Have designs, drawings and research papers relating to the manufacture of special plates and body covers of fighter aircraft, missiles and space shuttle accessories gone missing from the Korba-based Bharat Aluminum Company (Balco)?
Congress MP from Dhanbad, Chandra Shekhar Dubey, has raised this question in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He suspects the documents have been sold to agents of other countries and could fall into the hands of terrorist organisations that might use the expertise of moulding strategic alloys to manufacture crude versions of short- and medium-range rockets loaded with explosives.
“Documents relating to this technology are neither available on the Balco campus nor are they in the custody of the government,” Dubey alleged in his September 4 letter. He said the hot rolling mills used for the manufacture of aircraft and missile components were possibly sold as scrap to a private party by the new management.
HT had drawn former defence minister Pranab Mukherjee’s attention to the MP’s letter and posed a set of questions based on it to the ministry. In response, a ministry official said the government was “looking into the matter” and might comment on it formally during Parliament’s Winter Session in the second half of November.
Established under a confidential agreement between Balco, Defence Research and Development Organisation and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the research and development wing at the Korba plant — including the profile tube section (PTS) unit — had been manufacturing lightweight special aluminium alloys required for India’s space and defence programmes such as casings for short-, medium- and long-range missiles.
Metal casings developed at the plant had been used in the 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran.
Confirming that the PTS unit had been shut down, Balco president C.P. Vaid claimed the unit had “nothing to do” with the manufacture of strategic components. He claimed the production facilities for strategic components were operational.
According to the 1999 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the previous management at Balco had developed alloys for fuel tanks of Indian missiles like Agni and Prithvi and had also commercialised production of an alloy, AFNOR7020, for ISRO.
At the highly restricted unit – which the MP claims to be one of a kind in India – a range of specialised components was being developed, including thermo-mechanically processed aluminium alloys for space applications.
The unit had also developed an aluminium alloy code, AA6066, that is considered essential for production of missile casings and engines.
Expertise had also been achieved for making light but hard plates used as a replacement of steel for making advanced arms by the ordnance factories.
In his letter, Dubey has demanded to know from the PM whether, following the new management’s decision to terminate production of these alloys, the defence forces had started to procure the material from other sources.
If not, how are the present requirements being met, he asks.
In a separate letter to National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan dated October 4, the MP has stated that the technology of producing these alloys were “secret and complex” and had been developed according to the defence specifications.
“The ministry of defence must provide a factual report about these critical issues of national security,” Dubey has demanded.