Mar 14, 2018 05:32 PM IST | Source:

COMMENT | Government apathy lets down armed forces

It was only after the Doklam stand-off with China did the government feel the need of clearing procurement of small arms on an emergency basis

Shishir Asthana

The irony of the Indian defence sector could not have been more pronounced. Indian scientists and engineers have the capability of producing missiles which can hit targets at a distance of 5000 km but cannot produce a gun that can kill the enemy 50 metres away. The small arms that the armed forces use is of vintage era and is ineffective on a ‘protected’ enemy.

For nearly three decades, the Army has been using smaller 5.56-millimetre bullets fired from INSAS rifles made by Indian Ordinance factories. In a recent seminar, Major General Ajay Ohri of the Infantry Directorate said that the smaller bullet failed to neutralise terrorists even when they were shot twice or thrice.

While the world is moving towards remote-controlled warfare, the Indian Army is still being used as cannon fodder, thanks to the lethargic approach of bureaucrats and politicians.

On Tuesday, nine men of the armed forces traveling in a mine-protected vehicles were blown up by an improvised explosive device in Naxal- affected Chhattisgarh. This round of killing comes within six months of another deadly assault which killed 25 uniformed personnel in the same area.

The incident once again proved that enemies of the state are better armed and political and bureaucratic hurdles are preventing the use of technology to fight the enemy. Apart from giving lip service, both the state and the central government have done precious little to improve the ground situation. Use of drones or other hi-tech weaponry is still a distant dream for the armed forces. It’s a shame that parcels are delivered and photographs of various family functions are taken using drones, but the armed forces are not yet allowed to use it.

Governments, irrespective of the political party, are thick skinned. Even after four years of coming to power, the so-called nationalist government of Narendra Modi has not been able to improve the ground realities of the armed forces.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in its 2017 report highlighted the poor status of the ammunition stockpile.

The report said that 74 percent of the 170 types of ammunition failed to meet the Minimum Acceptable Risk Level (MARL) requirement, and only 10 percent met the War Wastage Reserves (WWR) requirements. The report made a glaring statement that of a total of 152 types of ammunition considered critical by the Indian Army to fight a war, 61 types of ammunition are available for just ten days while only 31 types are available for 40 days.

Not only is the armed forces fighting with inferior weapons, even these weapons are not enough to fight for more than 10 days.

Given this pathetic state of affairs, it is no wonder that the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) addressing the Parliamentary Panel on Defence said that the 2018-19 Budget had 'dashed the army's hopes for modernisation.

It is not the first time that the finance ministry has let down the defence forces. In the One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue, the Finance Ministry agreed to the demand of veterans after street dharna by them and after pressure from the Defence Ministry.

This battle between the clueless bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry and the armed forces is the prime reason for this sorry state. The FinMin has not even provided money in the Budget for the on-going schemes and projects. It would have been a miracle if the bureaucrats would have provided for adjustments of GST on arms procurement.

The government has made the various announcement of indigenization but nothing has taken off. The Defence minister proudly claims that 37 private sector companies have been given licenses, but beyond this, there is nothing to show. Here too, government controlled and badly managed ordinance factories will get precedence over private players.

It was only after the Doklam stand-off with China did the government feel the need of clearing procurement of small arms on an emergency basis.

The Defence Ministry plans to buy 740,000 assault rifles for the three armed forces at Rs 12,280 crore, 5,719 sniper rifles worth Rs 982 crore and light machine guns worth Rs 1,819 crore under the fast-track procedure.

Yet it could not clear all the hurdles. Fast-tracking procurement only helps clear a few hurdles. There is over a dozen more bureaucratic process in defence procurement that needs to be cleared.

The pace at which the government machinery moves can be seen from the fact that the plan to equip foot soldiers began to post the Kargil War in 1999. Yet nearly 20 years later, it had to be ‘fast-tracked’.

In the meanwhile brave young men lose their lives trying to protect the nation with World War II vintage weapons, which are equivalent to bow and arrow in modern warfare.

Defence procurement in India has always been contentious. The Bofors gun procurement, AgustaWestland scam and the recent furore over Rafale jets are testament to it. The need of the hour is a transparent process which has to be matched with allocation and ‘Make in India’ still remains a pipe dream in defence sector.

But when this government, despite being four years in power, has not been able to integrate the forces and appoint a joint chief, expecting it to completely overhaul the procurement system is wishful thinking.
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