Home Critical Deficiencies in the Indian Army

Critical Deficiencies in the Indian Army

The Prime Minister was briefed by the Army Chief in the War Room of Military Operations Directorate on critical hollowness afflicting the army on June 13, 2014. As per media reports, the briefing lasted for 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the army presented its readiness deficit in unambiguous terms[i].  The fact that the event was reported in the national news in a routine, matter of fact manner, without any comments/furore over implications of such a disclosure on our national security, is an indicator of the gradual acceptance to hollowness in the army. It was not very long ago that the mere use of the word hollowness for army’s capability and readiness was considered as a threat to national security. We have indeed come a very long way in a short period of time. Presently one of the seven thrust areas identified by the current Army Chief is to address hollowness[ii]. While it is good to talk openly about the hollowness and not brush it aside under the garb of security implications, at the same time, it is vital that the stakeholders do not become complacent to its continued existence. This article attempts to analyse hollowness in the recent context of the Indian army (without going back to 1962) and make a few recommendations to address it.

During the Kargil conflict, the then Army Chief was constrained to say ‘we will fight with what we have[iii]. This was one of the first serious but indirect admissions of hollowness in times of threat to the nation’s security. However, the first use of the term dates back to a classified Army study made by General JJ Singh in the year 2005[iv]. The first prime-time public acknowledgement of hollowness in army came many years later, when Gen VK Singh on April 01, 2010, explained to Nitin Gokhale on NDTV, that hollowness  implied deficiencies and void in weapons and equipment that a soldier in combat unit needs.  It occurs on account of obsolescence and as a consequence of procedural delays[v].  The term touched the zenith of media attention in March 2012, when a letter written by the then Army Chief to the Prime Minister on the issue became public.  However, since then attention has only waned, as far as media and cyber content is concerned. Notwithstanding the changing profile of public attention, the army remains absolutely seized with the problem.

Causes of hollowness have oft been debated by analysts and some of the obvious ones are actually not very difficult to arrive at. Inadequate resource allocation is the prime reason which comes to fore when talking of military inadequacies. Even recent media reports indicated that the army needs Rupees 19,250 crore funding to replenish ammunition stocks[vi]. However, on the other hand, successive finance ministers while presenting the union budget have assured that financial constraints will not come in the way of providing any additional requirement for the security of the nation[vii]. It is also true that additional allocations have hardly been sought, since the army’s capital budget has rarely been utilised in its entirety, and a significant portion has invariably been surrendered or apportioned to meet the revenue requirements.

Lack of technological and industrial capacity is another reason which is cited to justify our inability to meet the operational needs of the soldier in field. This argument is also used to justify the fact that India is the largest importer of weapons and defence equipment in the world today. At the same time we also have one of the world’s largest defence industrial base. To the credit of this vast industrial base,  India is among the few countries in the world that has developed, or is in the process of developing, a fourth plus generation fighter aircraft, an aircraft carrier, a nuclear submarine, a main battle tank, and the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)[viii]. Further, Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan have adequately demonstrated the country’s huge capabilities to design, develop, test and manage technologically complex operations even in outer space, in the most economical manner. Therefore, if we can build cost effective yet state of the art systems, which only a handful of other nations on the planet can build, then there is no reason why we can’t produce weapons and equipment to meet the army’s operational needs. It is evident from the above arguments that the country possesses adequate fiscal, technological and industrial resources and the necessary will to utilise them. While it has successfully managed these resources for purposes of creating show-case technological demonstrators, routine management of these resources has been rather sub-optimal, and hence the continued phenomena of hollowness.

The defence acquisition wing, DRDO, ordnance factories, DPSUs, the nascent but fast growing domestic private sector and the logistic echelons of the army ordnance corps form the defence supply chain. These six entities, apart from the end users, are in some manner collectively/individually responsible for the hollowness that the Services suffer. The cause for any deficiency in the weapons and equipment can be with ease traced to at least one of these six entities. Further, if these entities for some reason act at cross-purposes, they can seriously impair the functional efficacy of the entire value chain. Failure of stakeholders to honour commitments of developing a technology, while considering a technology acquisition proposal (or even vice-a-versa), and a commitment by public sector production agencies to deliver, while considering proposals for the private sector,  leads to obvious delays in meeting operational requirements. Therefore, the question that needs to be answered is that, are these supply chain entities collectively accountable to any authority or are they just operating in their own best interests?

We have apparently failed to create the requisite management framework for systemic and strategic coordination/alignment of varied entities that form part of our vast but disjointed defence supply chain. The six entities of the defence supply chain can and will deliver value to the ultimate customer in field, provided they operate in a collaborative environment of mutual trust and when information flows freely through the value chain. In reality the six entities forming the defence supply chain function under three different departments of the Ministry of Defence with minimalistic flow of information. There is an urgent and dire need to create an institutionalised mechanism under the Raksha Mantri, which measures the extent of hollowness, charts a course for addressing it, and aligns the supply chain entities to the approved course. The Vice Chiefs, Director General of the Acquisition Wing, Scientific Adviser to the Raksha Mantri, Director General of Ordnance Factories, heads of PSUs, the Director General of Ordnance Services and Indian industry’s representatives should ideally form part of such an endeavour.

In the contemporary times, competition no longer exists among products but has graduated to the level of supply chains that delivers the product. There is a very little difference in features of laptops produced by say HP or Dell, but there is a world of difference in the supply chains of HP and Dell, and that is what that matters today. The analogy from the corporate world needs to be extended to the military. It is the supply chain behind the soldier which provides the real competitive advantage. The brazen reality is that our defence supply chain needs to outperform that of our possible adversaries and that can happen only if, we firstly, define and recognise the defence supply chain as an integrated entity, secondly, develop a structured managerial framework  for managing it, and thirdly staff it with a trained and competent workforce. Lastly, but not the least, the talk of hollowness should not be restricted to ceremonial occasions when the new Chiefs/Raksha Mantri/Prime Minister assume office. Hollowness needs to be measured and quantified on a periodic basis and the Cabinet Committee on Security should be as a matter of policy briefed on its status, at least twice in a production year.


The author is a Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.


[i] India not war ready, Army Chief tells Modi. (2014, Jun 15). Retrieved June 19, 2014, from Defence News: http://www.defencenews.in/defence-news-internal.aspx?id=ke4/HIEisjw=

[ii]Chief of the Army Staff - Thrust areas. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2014, from Indian Army: http://indianarmy.nic.in/Site/FormTemplete/frmTemp1PTC2C.aspx?MnId=n2nK6IOsTKEVKF+yQtdy1Q==&ParentID=UKji63ye423pkeDDQ8WsGw==

[iii]Kapoor, Deepak. (2013, May). Will 1962 be repeated? Retrieved Jun 19, 2014, from India Strategic: http://www.indiastrategic.in/topstories1899_Will_1962_Be_Repeated.htm

[iv]Unnithan, S. (2012, Mar 30). General Singh's War on India. Retrieved Jun 19, 2014, from Indiatoaday.in: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/bribery-row-defamation-army-chief-general-singh-letter-manmohan/1/182374.html

[v]Gokhale, N. (2010, Apr 01). Army must set an example: New chief to NDTV. Retrieved Jun 19, 2014, from NDTV: http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/army-must-set-an-example-new-chief-to-ndtv-18898

[vi]Ibid i

[vii]Full text Union Budget 2013-14: Read Finance Minister P Chidambaram's budget . (n.d.). Retrieved Jun 19, 2014, from IBN Live: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/full-text-union-budget-201314-read-finance-minister-p-chidambarams-budget-speech/375639-7-255.html

[viii]Behera, L. K. (2013). Indian defence Industry - Issues of self relaince. New Delhi: IDSA.

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