Category Archives: Naval Armament Inspection

31. Safety of Ammunition on the High Sea

(Published in SP’s Naval Forces Dec 13- Jan 14)

Safety of Ammunition on the High Sea

“Unfortunately, naval warfare always will be an exceedingly dangerous activity, whether ships are operating in blue or littoral water. The potential for catastrophic casualties in ships at sea is related both to the availability of modern, accurate, and powerful ordnance and to the propensity for secondary explosions and shipboard fires….”

Capt Arthur Smith, USNR, Medical Corps


Safety of ammunition and explosives on board is of paramount importance for the survival of the warship. There are two aspects, which merit attention in this regard; one pertains to the safety and prevention of fire during storage of these potentially hazardous items, and the other to making the explosive devices safe for storage by improving their compositions. The aim of this article is to bring out general design aspects of magazines on board ships, as well as the ongoing efforts to improve explosive compositions so that a clear perspective is available to the reader about the explosive stowage on board a warship.

Stowage of Ammunition and Explosives on Board

A warship takes on board only that ammunition which has been certified fit for use by the armament inspection agency. Stowage of ammunition and explosives on board is a complex design exercise due to space constraints, positioning of adjacent equipment compartments depending upon hazards posed, ease of weapon handling, positioning of ammunition delivery mechanisms, minimizing of damage, ease of fire fighting and so on. The problem is further complicated as the stowage has to be secure against roll, pitch and yaw motions of the ship, extremely high humidity levels, and various intensities of storms. There are explicit design guidelines, which are refined periodically for safety enhancement. As for the ammunition, its remaining operational life is calculated depending upon the levels of environmental stresses experienced by it during its storage on board as well as the prevalent shock and vibration levels of a particular type of ship.

There are different types of stowage spaces for different types of ammunition & explosives and they are stored in separate lockers or magazines. The lockers and magazines are clearly marked indicating type of explosives, its fire safety hazard, and the permissible quantity in that space. The warnings on stowage spaces are prominent and visually indicative leaving no doubts in the minds of personnel entering the area.

There are various types of magazines namely primary, missile, ready use magazines and lockers. Primary magazines are generally located below the water line and are equipped with temperature control, heat insulators, and adequate means of ventilation. Missiles magazines are a special category since missiles are largely integrated in nature i.e. the safety and arming mechanism is pre-assembled to the warhead, which in turn is connected to the electronics and the rocket propellant thus raising its hazard level. Further, they are housed in special casings, boxes, or canisters and stored separately. The handling equipment to bring them to the launcher could be operated by combination of electric-pneumatic and/or hydraulic systems. Extreme care is required during handling as the rocket propellant may ignite in case the missile falls and thereby launch the missile in a confined space causing havoc. Ready use magazines are located near the weapon for which they are intended, they are also well ventilated, insulated from heat and fitted with sprinklers. Ammunition lockers are used to store special types of explosives and ammunition such as detonators and pyrotechnics. The lockers are secured to the deck of the ship and it is ensured that ammunition inside does not move or rattle about during routine motion of the ship at sea.

Single purpose magazines are those which store a single type of explosive store for e.g. Rocket motor magazine, small arms magazine, fixed ammunition magazine, missile magazine, fuse magazine, detonator locker, pyrotechnic locker, and so on. Mixed explosive storages are also permissible in certain combinations of explosive stores depending upon the severity of explosive sensitivity. It is ensured however that the ammunition stored on board is as per regulations, and within permissible limits.

Environmental control of magazines. Magazines are fitted with safety and environment control features so that the ammunition and explosives remain protected from excessive humidity & temperature. Ventilation and exhaust systems are installed in the magazines and they are regularly vented to evacuate accumulated toxic gases if any. Missile magazines are vented to the atmosphere for the simple reason that in case a missile rocket motor functions its exhaust is immediately vented to atmosphere before it can spread to other areas.

Sprinklers and alarms. Largely, all types of magazines have sprinkler systems fitted in such a way that water is sprayed on to the ammunition & explosives and the entire magazine is flooded in case of smoke/fire detection or rapid rise in temperature. These can be operated automatically, by remote control or manually. Ammunition, which functions by ingress of water, is not stored in such magazines. The alarm system comprises of alarms that operate on, detection of high temperature, activation of sprinklers and functioning of flooding systems.

Inspections. Magazine inspections are carried out by qualified sailors and recorded in inspection logs. Daily inspection involves ensuring that ammunition is properly secured, magazine is clean, there is no presence of fumes or odor, and that there is nothing out of the ordinary in and around the magazine. Special attention is paid to the fact that there should be no, hindrances to entry and exit to the magazine, abnormality in rise of temperature & humidity charts,  unnatural accumulation of material in or around the area etc. In addition, the magazine and surrounding area is inspected for leakages or breakages in sprinkler systems, functioning of alarm systems and abnormal heating in adjacent compartments. Each magazine is monitored for temperature and humidity and records of maximum and minimum values are entered in the magazine’s log card inside the magazine. The magazines are inspected prior to locking and remain locked when no activity is being carried out, only authorized personnel can access them.

Movement of ammunition. Shifting of ammunition for routine firing exercises, rearrangement or during ammunitioning /deammunitioning are inherently dangerous activities where slightest mistake can lead to catastrophic situations therefore utmost care is exercised during such work. Explicit orders are available for each activity and it is ensured that the orders are complied with at all times. Ammunitioning and deammunitioning is carried out at designated jetties or explosive anchorages so that in case of any accident the damage is limited to that ship only. Transfer of ammunition at sea is carried out only in exceptional circumstances, as it is a very dangerous activity. Detailed orders are prepared by both ships and preparations checked and rechecked prior to carrying out this operation. The ships remain in highest degree of nuclear, chemical, and biological damage control readiness during the process.

Insensitive Munitions

Despite all the precautions during design and operation of magazines accidents do take place with ammunition, which lead to terrible outcomes on warships and loss of precious lives. The men on board a warship work and sleep virtually next to the magazines, accidental fires in other areas may also lead to explosions or large fires in magazines due to cook off or other causes. A need was therefore felt to make explosives inherently less sensitive so that they remain passive to external stimuli like heat, shock, bullet or fragment impact and sympathetic detonation in case nearby munitions function. The genesis of the thrust in insensitive ammunition development lay in two major accidents in the US, namely the 1966 Palomares B-52 Crash and the 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 Crash in which the high explosive devices used in the nuclear bombs had detonated on impact. The US navy too had been witnessing a large number of accidents in the sixties. In 1966, there was a fire on board USS Oriskany due to mishandling of an aircraft flare, which led to detonation of 2.75 rocket warheads and resulted in the death of 44 sailors. In 1967 a 5-inch Zuni rocket loaded on the pod of an F-4 aircraft on board USS Forrestal was accidentally fired, which in turn led to fires and functioning of several bombs, rockets and missiles. The disaster resulted in deaths of 134 personnel. In 1969, on board USS Enterprise the exhaust from an aircraft engine starter unit caused detonation of 5-inch Zuni rockets, whose warheads were filled with composition B explosives. This resulted in 18 warhead explosions and 28 deaths. In December, the same year ammunition ship SS Badger encountered rough seas during a storm due to which the bombs broke loose from the pallets and led to explosions as they were tossed around the deck. The ship had to be abandoned and 26 lives were lost. In addition, the US navy experienced sixteen premature explosions of shells of high caliber guns during the period December 1968 and January 1973. The shells were either filled with Composition A-3, Composition B or explosive D. Incident on board USS Newport News on 01 Oct 1972, deserves mention in which a the projectile of 8-inch ‘bag gun’ detonated in ram position in the gun chamber. In the explosion and ensuing fire 20 sailors died. Compositions of the type mentioned above are prone to ignition when subjected to adiabatic heating during operation/acceleration of projectile in the gun barrel. The above incidents and similar ones in the Army depots provided impetus in to research on insensitive munitions.

Conceptually insensitive munitions should not explode but only burn when subjected to slow and fast heating, hits by bullets, shrapnel, or shaped charges. Research is being progressed adopting approaches, like externally protecting the explosive device during transportation by incorporating thermal insulation & venting, and by improving explosive compositions to provide high stability. Insensitive munitions contain shock and fire resistant ‘insensitive high explosive’ like plastic/polymer bonded explosives or TATB (triaminotrinitrobenzene). TATB’s shock and thermal stabilities are higher than that of any other comparable material, further it is a reasonably powerful high explosive thus favoring its induction in munitions. Some of the newer compositions are Insensitive Munitions Explosive IMX-101 (consisting of 2,4-dinitroanisole and nitrotriazalone amongst others, developed by BAE Systems and cleared for use by US Army) and FOX-7(1, 1-diamino-2,2-dinitroethene (DADNE) of Sweden).

A major opposition to use of insensitive munitions has been the view that the explosive power of these is inferior to the ones filled with TNT/HMX, however, this objection is more than offset by high accuracy of new delivery systems, where in, much fewer munitions are required to achieve the same impact on target. During Operation Desert Storm, laser guided bombs accounted for about ~50% of destroyed targets, despite the fact that their numbers were less than 5% of the total ordnance fired. The Navies across the globe are today committed to the use of insensitive munitions and are gradually replacing the TNT/RDX/HMX compositions. This is not to say that completely insensitive munitions have been developed and are available for use by the armed forces or that all the requirements of insensitive munitions are met prior to its induction. Incremental improvements are being accepted as they are helping in reducing the risks and increasing survivability at sea as compared to the older explosives, as an example PBXN-109 meets all requirements except that of sympathetic detonation and hence has been inducted in bombs and missile warheads since the older filling had not met even a single insensitive munitions criterion. The U.K. Ordnance Board Proceeding 42657 commenting upon usefulness of Insensitive Munitions have stated:-

“In Wartime.

        Improved survivability of weapon systems and platforms as a result of reduced levels of damage caused by enemy strikes or credible accidents.

Reduced casualty rates and mission losses.

Reduced losses of ammunition as a result of enemy strikes on, or credible accidents in, magazines and storage areas.

In Peacetime.

Reduced risks in storage leading to better utilization of and a probable reduction in both the number and size of storage areas.

Reduced risks in handling and more economical use of transport.

Reduced damage from accidents and hence, relaxation of restrictions applied to achieve an acceptable level of safety.”

Many NATO countries and other allies of the US are supporting the insensitive munitions program. As far as indigenous developments are concerned, the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory of DRDO claims to have developed 12 compositions in the insensitive munitions category along with CL-20 the worlds ‘most powerful’ non-nuclear explosive. These would find applications in warheads, rockets, or gun propellants. Laboratory production of these has also been established.

In conclusion it can thus be seen that Navies are very conscious and proactive about structural safety of magazines, safety procedures during handling as also researching in to sensitivity reduction of explosives to ensure enhanced safety of men and material onboard warships.

23.Navy’s Need for Quality Based Structural Change

(Published in Defence ProAc Biz News Jul-Aug 2013)

Navy’s Need for Quality Based Structural Change


With a small close knit group of about 150 Naval Armament Inspection (NAI) officers and about 800 odd civilian technical officers and staff, the Naval Armament Inspection Organisation is perhaps the least known specialisation of the Executive Branch of the Indian Navy. Even within Indian Navy; unlike the well known other specialisations of Aviation, Submarine, Gunnery, Anti Submarine warfare, Navigation, Communication etc.; the NAI has maintained a low profile and carried on with its task of ensuring availability of safe and serviceable armament to the warships, be it gunnery ammunition, rockets, torpedoes, mines, missiles or bombs, nothing embarks the warship without being ascertained about its fit status by the NAI. Therefore it may be worthwhile to cast a look back about the NAI organisation through which the Indian Navy assures its armament and thereafter discuss its unique structure in the Indian Navy.

The NAI organisation has been entrusted a very wide ranging role by the Navy, which includes participation in naval armament through design, development, production, induction and in-service surveillance (ISS) and certification for disposal. This ‘womb to tomb’ approach by Indian Navy on armament empowers DGNAI to embrace as applicable, aspects of inspection, quality control, quality assurance, audit and surveillance. The above implies that either NAI maintains its original christened nomenclature or go in for an all encompassing one, which does not have a practical appeal. Therefore, despite the exponentially expanded mandate, the Navy continues to use the traditional nomenclature of NAI. It would be worthwhile to look at the role of NAI, which provides it, its distinctive features as compared to other QA organisations.

In Service Inspection (ISS)

The primary role for which the NAI was created continues to be the ‘In Service Inspection’ (ISS) of Naval Armament. It is this feature which differentiates the NAI from the other QA agencies; whose role practically ends with successful supply of the armament (they do not participate in ISS); in that it ensures the serviceability of naval armament throughout its service life, which may extend for 2/3 decades if not more. The NAI has dedicated permanent trained service officers, civilian technical officers and technical staff for carrying out these tasks. This ensures that the NAI is held accountable for ensuring that OEM mandated maintenance routines, and repairs, upgrades etc. are properly carried out during the entire duration of the life of a naval armament store. It has to be appreciated that the maintenance agencies for such stores namely the Naval Armament Depots and the naval establishments have on their part, carried out their tasks in an admirable fashion, leading to no embarrassing situations at sea till date.

The factor of permanency of the officers and civilian cadre has ensured that they can be surgically trained for specific tasks and also cross trained at depots in three commands during their service. The NAI officers, today are direct entry engineers. On joining they undergo an armament QA specialist course with a large number of them doing in service MTech from IITs/BARC, in subjects like reliability, electronics and nuclear science and technology. The civilian cadre has an enviable training plan covering their initial, mid course and senior level with courses at reputed institutes like the DIAT, Universities, Dockyard training centres and such other as decided by the Navy.

This has led to development of an experienced workforce adapt at being multi tasked to meet naval armament contingencies. In addition the NAI has over the decades developed a formidable data bank of test results, protocols, exercise firing details, failure investigation results, and proof data etc. which arm it with a resource which is unparalleled. This enables it to forecast with great confidence, tests/requirements regarding the life assessment of explosives, armament and guided weapons. In addition, the exposure to naval armament from various sources (east, west and indigenous) has enabled the NAI to develop and promulgate its own comprehensive inspection procedure documentation for use at floor level.

Navy has created state of the art test facilities (manned by trained  NAI personnel) for meeting its in-service surveillance requirements to ensure that serviceable armament is available to the warships at the shortest notice, this has not only cut out large delays but has also led to savings in vital FFE for the nation. The NAI has its own NABL accredited test equipment calibration labs for calibration of sophisticated workshop test equipment.

The breakup of the erstwhile Soviet Union led to virtual stoppage of spares and equipment and forced the Navy to task the NAI for undertaking life assessment (LA) programme for life expired missiles and torpedoes. The NAI, drawing upon its decades of experience, data banks and self generated documentation came up with a calibrated approach, which today has fructified in to complete indigenous development of explosive components as well as helped tide over a complex operational availability problem for the Indian Navy. The Army and the Air force have also benefitted from the naval approach.

Stringent Procedures.  NAI is known for being a stickler to the written word and for being very strict as far as inspection procedures and adherence to production drawings is concerned. This is a fact and this approach has paid rich dividends to the Navy in reducing the number of serious naval armament failures at sea. The sea environment is equally vicious and corrosive to the explosives, rubbers, metals and electronics, and unlike the land based services there is no alternative for the warship; in case of an armament malfunction/failure; but to return to harbour in peace time or face fatal consequences in war. There are enough examples of the NAI providing constructive and innovative solutions to technical issues which have saved both time and money for the production agencies and resulted in indigenisation of successful complex systems.

Required Structural Changes

Currently DGNAI functions directly under the administrative and technical control of the Vice Chief of Naval Staff (VCNS), an arrangement which has not only withstood the test of time, but demonstrated adequate capability to adapt to requirements arising from the breakup of the Soviet Union and advent of modern day guided weapons. The structure has faultlessly served the QA/QC/ISS requirements of the Indian Navy to its full satisfaction, so much so that the sister services have always aspired for a similar structure to take care of the quality of their armament. The structure provides for quick redressal of service needs and ensures proactive constructive approach in resolving technical issues, aimed at providing the Navy with safe, secure and reliable armament. The requirements of the DGNAI too are understood by the Navy and attended too, leading to setting up of sophisticated laboratories by the Navy or taking up of urgent manpower issues with the GOI. The structure has provided for generation of unprecedented synergies between Navy, OFB, DRDO, PSUs and Private Industry which have led to considerable progress in indigenisation of armament subassemblies and components. The existing structure has thus resulted in a composite which is beneficial not only to the service, but also to the designer/developer/manufacturer of naval armaments.

However it is true that the NAI has not exhibited growth commensurate with the requirements of the navy in manpower terms but that is mostly due to the restrictions on manpower by the GOI. On the infrastructure side, Navy has always ensured that adequate funds are available to meet the NAI requirements. Time and again there have been talks of reorganisation of QA agencies including the DGNAI, be it within the NHQ, or outside, but both the DGNAI and the Navy have resisted any such move which may have adverse impact upon the operational availability of naval armament to the warships.

As far as Indian Navy is concerned, there is a need to consolidate its quality effort at various levels and substructures to ensure that uniform level policy directives can be implemented across all service providers, maintenance and production related agencies. Quality has to be omnipresent and all pervading in its implementation, in that respect gaps are apparent in the Indian Navy. For e.g. quality circles are vibrant in the dockyards but not so popular among other agencies. The ships do not have a quality department under the commanding officer for quality issues; neither does it exist at the Fleet commander’s level. At command headquarter’s level apart from the controller of naval armament inspection, there is a dependence upon DGQA agencies for warship equipment, and there is a lack of specified quality standards for normal logistic requirements of victuals, rations, fuel amongst others.

 The overall quality structure should embrace within itself not only armaments and dockyards, but also onboard maintenance, education, training, logistic services (admin and material sourcing), medical facilities and infrastructure. The apex of this structure has to be the VCNS. He has to spearhead quality empowerment in the navy and he can be ably assisted in this task of formulating quality policies and efficient monitoring by four comptrollers(initially these can be double hat appointments) namely, comptroller quality materiel, comptroller quality logistic and services, comptroller quality training (onboard and ashore) and comptroller quality armament. Once this structure is in place there is no stopping the Indian Navy from ‘tacking to excellence’. Core competence of NAI can be utilised to provide the initial impetus if required.

Taking a holistic view and the fact that the quality of armament and weapons directly impinges upon the national security of our country, the MOD could have a Secretary QA (Armament), with Additional Secretary equivalent QA (Armament) rep each from the three services, DP&S, and DRDO. The MOD can thereafter link up with the national QA policy levels.

In conclusion, it can be seen that the NAI has been building its core competencies over the years and has become a potent exponent of armament quality. It has been able to meet the stringent naval operational requirements and has ensured safe and serviceable armaments for the warships. However structural changes are needed at Naval Headquarters level for implementation of all pervasive quality in the system. If the Navy wants   sail to shores of excellence it would better rig up its quality main mast soon!