Army’s got it all wrong

R. Sundaram | Updated on June 20, 2012 Published on June 20, 2012


The furore over the leakage of the letter by the retired General V.K. Singh to the Prime Minister has faded from our memory faster than the fizz in a soda bottle. In that letter, the General had raised his concerns about the state of the preparedness in terms of weapons, ammunition and other fighting equipment.

According to newspapers the General was “miffed” with Ordnance Factories which produce weapons and other fighting materials. But no one thought it fit to ask the Factories what their side of the story is. If the Factories have been so remiss in discharging their remit in depth, range and quality as portrayed, there is every reason to seriously consider winding up this vast organisation. It may be of interest to know here that these factories produced $2.4-billion worth of equipment last fiscal for the armed forces and paramilitary forces, duly checked and accepted by an independent quality assurance organisation.

The Army’s fault

The Army’s own contribution to the current state of affairs cannot be denied. Although originally Russian technology was used for making this equipment, the Army found the claims of a superior product by the now-blacklisted Israeli Military Industries (IMI) attractive. It imported 46,000 rounds seven years ago and found them good. Later, in 2006, the Ordnance Factory Board started the first phase of a two step co-production with IMI. Strangely, however, it took unconscionably four long years for the Army to give bulk production clearance for the Board’s product, although all the critical components were from Israel. The Comptroller and Auditor General has observed this, too.

Another important aspect highlighted by the retired General was the incident of bursting of gun barrels of T-72 tanks. Although these have been produced in the erstwhile USSR and East European countries since early eighties in huge quantities, the problem dogged this product for long. In India, too, this occurred in barrels of both foreign and indigenous origins. Getting inputs from Russia to make improvements as implemented over there took more than half a dozen delegation-level meetings between the two countries. Although after valiant efforts some details of heat-treatment processes were obtained and implemented, there is no knowing that the problem has, indeed, been licked, since Russia does not share ‘know why’.

Meanwhile, the Army appears to believe that one of the causes may be the strength of explosives in the indigenously produced high explosive ammunition. This is funny since there is no other ammunition available to be used in training or trials, as there is no stock of anti-tank ammunition which is what compelled the General to write in the first place.

Difficult Russians

Although Russia has been our mainstay in defence equipment, it has proved to be a difficult partner at the operating level. Meetings to sort out technical problems or supply deficiencies routinely entail inordinate delay. One wonders whether Russia has ever attempted modernising its documentation or logistics to 21{+s}{+t} century standards. Price negotiations with Russian suppliers, too, are a nightmare. During delegation-level meetings lasting a week they would always come up with a quotidian formulation such as “reply would be given in the established manner”. There is rarely any elemental cost data or indices made available to back their arguments. Unless, in the long haul, the Army sincerely believes in indigenous development, whether from public or private sector, there may not be any guarantee against recurrence of such situations.

(The author is a former member, Ordnance Factories.)

Published on June 20, 2012
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