The current technology and the rising appetite of Indian private industry have the potential to manufacture all the needed spare parts, spare barrels, and production of ammunition

by Maj Gen Ashok Kumar

There are more than 60 countries in the world which buy arms and warlike stores from Russia. Due to the current year-long ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Russia is finding it quite difficult to replenish its own arms and other warlike stores and therefore supply of arms, ammunition and other war-like stores including spare parts to other countries are also adversely affected. While other countries in the world which are not facing the active conflict or have tranquil borders may afford to wait for sometime but India can ill afford such a disruption as majority of Indian defence equipment is of import origin and that too from Russia. India can ill afford the current situation as China has made transgressions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at multiple locations in the Eastern Ladakh besides enhancing conflict gradient every passing day all along the LAC.

To address this challenge, India has embarked upon focussed indigenisation of defence equipment not only to meet its own requirement but also to export the same to friendly foreign countries. The current drive of indigenisation may take anything close to one to two decades given our procedural obsession and non adoption of out of box approaches. Since we cannot select the conflict initiation time as of now with China, it is essential that India initiates necessary measures to respond effectively to Chinese conflict over China using alternate resources.

The priority should remain to keep our current inventory of equipment ‘Mission ready’ for which requisite focus must remain on efficient MRO support wherein unavailable spare parts can be sourced from the local MSME private industry and the country can keep moving towards full indigenisation qualitatively with focus on latest technology.

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In the interim period, India has to find answers to this problem. Since indigenisation and large scale imports both have their challenges, the answer has to be a military solution which can be found by India from within its own resources and there is an ‘option’. ‘Option’ lies in focussing on large scale indigenised manufacture of the ammunition. While the ex-import component of land forces equipment in the Army is close to 80 percent, India has progressed reasonably well on the ammunition manufacturing front. This capacity can be enhanced to include few more categories which need to be optimised besides re-orienting the national philosophy of ‘war fighting’ wherein large quantum of ammunition can be delivered on the enemy by using lesser number of weapons. The thought will be attempted to be explained in the succeeding paragraphs.

Majority of weapons have two or more rates of fire which can be selected to deliver the requisite quantum of ammunition on the targets based on the degradation/neutralisation needed. For doing this, more numbers of ammunition rounds can be fired by using the higher ‘rate of fire’ option but it will require/ impact primarily two things – one is the ammunition replenishment will be needed early as more number of rounds are being used to prosecute the target and the second- even the weapons will undergo more rapid wear and tear and may require early replacement but this replacement will be primarily required for the barrels as against the whole equipment . It is much easier to manufacture more number of barrels for all equipment with the Indian Army as against trying to indigenise/import large quantities of full equipment given the time sensitivity and urgency involved.

Once we succeed in having adequate spare barrels with reasonably higher quantum of ammunition, we can modify our deployment philosophy of weapons appropriately. Lesser number of guns firing at ‘rapid rate’ with no shortage of ammunition and backed up by adequate spare barrels can create a virtual abundance of resources. The effectiveness can at least double or increase more with the same number of weapons by firing more rounds at rapid rate with robust supply chain of spares, logistics and open mindset to refine drills and procedures. There will be associated challenges as well but all these can be surmounted.

China-challenge is ‘real’ and cannot be procrastinated any further. External support of any kind should be taken merely as a ‘bonus’ but should not be part of priority planning parameters. The current technology and the rising appetite of Indian private industry have the potential to manufacture all the needed spare parts, spare barrels and production of ammunition. The defence forces have to extend their hand holding approach which focuses on ‘product’ as against the process. In the meantime, the hierarchical leadership will need to modify their strategy of the warfighting to succeed even in the case of negative gradient towards us on the force matrix. Concept of generation of ‘virtual resources’ as advocated has the potential of becoming the ‘game changer’. The example given for ‘gun’ is equally applicable to all other types of equipment as well.