Sunday, February 5, 2023
HomeOpinionAmmunition shortages arose because generals prioritised flashy, 'status' items like tanks

Ammunition shortages arose because generals prioritised flashy, ‘status’ items like tanks

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In the second of a two-part series on the ammunition shortage in the Army, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra writes that the Army was willing to let massive shortages accrue in a dangerous game of brinksmanship to extract more money from the bureaucracy. Read the first part

Motives have been attributed to the CAG report for pointing out the Army’s critical ammunition shortages. However, the CAG report has been the single biggest enabler of combat effectiveness in the last decade – the government releasing upto Rs. 40,000 crores to tide over critical shortages.

It is laudable as a short-term measure, but in the medium to long term, this will merely act as a failure-reinforcing mechanism – intending to fund readiness but ending up subsidising obsolescence and rewarding ossification.

Why exactly have these ammunition shortages arisen? The answer is very clear – the generals have over decades prioritised flashy, new “status” items like tanks – preferring to accumulate tanks, rather than building up stocks of ammunition for those tanks to fire. This is not something new and fits well with the Indian psyche. Much of medieval India’s income was spent on acquiring war horses from Arabia, even after the equation had been decisively settled in favour of infantry. While the export of Arab stallions were allowed, the export of mares for breeding was banned on pain of death so that India would never be able to develop and indigenous horse breeding capability. Tellingly, not one Indian ruler, ever invested either in an intelligence operation to capture a bunch of mares, nor did they move away from cavalry – horse or elephant towards infantry – preferring peacockery & vainglory to operational readiness.

When the Army decided to purchase tanks – the latest being the T-90, the generals wanted their capital outlays for the procurement of the actual beast. Not one general, however, wanted to give up part of this outlay for a robust improvement to the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) capabilities in order to deliver ammunition in time. This is a classic case of “for want of nail the kingdom was lost”.

To many people this seems like plain and simple blackmail – buying unusable equipment in the short-term, forcing financial costs on the civilian leadership to make that equipment usable in the medium term – effectively financial mismanagement followed by blackmail, literally at the point of a gun.

If we know the OFB is an obsolete dinosaur that will never deliver, why persist in making national security dependent on a known failure?  This fact alone should have forced the Army to move into new ways of war – discarding the old lumbering armoured formations for light, highly mobile infantry and focussing on quality instead of quantity. Such a shift would organically move Indian military thinking from obsolete notions of ground control, which are now ruinously expensive because of the emergence of sub-urban warfare to area denial and strike which can deliver rapid and tangible results to political masters.

Sadly, jeeps and trucks simply aren’t as sexy as tanks, forget the fact that France controls and area of North Africa twice the size of India with just jeeps and tanks & it was American jeeps, not tanks that made the first forays into Baghdad in the 2003 US Invasion.

Finally, we must equally realise that wars are no longer won by the army – but rather by Air Forces and Navies. Yet instead of becoming a small but effective army, the Army’s leadership has chosen to remain a lumbering, poorly equipped giant. When the ill-considered move to create the mountain strike corps to deal with China was initiated, every commentator had pointed out the massive logistical trail and economic costs, yet the army leadership earmarked no funds for this persisting in wasteful expenditure, forcing the civilians to divert other resources to make this division operational over and above the allocation they sought. The problem is on the China border using infantry is literally an uphill battle – whereas air combat works to our advantage. Yet the army in its turf battle to get more money insisting on creating what is in effect a suicide squad that will suffer some of the worst attrition for the least gains, simply because size and budget translate to strength in the Indian system.

What we need to understand is that neither was the government “sleeping” as some have claimed, nor is the Army a “valiant & stoic” party as others have posited. The ammunition shortages are a result of normal bargaining process that happens between every army and bureaucracy. However, in the Indian case, it was the Army that was willing to let massive shortages accrue in a dangerous game of brinksmanship, trying to extract more money from the bureaucracy. Ultimately, the bureaucracy blinked and lost a critical opportunity for forcing much-needed reforms in doctrine and war fighting down the army’s throat.

That this will secure India in the short term is undeniable, that this sets a dangerous precedent, rewards failure and recklessness and will come back to bite us in the long term is equally undeniable.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Twitter: @iyervval

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  1. Sad that he has been allowed to write utter nonsense. Perhaps that is the way he earns a living.
    Does not know that OFB is not controlled directly by Generals. That every operation is different from other operations. That no Air Force can win a war without ground troops , and in our case, the Navy as well. That the role of a tank unit is different from that of an infantry unit.
    That many of our T 72 tanks are 35 years old. Do we not need the T 90 ( an upgrade of the T 72) to replace the aged fleet?
    Ammunition can be manufactured or imported in a lesser time frame, than it takes to negotiate , import and train on new equipment. Without the weapon system and efficient training, the ammunition is of little use.

  2. Mr Abhijit can be forgiven for his shallowness on this subject only if he admits this is a paid article and he personally has no knowledge of this subject! God save the fraud institute where he claims to be a senior fellow!! Horrendous is a single word to describe this article. Below my std to comment on the main content. How can someone be so off the mark?

  3. This is obviously a paid and planted for article. I’m pretty sure on the behest of the bureaucracy. Save their ass by putting the blame on the army – a very old tactic of the bureaucracy. Take decisions without ever consulting the army, force these on them and when the shit hits the fan promptly shift the blame to the armed forces. Shame on you for being the presstitute that you obviously are.

  4. Mr Mitra- a senior fellow of what? This guy knows nothing about anything related to matters Military -A big big nut, is all that he is.

  5. could I meet you Mitraji to educate you on this issue? I am an officer who has commanded ammunition stocking units both during Op Vijay and Op Parakram. You will be wiser after the meeting. Regards.

  6. A totally fake and “politically drafted /framed ” news to mislead the general public to blame Indian Army , becoz no general of Indian Army will ever do this ,moreover its totally against philosophy and teachings of Army .
    But yes ! such a philosophy fully matches with line of thinking of Bureaucracy and Govt ( both present and past ) . As per govt and bureaucracy ,they feel that expenditure on defence procurement is wasteful expenditure bcoz war will never take place and they will resolve crises diplomatically when it takes place .

    Simply discard such a news becoz it’s a well “planted news” by bureaucrats themselves to cover their backside .

  7. An ill informed article highlighting the sheer ignorance o the writer. A couple of points for rebuttal:-
    1. The flashy tanks have served us well in all conflicts, what good is it to have amn when you don’t have tanks to fire them from. It would be a treat to see jeeps defending against enemy armour.
    2. It is the paradox created by the Babu’s to say whether the tanks are reqd or the amn…well both are.
    3. God forbid we see a two front scenario, we would wish we had more of the flashy tanks.
    4. The machinations of our system do not allow for wiser counsel of the general officers to prevail and it’s a pity that our security decisions are entrusted to civilians who are ably guided by people like the author.
    5. Lastly a piece of advice, it’s always nice to learn ones lessons from history and to get facts correct before penning such articles.

  8. Articles like this result when a half wit is given licence to write. Mr Mitra, do try and understand the functions of the infantry and the cavalry before you try commenting on them. Your lack of basic research clearly shows in earlier articles by you also. Are you being paid to write crap?

  9. Author has given his viewpoint, which may not be the ground reality. In any case, criticism is the right of anyone. As an Indian the author has done nothing new. Research work is shallow without correct facts. I don’t agree with the author but would agree with comments by some related to the article.

  10. Mitra is writing like BJP makes POLICY !!
    A laughable waste of reading time. He obviously knows nothing other than the “fact” that we have some lousy Generals. But that doesn’t make good analysis.
    Overall : TRASH RATING

  11. The tone of the article clearly shows that it has been written on the behest of babus. Shifting of the blame on the Army when things go wrong was an old escape route not anymore. The responsibility for the defense of our country lies with the Defense minister d Defense Secretary , the shortages in ammunition is known to both , the budget allocation for defense has been the lowest as compared to our neighbors , the current year also it is 1.7% of GDP. Priorities are decided by the Government hence the blame should also be theirs in case the decision has been wrong .

  12. The writer has no clue about warfare. His stated preference of air and naval power is dated and is one of the prime causes for the failure of US in Afganistan and Iraq. Air power gives area domination which is time bound. It requires infantry to hold ground. In our scenario the use of seapower is extremely limited, so while we are vulnerable to a sea borne assault we have very limited sea borne offensive options. Plus we do not possess sea crafts like the US Nimitz class Air Craft carriers. Raising of a mountain corps was essential. It is a holding not an offensive formation, though it can perform that role as well. Before advocating for Air warfare in mountains I would request the writer to read up on the korean war.
    Poor misguided and illinformed article.

  13. Completely bizarre. Army has no control over OFB. Connections drawn between unrelated issues reflect ignorance and an attempt to create a buzz. Nothing in the article stands to logic

  14. The preceding comments say it all. All I would like to add is that it was time wasted going through this hogwash!

  15. The author has knowledge about the functioning in South Block and the proximal Sena Bhavan…but sadly the author has NO common sense.
    1.It takes years to produce or procure a tank or gun or AD eqpt, however Amn can easily be procured off the shelf, if need arises (like in Kargil episode) and also we have OFB ready to produce sub std amn if we are pushed to war. Moreover, what do you do with piles of Amn when you don’t have tanks or guns to fire??
    2. There is a thing called Deterrence (and also Compellence), which author may NOT be aware or he is ignoring. We endeavour to deter our adversary by raising a Mtn Strike Corps or Armd Div..that reinforces our intention..(as capb can be devp, based on intention, but if we don’t have intention, capb are of no good use…am quoting Pakis). You can’t deter your adversary by stating that we have “80 Days SL Amn” and tonnes of Amn stocked in Amn dumps ?
    I guess, more than just being a senior research fellow at Delhi or in a city…author needs to at least visit a FD army and understand the elementary..
    3. Bargaining with Bureaucratic system.
    Why is our system is tailored in such a manner that we have to “bargain” with babus. Are the Generals and Babus fighting to preserve the same citadel of National integrity and security ( similar cause)…. so why do the Generals need to bargain with Babus???
    I, with due regards, request our highly capable and dignified author…who, like our OFB is himself in slumber, needs to stop blaming Army (like the fashion nowadays) and to be more of a Man than just towing the lines of Babus. Without doubt, the Author has written the article on somebody’s behest or is himself has limited (I am being kind here) vision which he is foolishly displaying.

    To summarise: pathetic article, ltd vision, unsubstantiated with stats, appears to be with malafide intentions.
    May God bless him and the ones who publish this misleading info.

  16. Who is this son of a gun err tank sorry ammunition. He has no clue of what he is writing. I have an in depth knowledge of the subject but i refuse to comment on this piece of utter ignorance.

  17. Author has no clue..n ..has just spoken to a motivated person before writing this poorly researched piece. One just has to scan defence budget documents to understand the buying of stuff by forces. Ammo come from revenue head n tanks from capital. Generals can only propose items within the allocated budget n then MoD takes their OWN call.

  18. Poorly researched piece. Force levels are decided and ammunition is catered for that force level. It is not the question of bargain between equipment and ammunition.

  19. He needs to spend sometime in Army( with Armoured Corps) and read some books in Indian context to verify his comments. Cavalry charges even from Alexander’s time need to clear cob-webs in his mind. Even in missile age, Cavalry has relevance……see all your stand-of points at Doklam and in Leh with China. Amn has to be catered for either made indigenously or continuously imported if we remain incompetent in manufacturing defense products.

  20. Seems like a pretty vengeful article trying to settle a score or two with somebody.
    Every aspect and decision will have two or more sides and arguments for each.
    Author presents no statistics for his argument, means that his article is just a gut feeling and there appears to be no research behind it. God save the country from such self proclaimed experts who know not what they write.

  21. Flashy tanks vs small arms ammunition is a result of (a) lack of strategic thought in the country which answers questions as Pakistan or China or both? Force levels & structures flow from here. And (b) antiquated MOD systems unchanged from WW2.
    Also Mitra seems to have got his animals mixed up. The debate was between Indian lumbering elephants and faster mongol cavalry which got settled in 1526.
    Please write better researched pieces, otherwise you will only provide material to Chinese TV anchors

  22. Totally incorrect.

    Ammunition is procured from Revenue Budget while Tanks etc from Capital Budget.

    Ammunition is produced by OFB while balance is imported.

    OFB has failed to manufacture ammunition required in right quality and desired quantities

    Some types of ammunition and propellant is under development by DRDO since ages. This prevents importing substitutes and hence the shortage.

  23. What a weird analysis.

    Waste of time writing why this analysis is wrong. Please don’t embarrass yourself publicly.

  24. Ammunition should have priority over weapons Systems? What a ludicrous argument! And Infantry prevailed over cavalry in mediaeval times? Who says? Cavalry was the dominant arm till the advent of the machine-gun, improved Artillery and barbed wire in the first quarter of the 20th century. Poor arguments.

  25. This excellent write- up can be summed up in three words: TOP NOTCH BULLSHIT. The author’s intellectual abilities and journalistic skills deserve no comments in light of this garbage he has managed to pile up, obviously after straining himself tremendously.

    • The author has no knowledge of Indian defence procurement system for this reason I dismiss the bull shit written and recommend him to go back to drawing board level before writing.
      Sanjeev Chopra

  26. Utter nonsense. Please read letter of then COAS Gen VK Singh on hollowness of Army. Flashy items get lot of commission for politicians n Baboo’s. Ammunition invariably r repeat orders or made by OEM. Then there is very little money for Baboo’s in this. Don’t try n save ass of Baboo’s.

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