Indian Army blame poor quality homemade ammunition responsible for guns failure

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New Delhi: When the barrel of India's brand-new ultra-light and long-range artillery gun exploded during a field trial a few days ago, the damage was attributed by army sources to home-made ammunition.

But today, in a statement to NDTV, the state-owned manufacturer which supplies at least 90 per cent of artillery shells in use with the Army, seemed to suggest that the failure was not unusual. "The number of rounds successfully fired during user trial with ERFB BT ammunition from [the] M-777 howitzer gun were more than 1,100 and the round in which malfunction occurred was [the] 1164th round," said Dr U Mukherjee, a spokesperson for the manufacturer.

When asked if this failure rate was acceptable, Mr Mukherjee said "Ideally, this is not acceptable."

Senior officers of the army told NDTV that the manufacturer's explanation was unacceptable and that they expect consistency in the quality of ammunition supplied to them. Experts from the Ordnance Board have visited the site of the trials and interacted with executives from BAE Systems, the manufacturer of the M-777 to determine what went wrong. 

The OFB manufacturers shell hardware at the Ordnance Factory Ambajhari, Nagpur. Explosives are filled at its facilities at Chandrapur in Maharashtra and Bolangir in Odisha. 

India received two M-777 ultra-light howitzers in May, each worth around Rs 35 crore. This was the first time that the army imported an artillery gun in more than three decades, when the Bofors scandal erupted over kickbacks allegedly paid by the Swedish manufacturer to politicians and others. The new guns were being put through field trials in Pokhran in Rajasthan using ammunition made by the Ordnance Factory Board or OFB, which is run by the Defence Ministry.

The army has received two howitzers as part of an order for 145 guns for nearly 5,000 crores. Three more guns are to be supplied to the army next year for training. The guns will be introduced in 2019 in stages. The order is to be completed by the middle of 2022.

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