Within three weeks into the Siachen conflict during the Kargil war in 1999, India ran low on ammunition, and approached South Africa to help replenish its stocks. That year, the news website India Today reported that the army was short of at least 300 battle tanks and approximately one thousand 155 mm artillery guns. In 2016, in an article published in the India Defence Review—a quarterly journal and web publcation run by retired army officers—Gurmeet Kanwal, a retired brigadier of the Indian Army, wrote that India had to import 50,000 rounds of artillery ammunition during the conflict. Kanwal is presently a distinguished fellow at the autonomous think-tank the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. In the article, he wrote that India’s defence preparedness and modernisation suffered due to a lack of resources and attention afforded to it by the current central government.
In July this year, a report by the former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Shashi Kant Sharma, was tabled in the Parliament. The report was a performance review of the projects and schemes of the ministry of defence—among other things, it examined the “Ammunition management in Army.” It was the second audit on the army’s ammunition—the first such audit, which was released in 2015, analysed the status of the country’s defence stockpile and production for the period from 2008 to 2013.
The CAG’s 2017 report contained the findings of the follow-up audit on the ammunition management for the period following that covered by the first report, from April 2013 and September 2016. It noted that “no significant improvement took place in the critical deficiency in availability and quality of ammunition.” In September this year, while discussing the report with me, Bhupinder Yadav, a retired major general of the army, said, “You remember, during Siachin time, what General Malik”—the then army general VP Malik—“had said: ‘we will fight with whatever we have.’” “This is the situation now,” Yadav said.
According to the CAG’s 2015 report, the annual provisioning of ammunition is based on the compliance with the War Wastage Reserve scales, which mandates that India should maintain an ammunition stockpile for 40 days of intense war. Additionally, the report notes that, after the Kargil war in 1999, the army headquarters introduced the Minimum Acceptable Risk Level of ammunition, which was considered the “minimum inescapable requirement of ammunition to be maintained at all times to meet operational preparedness.” The MARL mandates that the ammunition stockpile should be sufficient for 20 days of intense war.
The 2015 report reflected the poor status of the ammunition stockpile—74 percent of the 170 types of ammunition failed to meet the MARL requirements, and only 10 percent met the WWR requirements. This year’s report shows minimal progress and significant cause for concern. As of September 2016, the report notes, the army had 152 types of ammunition, of which only 31 types, or 20 percent, met the WWR levels, and 83 types, or 55 percent, did not satisfy even the MARL requirements.