| Arms power
New Delhi, May 20: Nepal has made a fervent plea to India for lethal arms and munitions for its army.
The Royal Nepal Army (RNA) is now delving into its reserves of ammunition for its standard issue India-supplied INSAS 5.56-mm and 7.62-mm combat weapons. The stock of ammunition for these guns could run “dangerously low” in less than a month, according to an estimate available in the ministry of defence here.
Earlier this month, the cabinet committee on security had cleared a pending supply of ‘B’ vehicles (troop carriers) and bulletproof jackets after Nepal’s King Gyanendra claimed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured him in Bandung, Indonesia, of a resumption of military supplies.
The decision was opposed by the Left. The government told Left leaders that it was only clearing supplies that were in the pipeline and also that the supplies were “non-lethal”. But now Nepal has asked India for weapons and hardware that are immediately needed by its army in the war against the Maoists.
The specific request from Nepal has put Delhi in a quandary. It is caught between supplying military stocks to the RNA and risk endorsing the king’s coup of February 1 on the one hand. On the other, it has to contend with the opposition from Nepal’s political parties and the Left in India.
A rough estimate of the RNA’s requirement of bullets for the INSAS 5.56 mm and the 7.62 can be arrived at from the strength of the forces that are battling the Maoists.
The RNA has 15 operational brigades, according to military analyst Major General Ashok Mehta. This means about 32,000 troops in 45 battalions need to be continuously equipped to wage war.
In a counter-insurgency situation as in Nepal, the first (and largest) line of ammunition stocks would account for about 200 rounds of bullets per small arm per month or a total of 64 lakh rounds. An assessment of first line ammunition stocks is drawn up by fighting units for defensive action.
The Maoists have declared that their armed insurgency has entered a phase of “strategic offensive”. Consequently, military authorities expect the Maoists to attack RNA establishments. Given the RNA’s level of training, the usage of ammunition is high.
The RNA has two battalions of special forces equipped with American and Belgian guns but the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56 mm and the old 7.62 mm self loading rifle (that is being phased out from the Indian Army) are its primary weapons.
The weapons are manufactured in the Ordnance Factory Board’s establishments in Ichhapur near Calcutta and in Kanpur.
The bullets, designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Armaments Research and Development Establishment, are manufactured at the ammunition factory at Kirkee near Pune.
The RNA, which is in the middle of an expansion programme, also needs more INSAS rifles, mine-protection vehicles, field guns and bulletproof jackets.