Poor Quality Spares, Negligence & Govt Apathy: Malfunctioning Weapon Systems Point to National Security Threat


New Delhi: Reported incidents of malfunctioning of several weapon systems of the Indian Air Force have triggered concerns over national security.

It started with the June 2018 incident when Akash Missile's Transportation and Loading Vehicle (TLV) was jolted after a sudden burst of tube and the wheel bolts sheared off due to the impact when it was parked at an Air Force Squadron, the Firstpost reported.

Another fault was reported a month later as cracks had appeared on the air intake caps of dummy missiles.

The Firstpost investigation revealed that other squadrons also reported ‘frequent unserviceability of mobile surface-to-air Akash Missile system and long duration downtime’. This means that the missiles are dysfunctional and may not be cocked and loaded against enemy in contingency.

The Guided Weapon Maintenance Department of the Air Force in September last year took up the issue and said the "squadrons have been reporting frequent unserviceability of Missiles and it has been noticed that time taken to resolve these failures is considerably high due to delay in analysis of failures."

More than three squadrons of Akash in February 2019 reported that missile system remained dysfunctional during 90 per cent of the time since their date of commissioning.

Government agencies, including Missile manufacturer Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) the DRDO, refrained from telling the government about the malfunctioning of Akash Missile system and poor quality of spare parts supplied by private vendors.

Malfunction of Integrated Air Compressor and Storage Facility (IACSF) was another shocker and the Air Force mentioned it on record that the IACSFs of Akash Missile System units are ‘unserviceable due to wobbling and vibration, pneumatic leakage, breaking of mounting pads and bolts’, the Firstpost reported.

Several Akash squadron may be of no use in counter offensive situations because of faults in many of the system, including hydraulic oil leakage and container pressure leakage.

The repair becomes difficult in absence of a back-to-back agreement with vendors for equipment under warranty, the complaints received from Air Force headquarters, Eastern Air Command and other Akash field units revealed.

The manufacturer of Akash Missile, Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), has been unable to resolve three issues. The BDL was reportedly asked in a high level meeting last year to come up with solid plan after conducting an investigation and study of faults in Akash Missile System within a month on long delays of critical faults. BDL is a government enterprise under the control of Defence Ministry and was founded in 1970.

Arguing that the missile systems in several squadrons were left idle for more than a year, the Air Force has said it will not pay for new maintenance contract for certain squadrons which expired in September 2019. Instead, the Air Force had asked for extension of warranty for certain squadrons which have been dysfunctional for 17 to 15 months in the last two years.

Air Force said the maintenance contract was violated since system was down and faults were neither rectified nor replaced.

The investigation by the Firstpost pointed at ‘gross inefficiency’ of government defence agencies BEL, BDL and DRDL for the redressal of issues in the Akash Missile System. According to sources, the government defence enterprises couldn’t give satisfactory answers to questions raised by the Air Force in several meetings.

‘Severe negligence’ in handling Akash Missile System was pointed out by Air Vice Marshal Bhanoji Rao at a meeting earlier this year. Documents revealed that certain spares, especially those of sub-vendors (procured by BEL) were being received at Akash Missile System units without 'Quality Assurance' certification and on a few instances it came to light that these spares were old and fake. In a letter, it was noted: "On few instances it has been noticed that the items were not new/authentic."

Air Vice Marshal Rao directed his team not to accept spares without 'Quality Assurance' certification. The lack of expertise of government-owned defence enterprises was also revealed at the meeting, saying that these enterprises are acting merely as a supplier of equipment after procuring it from domestic and foreign vendors. Government defence enterprises officials refused to share their design documents with senior IAF officials.

At the meeting chaired by Air Vice Marshal Rao high failure rate of one of the systems of Akash Missile, lacunae in analysis of faults and mismatch in software versions used for the this strategic weapon was also discussed.

The agreements with private vendors also points at the non-seriousness of defence agencies. Documents flagged these concerns further pointing out that all the vendor supplied items are ‘outside their warranty obligations and in certain cases supplied spares are not configured as per system requirements’.