Money wasted on faulty ammo, could have bought 100 howitzer

The Indian Army funds spent on dangerously faulty ammunition supplied by the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) over the last six years would have been enough to purchase 100 medium artillery guns. 

This staggering claim has been made in an internal Army report to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), excerpts of which have been accessed by India Today. Calculating the loss to the exchequer due to poor quality OFB ammunition to be Rs 960 crore between 2014 and 2020, the Army notes, “Rs 960 crore roughly means 100 155-mm medium artillery guns could have been bought for this amount.” 

The OFB, administered by the MoD’s Department of Defence Production, is one of the world’s oldest government-controlled production organisations, and oversees a nationwide network of factories that manufactures ammunition and weaponry for the Indian armed forces. 

The ammunition being criticised in the new Army report includes 23-mm air defence shells, artillery shells, 125-mm tank rounds and different calibres of bullets used in infantry assault rifles. ‘


The Army report accessed by India Today highlights the ‘poor quality production’ at the OFB, quantifying the losses both in monetary resources as well as human life due to accidents caused by faulty ammunition. 

“Lack of accountability and poor quality of production results in frequent accidents. This results in injuries and deaths of soldiers. On an average, one accident takes place per week,” says the report that has been shared with the MoD, including accident and casualty figures. 

There have been 403 accidents related to faulty ammunition since 2014, though the numbers of accidents have steadily reduced. From 114 accidents in 2014, the number reduced to 53 by 2017, rose again to 78 in 2018, and dipped once again to just 16 in 2019. But the human casualty figures are far more disturbing. 

Listed under the heading ‘Casualties due to OFB manufactured ammunition and armament’, the report notes 27 troops and others have been killed in faulty ammunition accidents since 2014, with 159 being seriously injured, including permanent disabilities and loss of limbs. 

There have been 13 accidents so far in 2020, though none of them has resulted in a death. 

Calculating Rs 960 crore as the monetary write-off as a result of faulty OFB ammunition since 2014, the Army report notes that Rs 658.58 crore worth was disposed of within the ammunition’s shelf life between April 2014 and April 2019, while 303.23 crore worth of mines were disposed of within their shelf life following a major ammunition depot fire in Pulgaon, Maharashtra in 2016.


The Army’s exasperation with OFB supplied ammunition has simmered over decades, reaching a breaking point in the last two years, forcing an effort to approach the Indian private sector to meet ammunition needs. But as India Today reported earlier this month, the Army has pulled the plug on five of seven proposals that would have seen private firms step in to keep ammunition supplies running. 

However, the effort to get private companies to become ‘mini-OFB’ type suppliers is desperately needed. 

Earlier this month, the Army’s ‘ammunition-in-chief’, the Master General Ordnance (MGO) Lt Gen Upadhya said at an industry interaction, “OFB is in any case available to us. We want a parallel capacity to come up. It may not be at the scale of the OFB. But to start with, at least a parallel set up should come and various types of ammunition would then be available from the industry which can then settle down and in the times to come, a scaling up can take place.” 

The Army has a difficult situation on its hands, and one that needs to be navigated tactfully. On the one hand, pushback against the OFB goes directly against the MoD itself, even though the latter has begun a process of modernisation of the OFB. 

Just this month, the Ministry of Defence appointed a KPMG-led consortium to advise the government on how to lift the OFB out of its legacy socialist structures and to corporatise it. OFB unions at factories across the country have aggressively opposed the corporatisation drive. 

On the other hand, the effort to include private sector firms has largely been one step forward and two back, with several companies — both big and small — expressing willingness to invest in capacity to produce and supply ammunition, but require a degree of clarity and assurance of orders, since they do not have the financial cushion and leeway enjoyed by state-owned concerns like the OFB. 

What the numbers in the new Army report indicate is that things have come to a head. And with India’s forces massed on the border in a war-like situation that will almost definitely stretch into the foreseeable future, the Army hopes the glaring numbers will force a solution to its decades-old ammunition quality, shortage and assurance problems. 

Indigenous heavy artillery gun accident report in few days

Following a barrel burst of the indigenous heavy artillery gun, the Advanced Towed Array Gun System (ATAGS), during evaluation trials, a committee has been set up consisting of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists, Army representatives and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) officials to determine the cause and submit an evaluation report in 10 days, a defence official said. 

“The ATAGS has already fired hundreds of rounds, including the gun which was involved in the accident during the development process,” the source stated. “The reason could be faulty ammunition, a metallurgy issue or a foreign object inside the barrel which will be determined by the committee.” 

The ATAGS is a 155mm, 52 calibre gun jointly developed by the DRDO in partnership with Bharat Forge of Kalyani Group and Tata Power SED. 

The trials began at the beginning of September in the Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan and two guns, built by Bharat Forge and Tata Power, were being evaluated when the accident occurred. The Defence Ministry had approved an in-principle purchase of 150 of these guns at an approximate cost of ?3,365 crore, which would be split between the two companies. 

Faulty ammunition in past

In the past, both the indigenously upgraded Dhanush artillery gun and the M777 Ultra-Light Howitzer from the U.S. suffered barrel burst during trials, which was due to faulty ammunition, it was determined later. 

The gun has several significant features, including an all-electric drive, high mobility, quick deployability, auxiliary power mode, advanced communications system and an automated command and control system. 

It also sports a six-round magazine instead of the standard three-round. This necessitates a larger chamber and is a major factor pushing up the overall weight of the system

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  1. OFB is the most inefficient org. Had brought out the flaws in its functioning over 30 yrs ago when I was MGO. All the technology bought for it at huge cost is wasted because the production is faulty with no accountability. Till 1986 OFB didn't disclose the price of its products as it was permitted to draw as much money it wanted & supply what it wished to. In 1988/89 it supplied Rs 12 cr worth 75/24 HOW ammunition which was not demanded by Army as the gun was already declared obsolete. As member of the OFB brought it up in a meeting but the issue was not mentioned in the minutes & Dept of Def Prod though aware never rapped the knuckles of OFB.
    Only claim to fame has been that OFB has been acting as an "ideal employer" paying illegitimate amounts of overtime pay to its employees. Each one drew 50% of his monthly salary as overtime allowance. So much so that when a new factory was to be established at Dehradun in 1989-90 staff posted from other establishments was assured in their posting orders that their systematic overtime allowance will be protected, So blatant was the acceptance of this pernicious practice, something like the current "non functional upgradation" of civil servants since the 6th CPC. No wonder when I sent the data obtained from CGDA, to the MOS responsible for Def Prod & Sups showing that in the 1st qtr of each year salaries paid were more than the value of production, the file was returned to my office without any remarks when there was a change in government in 1989! However, MOD sent a letter to the VCOAS making false allegations against me to sully my reputation just before my retirement. It was strongly rebutted by the VCOAS with COAS' approval & the new MOS, Dr Raja Ramanna was informed by COAS about MOD's reasons for doing so. There was no response to it.