By: Neeta Lal

The publication of a report that India’s Army has barely enough ammunition to last through 20 days of intense fighting is yet another indication of just how deficient the country’s defense procurement systems are, not just for shells but in widespread shortages for other systems as well. 

The scathing report on ammunition was produced by the country’s public accounts watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and it indicates that worse, India can’t expect to have a full stock of ammunition until 2019.

The CAG’s report, tabled last week in Parliament, has created a public furor intensifying fears over India’s strategic vulnerability to hostile neighbors China and Pakistan. The document further adds that the Indian army’s overall holding had been continuously depleting over the five years the audit was conducted. The auditor has chided the defense establishment for glaring mismanagement of ammunition, expressing shock that it has disregarded the principle to hold ammunition for at least 40 days of “intense” fighting as specified under the war reserves policy.

The shortfall adversely impacts the operational readiness of the 1.18-million-member army, raising serious security concerns at a time when geopolitical insecurities have heightened across the continent.

“The startling revelation underscores India’s susceptibility to aggressive external forces like China or Pakistan,” said Suraj Parikshit of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi-based think tank.  “China’s fast-expanding strategic footprint in India’s immediate neighborhood is a source of worry. India’s growing border tensions with Pakistan and the approaching drawdown of international forces from Afghanistan this year complicate this dynamic further.”

New Delhi’s dispute with Beijing over the 4,000-km Indo-Chinese border following a bloody Himalayan war the two fought in 1962 continues to cause considerable rancor on both sides. Chinese troops have made repeated incursions into Indian territory on the border, a source of perpetual headache for South Block, India’s cabinet secretariat.   

The news of an ill-equipped Indian army, the world’s second largest, is also at odds with the country’s reputation as the world’s largest importer of arms. Asia’s third largest economy now imports three times more weapons than its neighbors China and Pakistan as well as cash-lush Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India accounted for 15 percent of global arms imports from 2010 to 2014. “Between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, India’s arms imports increased by 140 percent,” Sipri said. “In 2005-2009, India’s imports were 23 percent below China’s and just over double those of Pakistan.”

Defense analysts blame India’s inability to build a strong industrial base for the current crisis.  Unlike China, which has not only built a stronger defense industrial base, but has also emerged as the third largest arms exporter, India spends whopping amounts on buying foreign arms. The country has spent US$16.72 billion in direct payments to foreign armament companies in the last five years, while exporting arms worth a paltry US$426 million in the same period. India is further expected to spend another US$120 billion in the coming decade on arming itself.

India’s battle worthiness has been further undermined by its outdated artillery. Even the indigenously-produced fighter, Tejas, is riddled with 53 “significant shortfalls” that could compromise its survivability in combat, according to a 63-page report by the comptroller last year. The document highlighted glaring deficiencies in the warplane’s electronic warfare capabilities which could compromise its chances of survival in a hostile environment it said.

Further, nearly 75 percent of the 124 Arjun tanks are grounded due to more than 90 technical issues like faulty transmission systems, targeting and thermal sights. India’s Defense and Research Organization has failed to produce ammunition for its fleet of Russian-built T-90 battle tanks. Consequently, the Indian military had to purchase around 66,000 anti-tank shells from Russia in early 2014, say insiders.