Building confidence

Published : Aug 26, 2011 00:00 IST

A 40 mmL-70 upgraded gun. - PICTURES: COURTESY OFB

A 40 mmL-70 upgraded gun. - PICTURES: COURTESY OFB

Indigenisation has remained the mantra of the Ordnance Factory Board in its efforts to augment the country's defence preparedness.

IT is war that shapes peace, and armament that shapes war... said Maj. Gen J.F.C. Fuller, the British Army officer and war historian who was one of the founders of modern armoured warfare. It is military technological prowess that has defined wars and their outcome.

India's quest for indigenous technological superiority in terms of lethality and precision had led to the setting up of Ordnance Factories (OFs). The OFs have come a long way since their humble beginning in 1802 during British rule. Today, the Ordnance Factories Organisation is the largest departmental production organisation in the country and functions under the Department of Defence Production in the Ministry of Defence. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) headquartered in Kolkata is responsible for the activities of the various factories.

Defence production poses unique challenges. The products have to be safe, reliable and consistent and capable of operating in varied hostile terrains and environmental conditions. They must also be able to withstand long-term storage.

Spread over 41 units across the country, the organisation's manufacturing facilities handle technologies in the field of engineering, metallurgy, chemicals, textiles, leather and optics. It meets the requirements of the Armed Forces and the paramilitary, State and Central police forces.

Over the years, the organisation has developed valuable skills and strengths in the manufacture of fully integrated multi-technology products and in terms of acquiring core competencies in the production of ammunitions, armoured vehicles, transport vehicles, artillery equipment, explosives and small arms. The organisation's accelerated growth path is evident from the Rs.11,000-crore turnover in the last fiscal, an increase of 29 per cent over the previous year.

The OFs have marched with the times, by diversification and product development. Each and every factory, including the Gun and Shell Factory, Cossipore (near Kolkata), the oldest among them, has made tremendous progress. The units have upgraded their products from wooden gun carriages to the most sophisticated anti-aircraft guns, from simple iron shots to advanced shells, and from ordinary fuses to modern fuses.

There are 39 OFs spread across the country and two project factories, at Nalanda and Korwa, all of which together employ nearly one lakh people. The OFB has always delivered for the country, right from the time of the Second World War. During the Kargil war, it met the sudden and stretched requirements of the armed forces quickly.

Right from the beginning, the OFs were tasked with improving internal capabilities so as to reduce the dependence on foreign suppliers. This they were able to do by developing new products through technology transfer from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and abroad, and by the development of new technologies on their own. Some of the products indigenised through the transfer-of-technology route are the 84 mm Rocket Launcher Mark-III, the T-72 and T-90 tanks, the Russian-made infantry combat vehicle BMP-II and the AK-630 naval gun. The import content in OF products has remained low at around 10-15 per cent in the last decade.

The OFB has tried to make many improvements in design, be it in the INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle, the MBT, Arjun, or the 51 mm mortar. The MAG machine gun and the BMP gun for naval applications have also been modified. Through in-house efforts, it has developed Kavach rockets and antisubmarine rockets for the Navy, and anti-material rifles, grenade launchers and so on for the Army.

The organisation is pursuing research and development (R&D) vigorously. It has created 12 Ordnance Development Centres (ODCs) for in-house product development.

The successor to the T-72 tanks, the T-90 renamed Bhishma is one of the most advanced tanks in the world. It has night fighting capability and can fire missiles. It is also designed to protect crew from radioactivity in the event of a nuclear attack. The T-90S tank is a cross-country tracked vehicle which can cross a trench obstacle of 2.6. m to 2.8 m, a vertical obstacle of 0.85 m, a gradient of 30 degrees and water of 1.8 m depth. Many critical subsystems such as the global positioning system (GPS), the smoke grenade launcher, the explosive reactive armour, the entrenching plate, the NBC System, the combined air start valve and automatic sediment release have been indigenised. The T-72 Ajeya has an import content of only 4 per cent. The import content in the T-90 has been progressively reduced from 80 per cent in 2007-08 to around 15 per cent in 2010-11.

The home-built Arjun tank, the latest in the armoury of the Army, is manufactured by the OFB. Be it driving over rugged sand dunes or detecting, observing and quickly engaging targets, or accurately hitting targets, both stationery and moving, the Arjun has demonstrated its effectiveness vis a vis the T-90. The tank moves at a speed of 70 kilometres per hour; has got a power of 1,400 horsepower (hp), and is equipped with the indigenously developed Kanchan armour.

The Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system, developed by the DRDO, is another state-of-the-art weapon for destroying enemy troop concentration areas, communication centres, air terminal complexes, gun/rocket locations and for laying mines by firing rockets with several warheads from a launcher vehicle. It is an all-weather, indirect fire, free-flight, artillery weapon capable of delivering a large volume of fire in a very short time to neutralise critical and sensitive enemy targets. High operational mobility, flexibility and accuracy are its major characteristics. This MBRL is cheaper than the American M270 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), the 9P140 URAGAN of Russia and the ASTROS-II of Brazil. The OFB has successfully manufactured the rocket including the pod assembly, and has commenced bulk supplies of the same to the armed forces.

The Department of Defence Production has been supportive of the OFB's efforts to position itself as a world-class manufacturing organisation. An investment of Rs.6,000 crore has been planned for building a new capability through modernisation of infrastructure during the 12th Plan period.

Augmentation projects, worth Rs.1,000 crore, have also been approved and are in different stages of implementation. This will enable the OFB to meet the new requirements of the armed forces.

The organisation won many laurels last year. Among other things, it patented the micro-alloyed ultra-high strength steel, and established itself as the lone supplier of extrusions for aircraft applications.

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