Army’s poor gun maintenance, design change causing accidents: OFB
The state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), one of the oldest defence establishments, has countered the Indian Army’s claim that its faulty ammunition was leading to injuries and deaths of soldiers and damage to equipment, saying that the accidents could also be because of “poor gun maintenance”, “faulty firing drill”, and “unvalidated design changes in the weapon”.
Sources in Indian Army had stated that between 2014 and 2020, 403 accidents, where OFB ammunition was involved, had taken place, causing the exchequer a loss of Rs 960 crore. This, they said, could have financed the purchase of 100 artillery guns. These accidents also left 27 personnel dead.
Questioning the Army’s logic, the OFB said: “The same logic, if applied to the faulty Krasnopol ammunition imported during the Kargil war amounting to Rs 522.44 crore could have financed another 55 artillery guns.”
The OFB contended that in the accidents that occurred between January 2015 to December 2019, and defect investigations have been completed, only 19 percent of the cases were attributable to it.
It stated that the investigation into the defect was carried out by a committee headed by the Authority Holding Sealed Particulars (AHSP) which is the custodian of the manufacturing documents.
“The committees include representatives of all the stakeholders, including the user. The investigations carried out by these committees are seldom holistic in nature, despite the fact that the OFB has been insisting on such an approach,” the OFB claimed.
Further, out of the total number of accidents where defect investigation has been completed, only 2 percent of the cases where casualties have been reported are attributable to the OFB, it said. In 98 percent of the cases where there have been casualties, these are not attributable to the OFB, it added.
Between 2011 and 2018, there have been more than 125 accidents involving ammunition procured from sources other than the OFB, both domestic and foreign, it said.
The OFB also said that of the 27 fatalities reported, 19 were in May 2016 incident at the Central Ammunition Depot, Pulgaon (Maharashtra), involving anti-tank mines. “This mine had been developed by the DRDO (ARDE) and was manufactured strictly according to their design. Design deficiencies were subsequently noticed and suitable changes are being evaluated,” the OFB said.
The OFB also said that most of these accidents involved vintage ammunition manufactured prior to 2006 when inspection of all input materials was undertaken by the Director-General, Quality Assurance (DGQA), and the OFB had no control on the quality of input material.
“In fact, after 2005-06, when the responsibility for inspection of input material was given to the OFB, there has been a decrease in the number of accidents,” it maintained.
It also said that since 2013, a system of advanced early user exploitation, based on a random sample drawn from each freshly manufactured lot of ammunition, was in place, in addition to the established schedule of inspection and validation conducted by the DGQA.
The results of this system have demonstrated a satisfaction level of more than 99 percent which is comparable to international standards, the OFB said, adding that the quality of ammunition manufactured by it is also amply testified to by the receipt of repeat export orders of ammunition supplied under self-certification.
Noting that the Army report mentions 125 mm tank ammunition, it said: “Accidents in T-72/T-90 tanks are a dated issue wherein incidents have been observed in all combinations of ammunition and barrel – imported as well as domestic. Various investigations including those involving Russian specialists and investigation led by the user were conducted and their recommendations implemented.”
The OFB was given the bulk production clearance for the ammunition in 2016 and since 2017, ammunition manufactured strictly in accordance with Transfer of Technology documents is being supplied, without the earlier modifications suggested by DGQA and the Army, and no accident has been reported since then, it said.
The case of 23 mm ammunition is intriguing, the OFB said, noting only 23 percent of the accidents were due to OFB ammunition, and the balance 77 percent involved imported ammunition.
Currently, hundreds of thousands of rounds/pieces of defective imported ammunition is available in various depots, it said.