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In defence circles, concern over T-90 barrel burst, Cheetah helicopter crash

There have been instances of barrel burst of tanks and artillery guns during field firing in the recent past though it was in 2019 that a T-90 tank barrel burst was last reported publicly. A jawan had died in that incident which took place in Pokhran Field Firing Ranges near Bikaner.

Cheetah helicopter at Siachen glacier. (File/ Praveen Khanna)

The death of two Army personnel in a T-90 tank barrel burst while taking part in field exercise in Babina, near Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh and the death of a pilot in an Army Aviation Cheetah helicopter crash were two sad developments last week, which were focus of discussion in military circles.

There have been instances of barrel burst of tanks and artillery guns during field firing in the recent past though it was in 2019 that a T-90 tank barrel burst was last reported publicly. A jawan had died in that incident which took place in Pokhran Field Firing Ranges near Bikaner.

Yhe Army has launched a Court of Inquiry into the last week’s T-90 tank barrel burst incident even as it is being speculated whether it was due to fault in the metallurgy of the barrel or because of defective ammunition. Neither can be ruled out at this stage, say veterans who have commanded armoured regiments and some who have experienced barrel bursts of T-72 tanks as well.

The death of a Lt Col flying a Cheetah Helicopter in a crash in the North East also resulted in discussions over the age of these flying machines and the repeated loss of lives of pilots. Again, as in the case of the T-90 barrel burst, the cause of the crash is not in the public domain and the Army has ordered a court of inquiry.

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It is not yet known whether the crash can be attributed to the age of the helicopter, technical fault, bad weather or to human error (aircrew). This can only be ascertained after the Court of Inquiry concludes. A group of Army wives whose husbands fly these helicopters or are engineers who work on them, have written letters to the government demanding that these old choppers be withdrawn from service.

However, the opaqueness which surrounds inquiries of military aviation crashes is something which needs to be addressed. Unless there are security concerns of the highest kind, the reason for these crashes must be officially put out for the taxpayers to know. Unfortunately, the excuse of confidentiality is used to keep the aviation accident inquiries of the Army, Navy and the IAF under wraps and nothing is ever revealed after a bland statement that “a Court of Inquiry has been ordered”.

Even the relatives of the personnel who die in these crashes have to make do with verbal communication of probable cause and are not privy to the inquiry reports. This can be very painful for them apart from encouraging rumours of all kinds to circulate. This must change now and accountability of anyone or anything which leads to a crash must be revealed to the nation.

Army promotion boards under scanner after ACC refuses approvals

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The manner in which the Army holds its selection boards for the rank of Lt General has come under scanner with the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) turning down the recommendation of two names in the past few months. The ACC did not clear the names of two officers from the Ordnance Corps and Remount and Veterinary Corps and the Army had to select alternate names in the next selection board. Both officers have approached the courts for relief with the Ordnance Corps officer also having moved the Delhi High Court.

Senior veteran officers have questioned that if there were any anomalies with the names, then why were these not put up by the Military Secretary’s branch (MS Branch) before the Special Selection Board which cleared the names. Alternatively, if the MS branch did point out the anomalies then why were these names still selected?

The law does not accord anyone any right to promotion but only a consideration for promotion. It is also an established practice that the ultimate approval of the names for promotion for senior ranks is accorded by the ACC. However, there is again a need for transparency in these selection procedures so as to avoid such embarrassments to the service and individuals.

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The special committee of experts appointed by former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to look into various anomalies in the military system with regard to service matters so as to reduce litigation had recommended many actions which could streamline processes in the three services and reduce distress to the organisations and individuals. But these have been put in cold storage and await implementation.

First published on: 10-10-2022 at 00:44 IST
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