Archive for May, 2018

Confronted with crippling operational shortages in ammunition stocks that would not last even 10 days of “intense fighting”, the defence ministry and Armyare now finalizing a Rs 15,000 crore long-term plan to get the domestic private sector to manufacture seven different types of ammunition.

The aim is to develop capability in the private sector companies, which can set up joint ventures with foreign manufacturers, to bridge the gaps in the production capacity of the 41 factories of the Ordnance Factory Board. “This indigenization of ammunition production over a 10-year time-frame will gradually reduce our heavy import dependence,” said a senior official.

 

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The government was rudely jolted out of its slumber after the terror attack at Uri in September 2016 when it found that the 13-lakh strong Army simply did not have certain categories of ammunition to undertake a full-blown war with “intense fighting” for 10 days.

Similar was the case with the IAF and Navy. This when the conventional norm is that the force should have adequate the war wastage reserves (WWR) to last 40 days of “intense fighting”.

Since then, contracts worth around Rs 24,000 crore for ammunition, spares, engines and other reserves have been inked or are in the process of being finalized, mainly with Russia and Israel, under the revenue financial powers delegated to the three Services as well as capital acquisitions to build up adequate stocks for at least 10 days of war.

Under the 19 contracts worth Rs 11,740 crore finalized for the Army, for instance, the force will get Smerch rockets, Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles, 125mm APFSDS (armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) ammunition for its T-90S and T-72 tanks and other ammunition in the 2019-2020 timeframe, as earlier reported by TOI.

This has come as a big relief for the armed forces, which continue to maintain high operational readiness all along the 778-km Line of Control with Pakistan as well as the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control with China.

The new Rs 15,000 crore plan aims to get the Indian industry to manufacture ammunition for infantry weapons like UBGLs (under-barrel grenade launchers) and AGLs (automatic grenade launchers), 122mm Grad rockets, electronic fuzes and bi-modular charge systems for the artillery, and 30mm high-explosive incendiary ammunition for BMP-II infantry combat vehicles.

“The bids of 11 Indian private companies for these contracts to produce some initial quantities of ammunition were opened last month. The technical evaluation is now underway,” said the official.

Once the selected companies develop the capability to produce the required ammunition, contracts worth around Rs 15,000 crore over the next 10 years will be progressively awarded to them, said officials.

Earlier this year, Army vice-chief Lt-General Sarath Chand had told the parliamentary standing committee on defence that the Rs 21,338 crore allocated for modernization of his force in the 2018-2019 budget had “dashed our hopes” since it did not cater for even “committed payments” of Rs 29,033 crore for ongoing schemes and emergency procurements.

 He said the Army was grappling with an alarming mix of 8% (state-of-the-art), 24% (current) and 68% (vintage) weaponry in its arsenal while engaged in daily cross-border firing duels with Pakistan as well as heightened tensions with China since the Doklam stand-off last year.

Even a CAG report tabled in Parliament last year had held the Army’s stocks of 121 (80%) of the 152 types of ammunition were below the authorization level required for 40 days of “intensive fighting” as per WWR norms.

“Further, availability of 83 (55%) types of ammunition was below the MARL (minimum acceptable risk level of ammunition stocks for 20 days) and 61 (40%) types were at a critical level (less than 10 days). Availability of high-calibre ammunition for tanks and artillery are in a more alarming state. Moreover, in the absence of fuses, 83% of the high-calibre ammunition currently held by Army is not in a state to be used operationally,” it had added.

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The Indian army quest to equip its soldiers with modern rifle and carbines suffered a setback this week when two major weapons manufacturers, US gunmaker Colt and Italy’s Beretta, pulled out of the contest. Both Colt and Beretta were offering weapons for the 7.62×51 mm battle rifle and the 5.56×45 mm carbine requirements. The two companies were not among the dozen-odd firms which had responded to the Indian armys Request for Proposals (RFP) by May 7.

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While the exact reasons for the pullout are not known, at least one of the manufacturers is believed to have written a letter to the army citing unrealistic timeframes and stiff financial clauses.

The army plans to import 72,000 assault rifles and 94,000 carbines on a fast track basis for over Rs 3,500 crore. It had issued RFPs on 17 global arms manufacturers in February this year citing urgent operational requirements for its troops. These small arms are meant to replace the armys stock of INSAS rifles and vintage Sterling 9 mm carbines. A fast track procedure bypasses the lengthy trial process associated with regular purchases. The army hopes to complete the acquistion of all the weapons in 12 months, a time frame stipulated by the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016.

The bids from the other firms in the assault rifle and carbien tenders are believed to have been opened on May 8 and the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) that convened on May 10 and is to submit its report in 10 days.

Global arms makers have been largely lukewarm to the armys small arms procurement. Two of the largest gunmakersFN Herstal of Belgium and Germanys Heckler & Koch did not even participate in the small arms tender.

Some clauses in the contract which have made it unappealing to foreign vendors include parking nearly 15 per cent of the value of the contract as a performance bank guarantee, the removal of the force majeur clause which allows a manufacturer to suspend a contract due to unforseen consequences like war or a natural disaster.

The foreign vendors too have to secure export licenses from their own governments in the limited time available. Other clauses which make the contract unappealing are clauses for the winning firm to deliver the first batch of 25,000 weapons (assault rifle and carbines) in the first nine months and the remainder within three months. This deadline can be extended only by another three months after which financial penalties kick in.

It doesnt make commercial sense for us to participate in the tender, said the representative of a leading small arms firm said at the biennial Defexpo India 2018 inaugurated in Chennai on April 12. The army is also looking to buy 5,719 sniper rifles and 17,000 light machine guns. Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) is the only small arms firm in the reckoning for all three infantry weapon types battle rifles, carbines and light machine guns.

The new RFPs for rifles and carbines is the armys third attempt to buy new small arms since it decided to replace its indigenous but glitch-prone INSAS rifles in 2007. The process has been delayed by the armys own changing requirements. Between 2011 and 2017 the army issued three requirements for small arms, or roughly one every two years.

The first tender in 2011, for a dual-caliber rifle chambered for two types of ammunition (7.62×39 mm and 5.56x 45 mm) was withdrawn in 2015. A second attempt, in 2015, to buy modified INSAS 1C rifles was scrapped after the army opted for a battle rifle chambered for the heavier 7.62×51 mm round.