Nagpur/Pune: Development of the advanced towed artillery gun systems (ATAGS) suffered a setback after barrel of one of the pieces undergoing trials burst during test fires at Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan on Saturday.

The system which is of 155x52 mm calibre has been designed by Pune’s Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), a laboratory of DRDO. The guns have been made by Bharat Forge and Tata Power’s Special Equipment Division (SED). The barrel in both the guns has been made by Bharat Forge.

It is learnt one of shells burst within the barrel, damaging the gun. This is expected to throw back the whole process. A similar incident happened thrice with Dhanush— the 155x45 calibre gun made by ordnance factories on the lines of the Swedish Bofors— and also in one of the M-777 guns that were brought from US.

An officer of project director’s level in the ARDE contacted by TOI refused to comment saying the matter could not be discussed in public forum. A spokesperson of Bharat Forge said none of the guns made by the company had been damaged in any of the incidents.

TATA Group also declined to comment on the report. Sources familiar with the matter, however, said, it’s a development process where multiple players are working together. They are committed to finding the cause and building the gun.

A senior DRDO scientist, who is aware of the development, said, “The incident took place when the last round was fired. Before carrying out any trial, the gun is thoroughly checked. In this case too it must have been done. This was not the first trial. It has performed remarkably well in high altitude trial in Sikkim. The gun has met all parameters so far during previous trials. If there is any minor defect, it can be addressed easily.”

It is also being argued that faulty ammunition may have led to the incident. The ammunition has been supplied by the ordnance factories.

Another DRDO scientist requesting anonymity said, “This is not the first time such an incident has happened with any gun. It would be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause until the thorough investigation is done.” DRDO will form an expert committee which would examine quality of ammunition, condition of barrel, and aspects like deviation in handling of the barrel during trial. Sub-standard ammunition has often caused problems during trials, the source said.

ATAGS is an advanced version of the Dhanush howitzers. The 155x52 calibre ATAGS has a higher range. The same ATAGS had achieved a record range of 48 km during trials in 2017.

Leaders in ordnance factories unions have said, like Dhanush, even the ATAGS should be put to tough scrutiny. “Why an issue is created only if an ordnance factory product suffers a setback,” asked Mukesh Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).