Updated 9:12 AM EST, Tue, Jan 05, 2021

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India Gearing for Conflict; is now Fast Tracking Arms Purchases

Twin barrels

(Photo : Indian Army) GSh-23 autocannon with 23 mm ammunition belt on an attack helicopter.

India continues the breathless pace of modernizing the Indian Armed Forces and after ordering new submarines, tanks, surface-to-air missile systems, artillery, assault rifles and fighter jets since the start of 2016 is now placing an order for over $1 billion in ammunition and weapons from international suppliers.

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India recognizes it faces critical shortages of ammunition in all its armed services and is bypassing prescribed routine acquisition procedures by invoking the "Fast Track Purchase" (FTP) to purchase ammunition and weapons worth up to $1 billion from traditional vendors but bypassing lengthy tests and field trials.

This fast tracking comes at a time where border clashes with Pakistan along the Line of Control in Kashmir are taking place almost daily, and with China continuing to militarize its side of the Line of Actual Control along Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian Army has lost over 50 men killed in the firefights against the Pakistan Army along the LoC.

To be fast tracked will be a variety of ammunition; assault rifles; light machine guns; rocket launchers;  anti-tank guided missiles to be mounted on helicopters and thermal-imaging equipment, according to the Ministry of Defense (MoD).

"Small teams constituting senior defense service officials and MoD procurement officials have been sent to Russia and Israel to quickly purchase a variety of ammunition and other essential requirements," said MoD sources.

FTP will allow Delhi to buy weapons and equipment already in use by the armed forces from readily available vendors, dispensing with field trials.

FTP will bypass India's archaic and notoriously cumbersome acquisition process where purchase requests have gone unfilled for years due to bureaucratic rigidity.

"Though the government is doing enough, the procedures are still very archaic," said Ashwani Sharma, a retired Indian Amy Colonel and defense analyst. "Revised Defense Procurement Procedures have given a push, but the structure at the apex level needs an overhaul."

"Delays are due to dependence on foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers for procurement of ammunition and bureaucratic procedures," said an Indian Army official.

The state-owned Ordnance Factories Board is the main source for supply of ammunition to the Indian Army, but the organization is notorious for failing to supply the required quantities of ammunition on time.

An appraisal last month of India's weapons and equipment need for short-term combat revealed there was only a two to three day reserve of the cannon ammunition for Russian-made T-72 and T-90 tanks operated by the armored regiments of the Indian Army.

There is also a shortage of armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding-sabot (APFSDS) ammunition  (the most effective anti-tank rounds); other anti-tank rounds and autocannon ammunition for the Sukhoi Su-30MKI jets armed with 30 mm autocannons and Mil Mi-35 helicopter gunships with 23 mm autocannons operated by the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army.

Seven types of ammunition have been identified for procurement from private suppliers as part of the government's "Make in India" push.

Among these are specialized ammunition for tanks and artillery, and charges and electronic fuzes for rockets arming the Russian-made BM-21 "Grad" truck-mounted 122 mm multiple rocket launcher. None of these items are currently being made in India. 

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