NEW DELHI — India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has ordered 36 homemade Pinaka Mark-1 multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL) at a cost of $490 million, despite complaints of problems related to its ammunition.

Pinaka-1 was developed by state-run Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The additional order of two regiments (one regiment equals 18 launchers) was given last week to four different prime contractors: state-owned organizations Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), as well as private sector defense companies Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Tata Power SED.

Under the contract, BEML will supply a variety of vehicles for the MBRL, while L&T and Tata Power will supply the launcher systems and OFB will supply an unspecified number of rockets.

"Serious shortcomings have been noticed in the Pinaka-1 rockets as in a recent exercise; reports of the rockets exploding midair and at the firing port have been received. This indicates that the explosive used in the rockets may have been defective. This will put a question mark on the further production and induction unless the defects are overcome," said Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Army official and defense analyst.

An MoD official said the Army is satisfied with the Pinaka-1 but "that is not to say that the system is perfect, it is on the path of evolving to a better system, and for the moment, the present versions are acceptable. Room for improvement, however, exists."

An Indian Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are technical faults with the two Pinaka-1 regiments currently in operation, but would not go into detail or identify specific faults. According to the official, the rocket ammunition is "not dependable in range and consistency."

"The production of Pinaka-1 rockets is on hold after some quality-related issues, mainly relating to OFB produced propellant such as short ranges, residues after firings and accidents relating to burst in launchers, etc.," said Bhupinder Yadav, a retired Army major general and defense analyst. "The supplies of fuses and its quality assurances is also an issue."

Pinaka-1 has a range of 40 kilometers and is set to replace the aging Russian-made Grad BM-21 MBRL systems with the Indian Army.

The Indian Army wants an MBRL with extended range and is waiting for the Pinaka Mark-2, which has a range of up to 60 kilometers, but the time frame for its development is unknown, according to the Indian Army official.

"The Army may be looking for Russian-made SMERCH as a far more reliable and established system. However it must pursue Pinaka- 2 and further developed models of the system so that indigenous systems are available and dependence on foreign-made equipment is reduced. Indigenous development

invariably requires services support for success," the Army official said.

No DRDO official would comment on the time frame for completion of the Pinaka Mark-2 MRBL. The MoD official said: "The initial trials of Pinaka Mark-2 prototype have been conducted but no timeline can be given when they will eventually be inducted."

While the MRBL system for the Pinaka Mark-2 is similar to that of the Pinaka Mark-1, changes are being made in the rockets so that the range is increased.

Still, the Army official said, the ammunition "remains an issue."

The MoD official said that DRDO has assured the Army that it will be trying a better system of propellant to improve consistency in range for the Pinaka-1. "MoD has even suggested to DRDO to acquire propellant and fuse technology from overseas rather than get into R&D, which could take another four years," the official said.

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