Indian Army raises alarm over rising accidents due to faulty ammunition

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Army raises alarm over rising accidents due to faulty ammunition
Rajat Pandit | TNN | Updated: May 14, 2019

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The Army has sounded an alarm over the unacceptably high number of accidents taking place in the field due to poor quality and defective ammunition being supplied for tanks, artillery, air defence and other guns by the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).The Army has told the defence ministry (MoD) that the spike in ammunition-related accidents is causing “fatalities, injuries and damage to equipment” at an alarming rate. This, in turn, is “leading to the Army’s loss of confidence in most types of ammunition” being manufactured by OFB, sources said.

They said the Army had raised with secretary (defence production) Ajay Kumar the “serious concerns” about the lack of requisite “quality control and quality assurance” by OFB, which, with 41 factories and an annual turnover of about Rs 19,000 crore, is the main source of arms and ammunition to the over 12-lakh-strong force. “Any drop in the quality of OFB products has major operational ramifications on the country’s war-waging potential,” a source said.

The red alert has led to “an urgent collaborative effort” between the Army and MoD’s department of defence production to improve the functioning of OFB, with Kumar also asking the force to submit “a paper” about different problems with the ammunition.

The 15-page paper presents an extremely grim picture. It says “regular accidents” are occurring with 105mm Indian field guns, 105mm light field guns, 130mm MA1 medium guns, 40mm L-70 air defence guns and the main guns of T-72, T-90 and Arjun battle tanks, with some “isolated cases” also being reported from 155mm Bofors guns due to defective ammunition. “With OFB’s piecemeal and poor approach to problem-solving, the Army has stopped firing some long-range ammunition,” said a source.

“With the OFB’s piecemeal and poor approach in problem-solving, the Army has stopped firing some types of long-range ammunition, while also refraining from not testing some others to their maximum ranges. There have been, for instance, over 40 accidents of the 125mm high explosive ammunition fired by tanks in the last five years,” said a source.

Similarly, the Army has stopped “all training firing” of the 40mm high explosive ammunition by the L-70 air defence guns after the latest accident in February, in which an officer and four soldiers were seriously injured at the Mahajan field firing range. “The entire range of the L-70 high explosive ammunition held by the Army is now suspect,” said another source.

Moreover, a large quantum of OFB ammunition has also been found defective during their shelf-lives due to poor quality control. “Blackening of ammunition of small arms and heavy-caliber ammunition due to poor metallurgy and packaging is also a major problem,” said the source.

American officials, incidentally, had also blamed OFB ammunition after the muzzle of a new M-777 ultra-light howitzer had broken during tests at the Pokhran field firing ranges in September 2017 before the Army began the induction of 145 such artillery guns from the US under a Rs 5,000 crore deal. “A joint team had later scientifically traced the problem to a particular lot of bi-modular charge system ammunition…it was addressed. But the overall problems remain,” he added.


OFB’s defence

The OFB, on being contacted by TOI, said ammunition is supplied to Army only after stringent inspection by the factory’s quality control department as well as the DGQA (directorate general of quality assurance). An ammo batch is issued only after it passes extensive tests, ranging from “all input material” being tested in designated labs to “100% dimensional checking” in the factory, said an official.

Some defects or accidents, however, do sometimes occur during “bulk exploitation” of the ammunition by the Army. “The important reasons can be manufacturing deficiencies, improper handling and storage in ammo depots, improper maintenance of weapon systems, and improper handling of ammo and weapons during firings,” he said.

“The OFB is not aware of the storage/handling/maintenance conditions at the Army’s end, which are equally responsible for defects/accidents.” The OFB has implemented recommendations of seven committees but “the drills and condition of weapons were never investigated,” he said.


 
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