by Jacob Tharakan Chacko

The halo around the Army limits citizens to discussing its valour and glory. But the annual budget allocations reflect the truth of how governments treat the force. The last budget made the vice-chief of the Army lament to the parliamentary committee. Fiscal inadequacy for defence is likely to continue since governments consider war a distant reality. Internal economy, if pursued, can help the Army out of this situation. Re-engineering munitions management is one gateway to large savings.

Scales of munitions for weapons are divided into 'first line,' 'second line' and 'war reserves.' Units, based on its weaponry and warehousing facilities, hold its entitlement. War reserves at 'Intense rates' for forty days are held by Ordnance echelons. These scales, in vogue for many years now, decide the stockpile. The current policy of universal application of scales, irrespective of the type of unit, results in huge stockpiles. Most of it is destroyed after one or two extensions of shelf life. 'Inabilities' and 'shortages' now compel the Army to adopt 'All India Availability' (AIA)-based controls on training and storage. The Army now has a complex combination of severe shortages and simultaneous holdings of an inventory with 'shelf life expired' or 'about to expire.'

The current 40-day policy of stockpiling was sanctified by the old school of 'war fighting.' Technological advances, qualitatively changed the art of war. This should have metamorphosed the logistics associated. Early target detection, better acquisition and surer ballistics have dramatically improved 'Single Shot Kill Probability' (SSKP). Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and terminal guidance systems ensure very high lethality. The new range of weaponry, both strategic and tactical, added to the arsenal over a period of time, have also tremendously increased reach and kill probabilities. The Air Force boasts of its capabilities to strike the enemy deep within and destroying them even before a probable assembly. 'Jointmanship' should ideally give us the capability to lethally engage the enemy from his peacetime locations, into the concentration areas, and in his advance towards designated operational areas. This should have logically led to an overall downward revision of the existing scales of munitions. Though, there have been serious deliberations on revising scales, these have not yet fructified into any reductions.

Adversities can stimulate change. Fiscal inadequacy must prompt the military hierarchy to pragmatically look at weapon scales and encourage them to adopt differential entitlements based on the type of units. While combat units may retain higher entitlements, supporting and service units could do with lower entitlements. Theatre-based entitlements, rather than universal application of the '40 I' is a practical concept that the Army must consider. The concept of 'short intense' war has gained traction enough, to prompt reduction from 40-I.

Reductions in the '40-I' mandate offers tremendous economic and operational spin-offs. While, the country would save on fiscal outlays through reduced land acquisition, construction of explosive storehouses and lesser disposals, Army can utilise the precious little available fiscal support for operational and modernisation purposes.

Jacob Tharakan Chacko is a retired major-general with 36 years of experience at various managerial and directional posts. He is a recipient of the Sena Medal