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Indigenous Ammunition Production

Meeting the critical need for ammunition by the Armed Forces requires rapid ramping up of indigenous production

Issue 2 - 2024 By Major General Atanu K. Pattanaik (Retd)Photo(s): By PIB, AdaniDefence / X
India is on track to achieve significant self-reliance in munitions, with both the private and public sector manufacturers collaborating to ensure a robust supply of ammunition for the armed forces

The most vital lesson from the Ukraine war, which has entered its third year, is that ammunition stocking and production are critical to a nation’s war fighting resilience. Lack of adequate storage, production capacity and heavy dependence on foreign sources can severely constrain strategic freedom and pose serious challenges in the battlefield.

The Lesson Learned

Barely weeks into the war in February 2022, the European Union states pledged to deliver a million rounds of 155mm ammunition to Ukraine within a year. Two years later, at a critical moment in the war and with Ukraine running short of artillery shells to defend its 1,000 kms long frontline having already lost nearly 20 per cent of its territory, experts, weapons manufacturers and even some government officials are expressing growing doubts. Europe’s shrunken military sector, they say, may simply be unable to ramp up production fast enough to achieve the million-shell goal. After 30 years of atrophy, experts say, Europe’s shrunken military industry will struggle to provide the Ukrainians with a million artillery shells.

Some specifics are in order, to bolster how critical ammunition supply is for Ukraine to sustain its defences. To date, the US has supplied Ukraine with more than 1 million 155mm shells, the NATO-standard artillery shell. The US army is planning to boost the current production rate of about 14,000 155mm howitzer shells per month to 20,000 by this spring and up to 90,000 by 2025.

For their part, EU countries have provided Ukraine with about 3,50,000 155mm shells in total. But these deliveries have come at the price of both the US and Europe’s own ammunition supplies. They’ve got to work out how much they’re willing to sacrifice their own stocks and defensive ability in order to help Ukraine. It is estimated that Russian forces fired about 50,000 rounds of artillery each day, compared to about 6,000-7,000 from Ukraine. Western officials estimate that Russia is on track to manufacture two million artillery shells a year, which is twice as many as Western intelligence originally estimated it could make before the war. That gap has to be narrowed down to give a reasonable fight to Russia.

Since their production lines were struggling to keep up with the rate at which Ukraine was using ammunition, the US has sent roughly 1.1 million bullets seized from Iran last year from a ship bound for Yemen in December to Ukraine. The US has already provided more than 200 million bullets and grenades.

It is a Hobson’s choice most nations face while making their strategic assessments and budgeting for defence. Very large stocking of ammunition may result in large quantities getting life expired if not used within their shelf life. Yet war demands that there be consistent and smooth flow of ammunition to the frontline. If the war stretches beyond a certain anticipated period, as has happened in the case of Ukraine war, domestic production ramp up, even by your staunchest allies, cannot happen overnight.

India’s Dire Situation

India has not had a war since 1971, save an overseas deployment in Sri Lanka and the Kargil operations which was limited to a single sector. In peacetime, many armchair strategists and policy makers tend to negate possibilities of a war and hence begin to view large stockpiling of munitions, hovering around 30-40 days of war wastage reserves (WWR) as wasteful. Populism took precedence over pragmatism.

The Kargil war brought out many such shortcomings even though it was limited to one sector only. Ammunition management, especially 155mm variety for the large number of Bofors units which were marshalled from all theatres tested the ingenuity of logistics staff officers to the extreme. However, the ensuing ten years saw little concrete action other than knee jerk imports. When options were being weighed after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack directed and coordinated by Pakistan, it became crystal clear that there were no easy solutions to making up the gaping shortages of ammunition for the tanks, artillery guns of all calibre, small arms as well as air defence guns. In some cases, the holdings were as low as just five to seven days WWR. Faced with such embarrassing internal assessments, the government did what bureaucratic establishments are best doing at. It ordered a Committee under R.K. Mathur, then Additional Secretary Defence (later appointed first Lt Governor of UT of Ladakh), to study the situation and recommend concrete measures.

India is on track to achieve a fair degree of self-reliance in munitions and that’s very assuring in the given global scenario where warring blocks are spinning apart with the threat of a WW III looming large

During its initial fact findings, the Mathur Committee was surprised to learn that there was a ‘Mutually Agreed Target Fixation’ between the MGO/DG Ordnance and the Ordnance Factories Board. At the end of each fiscal, it would reflect 100 per cent demands of the services were being met by the ordnance factories (OFs) (primarily because the demands were placed not as per services needs but as per OFs delivery capacities). In many instances, the targets were lowered (again mutually!) in mid-year reviews. The deficiencies built up to crisis levels over the years, severely impinging on operational preparedness.

In summary, India’s armed forces grappled with a critical ammunition dilemma, stemming from their heavy reliance on imported weapons posing a significant challenge due to its crippling dependence on whimsical global weapons manufacturers. India’s flawed firearms production-acquisition policy and inadequate research and development exacerbate the situation. The country’s armed forces heavily relied on imported small arms, which poses risks during times of tension with adversaries like China and Pakistan.

ADVANCING ATMANIRBHARTA: Adani Defence & Aerospace inaugurates South Asia’s largest Ammunition & Missiles Complex that will manufacture a full spectrum of ammunition for the tri-services

Foreign arms firms were prone to abruptly terminate contracts, even during national security crises, for various reasons—ranging from export clearance issues in their home countries to concerns about human rights violations in the purchasing nation or as suiting their own strategic interests or domestic compulsions. To give an illustrative example; Belgian small arms manufacturer FN Herstal (FNH) withdrew from a contract to supply small arms to India’s covert paramilitary unit, the Special Frontier Force (SFF), during the Ladakh standoff with China. The SFF faced critical weapons shortages when FNH walked out on the deal.

Government Initiatives and Road Ahead

To address India’s ammunition requirements, a delicate balance is necessary between the potential of the domestic private industry and the role of OFs and defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs). Needless to state, both the private and public sectors must collaborate to ensure a robust supply of ammunition for the armed forces. In summary, India’s quest for self-reliance in defence must navigate the complexities of global arms markets, policy reforms, and strategic partnerships to bolster its national security.

India has moved on since and addressed some of the major issues concerning ammunition. Focus on Atmanirbhar Bharat to achieve a semblance of strategic autonomy has steered the Indian government to rework policy frameworks, tweak acquisition rules, open up the munition manufacturing to the private sector and make up long running ammunition and equipment deficiency. There has been a concerted effort to move away from import syndrome making the country vulnerable to meddling by the supplier countries at crucial times. This has also enabled private sector capital and resources into critical research and development in the field as well as enable exports befitting India’s regional and global aspirations.

The most vital lesson from the Ukraine war, which has entered its third year, is that ammunition stocking and production are critical to a nation’s war fighting resilience

Earlier, the Ministry of Defence had announced a scheme worth INR 498.8 crore ($67 million) over the next five years to Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) under the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO). The latter is a not-for-profit company under India’s Ministry of Defence while iDEX is its executive arm responsible for creating an ecosystem to foster indigenous innovation and technology development in India’s defence and aerospace sectors by engaging with entities such as MSMEs, startups, innovators, academics, and R&D institutions among others. iDEX evaluates various technologies for scalability and works with all three wings of the Indian armed forces to enable their adoption.

This recent budgetary allocation will provide financial support to 300 MSMEs, startups and innovators, and 20 partner incubators. It also goes a long way in supporting a growing synergy between India’s innovators, the defence manufacturing industry and the country’s defence needs. It also speaks to government support of and demand for technologies developed in India by emerging Indian entities.

Achieving Self-reliance

In a major initiative in India’s defence sector, two mega facilities to manufacture ammunition and missiles by Adani Defence & Aerospace, a part of the Adani Group, were inaugurated in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur on February 26 this year. The South Asia’s largest ammunition manufacturing complex is aimed at providing significant impetus to the nation’s self-reliance and technological advancement in defence. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande inaugurated the facilities spread over 500 acres. Furthermore, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, will now also procure air defence guns and ammunition from domestic manufacturers, a first in India. India is on track to achieve a fair degree of self-reliance in munitions and that’s very assuring in the given global scenario where warring blocks are spinning apart with threat of a WW III looming large.