Accidents caused by faulty ammunition made in Ordnance Factories (OF) have seen an abnormal rise in the last few years and one of the main anti-aircraft guns, L-70 , of the Indian Army is largely inactive because of unserviceable ammunition, according to a senior ministry of defence official who did not want to be named .
Six people were killed and 18 injured in a massive explosion at Pulgaon-based Central Ammunition Depot in Maharashtra’s Wardha district, around 110km from Nagpur, in late November when they were disposing of unused ammunition made at the Khamaria Ordnance Factory Board. These were unserviceable anti-aircraft ammunition.
On average, unserviceable ammunition has caused 65-70 accidents annually since 2013-2014.
In May this year, an official of the Ordinance Factory died during a routine check of L-70 ammunition at a forward ammunition depot near Pathankot in Punjab. “The accident happened when a validation exercise for L-70 rounds was being carried. The round went off accidentally killing an OF official,” a senior army officer who didn’t want to be named said.
Apart from ammunition for the L-70 guns, ammunition for tanks and Armoured Personnel Carriers are also a cause of concern for the Indian Army
As many as 19 personnel, including two officers, died when faulty anti-tank mines exploded at the Central Ammunition Depot in Phulgaon in May 2016. Surprisingly, while an internal inquiry pinned the blame on the Ordnance Factory and some of its officials, no was held accountable. Two officials found to be responsible by the inquiry have even superannuated, according to a second Ministry of Defence official who did not want to be named .
An audit of faulty ammunition being done by the Department of Defence Production , which supervises the Ordnance Factory, was stopped following the death, this official added. “The Indian army has been promised an improved version of L-70 ammunition fuse next year by the Ordnance Factory Boards. The audit has restarted in July”.
The issue is technology, a retired army officer said.
“Ordnance factories have not been up to date with the technology upgrades; recently, Indian made ammunition for the newly procured M-777 Light Howitzers malfunctioned causing an accident. Ordinance factories must acquire new technology and maintain better hygiene,” Brigadier S Chatterjee (retd) said.
Defence Ministry spokesperson, Colonel Aman Anand, did not respond to queries. Unserviceable ammunition isn’t the only concern for the Indian Army, Ordnance Factories have also consistently failed to produce adequate quantity of ammunition.
“The present state of preparedness has created voids due to the limited production capacity of the Ordinance Factory and consistent slippage in production targets,” the Indian Army told a Parliamentary oversight committee on defence last year.
Informing the Ministry of Defence and Parliamentary oversight committee, the Indian Army wrote, “Out of 22 items indented on Ordinance Factory Boards, as part of the Ammunition road map, 14 items were not supplied at all.”
The Indian Army also asked for the accountability to be fixed on the Ordnance Factory Boards for “poor quality,” slippages” and delays in supply of ammunition.