ordnance factory at Khamaria has a capacity of 90,000 shells per annum. But the Army only set a target of 45,000 to the factory for the year. The story is the same for other types of tank and field gun ammunition for the artillery.

In another instance, the C& AG examined five selected items relating to explosives and found that in 16 out of 23 instances, the target fixed was 80 per cent below the capacity available and no target was fixed in some years “ despite capacity available in the factories and substantial requirements projected by the Army in their annual provisioning review”. The Army gave a gobbledygook response to this: “ The targets were fixed taking into account the operation environment, storage capacity, training requirement, level of war wastage reserve and availability of funds.” The C& AG rejected this saying this ought to have been taken into account when the Army came up with its APR in the first place.

The mismatch between the ordnance factories and the Army are a legend. The Army complains that it is not kept abreast about the production capacity of various factories by the OFB. On its part, the board said the Army first projected a requirement and then ended up reducing the targets or fixing no targets at all, which means no orders.

In 2006- 07, for example, the ordnance factory at Khamaria had an installed capacity of 5 lakh 30mm canon shells used by the Infantry Combat Vehicles, but the target they were given was a mere 75,000. At this time, the total shortfall was of the order of 10,54,039. No target at all had been set for the past eight years for the 106mm recoilless antitank gun for which the factory has a capacity of 30,000 per annum. This is understandable since the gun is being phased out. But the same was true of 130mm high explosive shells used by the artillery for its mainstay medium guns, being made at the ordnance factory at Chanda. Its annual capacity was 80,000 ( it had been scaled up to 3 lakh during the Kargil war). But the 2006- 07 target was a mere 40,000.

The C& AG was quite clear, “ low fixation of production targets… substantial underutilisation of capacities in the ( ordnance) factories indicated poor planning on the part of Army/ ministry in procuring necessary ammunition….”. Is it any wonder that the Army found itself short of ammunition in December 2008?

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