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Underground Ammunition Storage

Historically, ammunition for the defence forces has been stored in overground depots/dumps constructed outside the city limits in view of the safety requirements of ammunition storage . However with the expansion of  the  cities, the ammunition depots are no longer outside the city limits and have substantial civilian population settled on their periphery thus becoming a safety hazard. With the non availability of land for future   storage  construction and the increase in ammunition inventory for modern weapon systems,  as also, the adversaries’ capability to carry out long range strikes on the ammunition stockpiles, it has become imperative to seek other methods of ammunition storage to obviate the increasing  constraints of conventional overground storage.

An emerging concept of underground (UG) / tunneled storage of ammunition, as adopted by western countries is gaining ground due to its inherent advantages like:

  • Lesser requirement of land as compared to conventional storage methods
  • Easier camouflage from enemy’s observation/ satellite imagery
  • Inherent protection from enemy strikes as compared to over ground sheds
  • Lesser chance of sympathetic detonation to balance ammunition in case of any blast/ sabotage
  • Degree of protection against bombing is better due to   being underground
  • Temperature in UG chambers is almost constant thus enhancing storage life of the ammunition
  • Construction of storage can be as per military/operational plan and not be dictated by availability of land.
  • Enhanced safety to human life, civilian or combatant, in case of any untoward accident.

The concept of UG/ tunneled storage, as opposed to conventional sheds, implies construction of ammunition storage facilities under the surface of   the   earth. These could be excavated/ natural geological cavities like caves or caverns in the mountains or manmade underground  single/multi chambers  which are connected to each other .

 Apart from providing better logistics on the front in the event of a war, these underground shelters will also ensure that critical war-fighting ordnance is better protected from enemy attacks as well as the weather.

The crucial war-fighting assets like missiles provide NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) protection without the threat of detection by enemy satellites and spy drones. The military requirement and safety considerations will dictate the design parameters and the number of chambers/caverns needed at each site. The design and construction would also need to factor in adequate safety precautions like automatic smoke detection and alarm system as also suitable dimensions to permit easy movement of transport and personnel within the chambers. In the first phase, ammunition that is expensive and operationally important could be stored in such underground shelters in the operational   areas .On successful completion of the pilot project at these two sites, the project would be extended to other storage facilities for the defence forces.

This concept has already been adopted by a number of developed countries and based on their experience, India can implement the same with modifications subject to climatic and terrain conditions as existing on its frontiers. The cost of excavation or modification of the existing caverns besides the procurement and maintenance of specialized equipment   would however increase the initial cost as compared to conventional sheds. In the long run, this additional expenditure would be adequately offset by the inherent advantages of tunneled /UG storage.

Ammunition/ missiles form the backbone of a nations fighting force and keeping the omnipresent threat of a NBC backdrop in any future conflict in mind, there is an urgent need to adopt these innovative storage practices to safeguard this expensive and vitally important  national asset so that the war waging capabilities are not adversely impacted.

 

The author is a Senior Fellow at CLAWS.

The views expressed are personal.

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Manoj Shergill
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MS Shergill
Dear MP Singh, thank you for your insightful comments.The siting of all underground man made storage facilities will ab-initio be done keeping in view the seismic zone constraints. However, in the case of natural caves/caverns, only those cavities will be used which are in the safe seismic zones.Regarding siting suitability,only those natural cavities will be used which are in consonance with the overall tactical plan and which can be suitably camouflaged.Your observation on expansion of city limits is pertinent and it is due to this constraint , that innovative storage concepts like UG storage/ tunnels are being considered.
MP Singh
Dear Sir
1.What is the safety of underground storage in the seismic zone?
2. Natural caves and cavities may not be tactically sited.
3. As far as ammunition dumps being outside the city limits , even the cantonments used too be outside the city limits. However the expansion of cities have engulfed them.
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