In an alarming state of affairs, the army has raised concerns over the high number of accidents taking place in the field due to poor quality of ammunition supplied by the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board. The latter – with its 41 factories – is the main supplier of ammunition to the army. However, the army has told the defence ministry that ammunition related accidents are causing deaths, injuries and damage to equipment. Regular accidents are occurring with 105 mm Indian field guns, 105 mm light field guns, 130 mm MA1 medium guns, 40 mm L-70 air defence guns, as well as the main guns of T-72, T-90 and Arjun main battle tanks due to defective ammunition.

In fact, the army has stopped all training firing of the 40 mm high explosive ammunition after the latest accident in February in which an officer and four soldiers were seriously injured. Such issues with ammunition quality are bound to undermine the army’s operational preparedness. Failing to ensure basics such as quality ammunition belies all the tough talk of the Narendra Modi government on national security. Defence modernisation is not just about inducting big-ticket weapons platforms (on which, too, there has been more controversy than movement). It necessarily includes an efficient ordnance network.

In this context, PM Modi recently accused previous Congress governments of making India dependent on foreign defence imports, even as China became a strong exporter of defence equipment over the same period. However, we have had a BJP-led government for five years – blaming Congress for today’s ills will not wash for much longer. It’s time to stop playing politics over the army and institute serious reforms to boost indigenous defence production by bringing in the private sector. India should not make the mistake of underestimating its enemies and rivals – they are smart enough to judge it by its deeds, not by its words.