Early on May 31, 130 tonnes of anti-tank mines blew up at the Army’s ammunition depot at Pulgaon near Wardha, killing 19 people including two Army officers. The Indian Express subsequently reported that some of these mines were leaking TNT. How, where, and under what safety protocols does the Army store its ammunition? SUSHANT SINGH answers.
How many ammunition depots does the Army have? How are they graded?
There are 16 major ammunition depots spread across the country. Central Ammunition Depot (CAD), Pulgaon, is the mother depot, the only one of its kind, which is directly under Army Headquarters. It receives ammunition and explosives from ordnance factories and foreign suppliers, and supplies them to Field Ammunition Depots (FADs) across the country. Each of the 15 FADs is meant to hold stocks of ammunition and explosives for supply to fighting units within the geographical area of supply allotted to it. These come under various Commands and Corps of the Army, and are located accordingly. Each of these depots occupies an area of 1,000-2,000 acres. CAD, Pulgaon is much bigger, spread over 7,100 acres.
How are the locations of the ammo depots determined?
Most are located in uninhabited areas, away from cities and towns — even though civilian encroachment has been reported at some depots. It is also contingent on the availability of land for the depots. Other determining factors include operational logistics parameters such the ease of supplying to the depots and to field units.
What sort of ammunition is stored in these dumps?
All types of explosives or ammunition that are required by the Army. There are, however, separate sheds and stocks for different kinds of stores: explosives, mines, rockets, artillery shells and rounds. The design and spacing of these sheds are as per international scientific norms prescribed in the UN Hazards Division List 1.1 to 1.4.
All ammunition depots also follow the regulations of the Ministry of Defence’s Storage and Transport of Explosive Committee (STEC), duly ratified by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO’s) Centre for Fire, Explosive and Environment Safety (CFEES). STEC covers all aspects of storage and movement, including the design of the building and storage area.
Who is in charge of these depots?
The size of stock dictates the level of officer commanding a depot — whether a Lt Colonel, Colonel, or Brigadier. However, specialised ammunition-qualified officers are posted as Ammunition Technical Officers and Security Officers. The responsibility for safety, maintenance, accounting, issue, and transportation is in tune with any other unit of the Army, as per the chain of command.
This was the third blaze at Pulgaon, and several other depots too have seen accidents. What safety and security measures are in place at these sites?
Besides automatic fire detection and drenching systems in high risk/fire-prone areas, each of the depots has a main fire station and many substations. As per the safety rules, each ammunition shelter has a static water tank within 190 m. Big and small fire-fighting vehicles are assigned to each depot depending on its size and quantity of ammunition stored.
After a massive fire at the Bharatpur ammunition depot killed 2 people in 2000, the Army drew up a major security and fire-prevention modernisation plan for its depots and has, since then, spent over Rs 3,000 crore on improving storage infrastructure all over the country. This includes introducing a new design for ammunition shelters, better packing and stacking facilities as per international norms, and superior safety and surveillance. A number of temporary sheds were replaced with permanent ammo shelters.
Security systems can include guards, fencing systems and surveillance cameras. There are guard posts along the perimeter of the depots, with one platoon of the Defence Service Corps (DSC) manning nine posts. 600 DSC personnel are posted at CAD, Pulgaon. The technical area, where the ammunition is stored, is segregated from the administrative area by a Red Gate that provides access control.
Each depot carries out periodic safety audits through a three-tier system. Despite all these steps, however, incidents such as those in Pulgaon, Panagarh (2010) and Bharatpur demonstrate the gaps in the system. The Indian Express reported on June 4 that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had warned last year that over 1 lakh defective anti-tank mines were stored at 16 ammo depots across the country.
Do the Air Force and Navy have their own ordnance depots? Where are these located?
Yes, they do. But due to various operational contingencies, the Air Force’s ammunition is co-located with the Army’s ammunition points.
Do central police forces such as CRPF who need ammunition in LWE and militancy hit areas, and state police forces also have dumps?
Paramilitary and central police forces do not hold such huge stocks, especially of high-calibre weapons and ammunition. Normally, these are held by them within unit magazines.