|Army personnel stand guard during a gun battle with terrorists in Pulwama, Kashmir. (PTI File Photo/Representative Image )|
An internal army assessment has flagged concerns about faulty ammunition and armament supplied by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) causing army casualties and bleeding the exchequer; 403 accidents over the last six years have resulted in the deaths of 27 soldiers and a loss of Rs 960 crore it said.
The four-page note, reviewed by Hindustan Times on Tuesday, said that the army could have bought 100 medium artillery guns with Rs 960 crore that was lost due to poor quality ammunition. It significantly said some friendly foreign countries had even refused to accept OFB products on the grounds of quality and that its corporatisation was the only way forward.
An army spokesperson refused to comment, while OFB spokesperson Gagan Chaturvedi said the army’s assessment is not factually correct and that the board will issue a statement on Wednesday.
The government has set a one-year timeline for the corporatisation of OFB.
The note said 159 soldiers were injured in accidents attributed to OFB-supplied ammunition and armament between 2014 and 2020.
“Lack of accountability and poor quality of production result in frequent accidents. This results in injuries and death of soldiers. On an average, one accident takes places per week,” the note said.
The highest fatal casualties in a single year were recorded in 2016 when 19 soldiers were killed, while the maximum non-fatal casualties were reported in 2018 when 43 were injured. The ammunition and armament in question was supplied to four wings of the army --- air defence, artillery, armoured corps and infantry.
“The sub-optimal efficiency of this potential strategic asset (OFB) is one of the major contributing factors to the hollowness threatening the ammunition and armament holdings of the Indian Army,” according to the army’s assessment. The note added that it was a matter of concern that certain countries have refused to even accept ordnance factory-manufactured ammunition and equipment offered against Lines of Credit due to concerns regarding quality of output, procedures in the factories and inefficient post-sale service.
The government announced on September 11, the setting up of an empowered group of ministers (EGoM) under defence minister Rajnath Singh to oversee the corporatisation of OFB, which controls 41 ordnance factories engaged in the production of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, bombs, rockets, artillery guns, anti-aircraft guns, parachutes, small arms, clothing and leather equipment for soldiers.
The factories controlled by the board employ at least 80,000 people who are against the corporatisation.
“The corporatisation of a system with modern technologies and advanced automated manufacturing will enable higher precision and minimal failures in production of sensitive munitions .The concept of centralised and state-controlled production is obsolete and needs to be addressed,” said former army vice chief Lieutenant General AS Lamba (retd).
The corporatisation move will benefit OFB, the note said.
“The corporatisation of OFB will put it on par with other defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) managed by its own board of directors with broad guidelines from the government. The government has envisioned growth of OFB post corporatisation expecting it to raise its turnover to Rs 30,000 crore by 2024-25 annually against the existing Rs 12,000 crore, and has set up a high-level panel to work out a roadmap to achieve the same.”.
According to the army’s internal assessment, OFB has a monopoly over several products required by the armed forces, minimal focus on innovation and technology development , no incentive to improve quality and cost efficiency, and no accountability for its products.
The note said OFB has performed below its potential over the last few decades and drained the defence budget by overpricing products.
“Rs 658.58 crore worth of (ammunition) was disposed of within shelf life between April 2014 and April 2019 and Rs 303.23 crore worth of mines were disposed of within shelf life post Pulgaon accident in May 2016. Rs 960 cr loss roughly means 100 155 mm medium artillery guns could have been bought for this amount,” the note said.