It's such a shame fake Chinese parts were used in India-made Dhanush guns

It’s such a shame fake Chinese parts were used in India-made Dhanush guns

A strong artillery is a prerequisite for the defence of the nation.

 |  6-minute read |   24-07-2017

Two recent news reports have given rise to a sense of dread and unease in me. The first was that of fake Chinese parts being used in the Dhanush guns manufactured by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB). The second that one Dhanush gun had failed in the user exploitation phase when its muzzle brake was damaged. They are not isolated incidents. Both have serious implications and need to be viewed and analysed in conjunction with each other.
They are symptoms of a chronic disorder and that need to be set right. The idea is that at the end of the day we should get good indigenous 155mm Dhanush guns in adequate numbers and in a required time-frame.
Let me talk of the Chinese parts issue first. It is a shame that such a thing has happened. It is obvious to me that someone in the chain is lining his pockets. This incident is worse than sleeping with the enemy. It is tantamount to feeding the enemy!
Obviously, the entire procurement chain is suspect and not only the firm involved. The CBI needs to investigate the issue from end to end. The corollary is that, in all such cases, there is a major adverse effect on the project since all documents will be sealed and processes closed.
dhanush-guns-body_072417054754.jpgThis incident is worse than sleeping with the enemy.
If that happens and the project gets delayed, it will have a serious repercussion on national security. We simply cannot afford delay in inducting these guns. The Sikkim standoff and the growing collusiveness between China and Pakistan are clear indicators of troubled times ahead. The greater the delay, the worse off we are. I hope the CBI and powers that be keep this in mind. A strong artillery is a prerequisite for the defence of the nation. The performance of Bofors in Kargil proved that. The Dhanush will be a critical part of a strong artillery in future.    
The second issue relates to the fact that out of the first set of six guns produced by the OFB, two have suffered barrel/muzzle break damage. That’s a 33 per cent defect ratio in six months. It is being glibly explained away that such incidents have occurred earlier in Bofors and other guns also. If that is true our Bofors fleet should be non-existent by now! We bought 420 guns in 1984, and around 400 are still in service after three decades. The numbers speak for themselves. Obviously there is something amiss technically.
If glib explanations are accepted then the person accepting that explanation needs to have his head examined.
If one sees it in a slightly wider spectrum there have been three major accidents with the Dhanush. There was a barrel burst in the first gun which was trial evaluated. All three accidents have the same symptoms. It is also being said that the delay due to these accidents will only be for a month or so. That is selling amnesiac poison to ourselves.
The need of the hour is a thorough technical and design review of the gun and a detailed audit of the manufacturing process and the ammunition in the quickest possible time.
Such reviews take their own time and get buried, if not monitored closely. Both need to be assisted/done by external agencies who have the technical know-how so that course corrections are put into effect.
That technical know-how, incidentally, is available in the country as part of the 155mm M777 Ultra-Light Howitzer deal which we have concluded with the US. Again, whilst reviews and audits are being carried out, there should not be any let-up in the production process. We should go ahead with the production with existing design but with stringent manufacturing standards. Any modifications or replacements necessitated due to concurrent review can be incorporated later. Getting the guns out in the numbers we need is a major priority.  
That brings me to the larger issue. It is common knowledge that OFB has a track record which can best be described as poor. There have been many committees set up to reform this state-run behemoth. But there was no reform. If any, it was only half-hearted. As a result, its failures continue to be reinforced, since the results continue to be poor.
The OFB work ethic and quality remains simply below par. Proven again in this case. The OFB treated Dhanush as their flagship project and pulled out all stops for its success.
It was to be the feather in their cap. It was supported wholeheartedly by the Army in the development processes and all endeavours. What is the result? Fake Chinese parts in the gun and an obvious design deficiency which is being explained away by a “business as usual” attitude.
Can the OFB be trusted with the responsibility of fault/incident-free delivery to the nation on its own anymore? I think there is a need to take a relook at the way this gun must come out. I recommend adopting a different approach if we are to be successful.  
The fundamentals of this gun are great. We need to build on that. There are sections of the OFB and its capacities which are good. We need to retain them. We need to make the Dhanush programme a success. How do we do that?
In fact, when I was the in-chair, I foresaw this problem and had recommended that a “Dhanush integration centre” be established which would have an end-to-end and a womb-to-tomb responsibility of this gun. That is, it would be responsible for design, procurement, manufacture of parts/sub-systems, integration, provisioning of spares and design improvement over a longer horizon. This integration centre would be autonomous and jointly run by hand-picked and dedicated personal from the Army, OFB, DRDO and DGQA.
It was to be a centre of excellence led by the Army. Induction of good professionals from the private sector and co-opting private sector capacities to get the gun out in the numbers needed were also thought of.
That would ensure overall growth of defence industry and give encouragement to all concerned. It was debated and agreed to in principle. However, most agencies and powers that be, saw the proposal through their short-sighted prisms and the whole idea fell through.
I am convinced that if the nation wants a good gun of which it is proud in the long-run, the government has to take hard-headed decisions for the larger good.
We have an excellent embryo in the Dhanush. We have the opportunity to make it grow into a fine being. If corrective action is not taken, the growth will be deformed. Are we supposed to take on China and Pakistan with such flawed artillery?

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