Defective import of SMERCH Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System

The import of defective SMERCH MBRLS at the cost of Rs 2633 crore, delay in purchase of buyer furnished equipment and formulation of War Establishment had resulted in non-operationalisation of the system.

Ministry of Defence signed two contracts in December 2005 and March 2007 with M/s Rosoboronexport, Russia for import of a total number of 42 SMERCH Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System (MBRLS) at the total cost aggregating Rs 2633 crore which included spares and Rocket Projectiles (RP) of different ranges. The system comprises of Launch Vehicle (LV), Transloader Vehicle (TLV), Command and Staff Vehicle (CSV), Meteorological Support (MET) Complex Vehicle and Workshop Repair Vehicle. Supplies against the first contract commenced from June 2007 and were completed by 2008-09. The supplies of systems against the second contract were completed in May 2009 except for a few rocket projectiles. The audit scrutiny of the import revealed the following:

The exploitation of the system
The first consignment of MBRLS supplied was inducted in July 2007 in three Rocket regiments. The equipment was exploited to its limit in the annual practice- cum- firing conducted by one regiment in October/November 2008. The exploitation revealed critical defects in the subsystems SOCRIG3 (of ALFCS)4 and DTE5 as stated below: Failures in Launch Vehicles In respect of the LVs the failures in two hydro-pneumatic devices which acts as lifting and balancing mechanism of the LV and cost Rs 25 lakh each, were reported within the warranty period. Though the defects were attended to by the vendor yet the replacement was made from the two devices held by the regiment under Spare Parts Tools and Accessories (SPTAs). While no more hydraulic assembly was available in the SPTA contracted, the two numbers earlier consumed by the warranty team were yet to be replenished. In the absence of ready availability of SPTAs, the failures in the hydro pneumatic device of the LV would result in forced dependence on the vendor when large scale exploitation of the weapon system takes place. The Ministry had stated in November 2009 that the OEM had been directed to replenish all consumed SPTAs at the earliest.

Failures in subsystem of launch vehicle – SOCRIG
The trials of the system were conducted in three phases between June and August 2002 prior to the conclusion of the contract in December 2005. In the General Staff Evaluation (GSE) of the trials, the Director-General Quality Assurance (DGQA) (L) observed that electronic components should be able to function in operating environment specification of minus 40ºC to plus 50ºC. However, the maximum temperature recorded during trials was stated to be up to 36ºC only when the trials were conducted. The need for verification of these aspects before the finalization of the contract was emphasized in the GSE. Seven out of thirteen SOCRIG failed completely during the exploitation of subsystems. As one subsystem costs Rs 50 lakh and is critical for the accuracy of the system, the matter was taken up with the supplier who suggested carrying out the product improvement by installing a cooling system at the cost of the buyer. One of the possible reasons for the failure of SOCRIG was attributed to the high temperature prevailing in Indian field conditions which suggested that despite the apprehensions expressed during trial evaluation the system was not tested at the temperatures stipulated in the contract.

Failure of Data Transmission Equipment (DTE)
The sub-system DTE is fitted in LV, TLV, CSV and MET Complex for encrypted data communication. Eleven DTEs each costing Rs 25 lakh reported complete/partial failures due to defect in the internal component. The equipment is critical for the reliability of the system since complete automation depends on it. The Ministry stated in November 2009 that the matter had been taken up with the OEM who had agreed to carry out modifications in the manufacturing process and also carry out modifications in the subsystem supplied. The Army Technical Board had taken up a project
with IIT, Delhi to develop an alternative system so that it can be used in case of failure in future. The SPTAs of SOCRIG and DTE was provided in a very limited quantity in the contract as the quantities were meant for four years of operation. The Ministry stated in November 2009 that the matter had been taken up with the supplier to make up for the deficiencies created by using group SPTA items for repair. However, at the present rate of failure, the spares were not expected to last even beyond one year after the expiry of the warranty of 18 months.

Deficiencies in the Communication system
Radio Set R 171 M supplied by the vendor has a tuning system that was reported to be more defect prone than other sub systems of radio sets and also had reduced range. Though the defects reported so far had been rectified by
using the SPTA, yet for long term use the diagnosis of fault in the communication control system of CSV was reported to be not possible in the absence of manuals for repair. The Ministry stated in November 2009 that OEM has been directed to replenish all consumed SPTAs at the earliest and the requirement of manuals for repair can be co-ordinated with Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME).
It was further noticed in audit that defective clause in contract and shortcomings in Pre-Despatch Inspection (PDI)/improper inspection as enumerated in succeeding paragraphs had resulted in import of defective
SMERCH MBRLS. The contract provided for PDI by the DGQA and sixteen personnel were trained in Russia to carry out inspection. The PDI could not be carried out properly as the team members were not exposed to the weapon system in the short training.
The clauses governing the PDI in the contract, with M/s Rosoboronexport (Russia) envisaged acceptance of Quality Certificates issued by the manufacturer, a third party. This rendered the outcome of the PDI as a foregone conclusion necessitating acceptance of the equipment offered. Reliance on third-party inspection without enabling clauses in the contract defining the vendor’s responsibility had increased risks in importing a defect prone system and the buyer’s interest unprotected. The PDI team involved in the inspection of the LVs etc was not permitted by the vendor to carry out live firing from the LV (9A – 52 – 2T) supplied owing to defective wording of the contract. The scope of PDI under Article 12.1.3 of the contract stipulates ‘check-up of the major aggregates and assemblies of the equipment for serviceability and functioning in compliance with the chapter Acceptance Trials from technical conditions of the manufacturing plant.’

The PDI of the RPs were conducted by the DGQA team by firing from the Launch Vehicle 9A-52-2 (of the 1993 year of production) in the proof range at Russia and not from the Launch Vehicle 9A-52-2T covered under the scope of the contract of December 2005 resulting in non-validation of the LV by firing before acceptance. Later several critical defects in subsystems of the LV were reported by the Rocket Regiment during its exploitation /firing.

Further, the Buyer Furnished Equipment (BFE) mainly High Mobility Ammunition Vehicles (HMVs), Global Positioning System (GPS) Heavy Recovery Vehicle (HRV), Trailer etc. required to operationalise the SMERCH system could not yet (November 2009) be procured. The formation HQ stated that War Establishment (WE) which authorises vehicles and types of equipment was yet to be approved. The requirement felt by the SMERCH stocking depot (CAD Pulgaon) in September 2006 for special Material Handling Equipment (MHEs) for movement of SMERCH ammunition within the depot could not be met. Due to the non-availability of the special MHEs, four rockets were damaged during internal shifting in January 2009, resulting in a loss of Rs 2.36 crore.

Thus, the SMERCH Weapon System procured at a cost of Rs 2633 crore could not be fully operationalised due to defects in various systems, delay in buying the logistics support equipment and formulation of War Establishment. The
absence of suitable material handling equipment led to damage of four rockets and resultant loss of Rs 2.36 crore.

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