Disposing ammunition is a very dangerous and energy intensive process. Traditionally it is done using demolition explosives in demolition grounds/firing ranges. While the Central Ammunition Depot of the Army in Pulgaon, Maharashtra has devised a method for utilising solar energy for disposing ammunition which have completed their shelf life, the present methods being used by the Indian Army around the country are neither cost-effective nor eco-friendly.
In the first of its kind development in the world in field of demilitarisation of ammunition, the depot designed an innovative method which uses steam generated by concentrated solar technology (CST) to melt explosive material inside the shells of munitions with calibres ranging from 40 mm to 130 mm, say officials. In CST, mirrors are used to concentrate solar energy to convert water to steam which is directed on the shells. Medium and high calibre ammunition is filled with Tri-Nitro-Toulene (TNT), which has a melting point of 80 degree Celsius which can be melted with steam.
Destruction of ammunition is a slow and cumbersome process. Lack of space and shortage of staff adds to the problems, consequently, new stocks of obsolete ammunition is constantly overtaking the destruction of existing stocks of obsolete ammunition.
Central Ammunition Depot, Pulgaon, is the largest ammunition depot of the Indian Army, and also one of the largest ammunition depots in the world. Apart from storage of ammunition reserves, the depot is required to demilitarise/dispose large quantity of ammunition, which becomes unserviceable on expiry of usable shelf life.
For safe disposal, the defence ministry has plans to set up plants with the latest technologies available globally and is currently working on deciding the base lines to seek transfer of technology and set up a De-mil Plant for safe disposal of UNSV/ REJ ammunition at five locations across the country. Already, Request for Information was sent out to international companies in this sector, including Simmel Difesa, a subsidiary of French company Nexter; and Yugoimport of Serbia.
For a weapon system, the serviceable ammunition logistic and operations costs comprise 70-80% of a systems life-cycle cost. As on date, the conservative estimate is that the Indian Army holds unserviceable ammunition of over 12,0000 MT. The unserviceable / obsolete ammunition with the Indian Army have been increasing over the last few years. The ammunition stockpile will continue to grow until the DGOS are given resources to maintain and expedite unserviceable ammunition disposal.
Though, there is no internationally recognised standards for the safe storage of ammunition and explosives in ammunition storage areas, safe storage of ammunition and explosives is a national responsibility. However, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has agreed standards. The purpose of the ammunition storehouse is to continue and expand upon the protective cocoon formed by the ammunition packaging.
India is no exception. The improper stocking of ammunition and holding of vintage stock without inspection increases fire/accident risk in the depots. The Navy’s Armament Supply Organisation has the sole responsibility for supervising all defence and commercial explosive handling activity in the ports of India. A dedicated organisation known as Directorate General of Naval Armament Inspection (DGNAI) is responsible for serviceability and disposal of unserviceable ammunition. The current unserviceable ammunition holding with the Indian Navy is about 3500 MT. The storage facilities are at Gurgaon Strategic Air Stores Park, which is big enough to cater to the Hindon and Palam air bases and Amla Air Force depot, about 30 km from Betul in Madhya Pradesh.