FORT MAGSAYSAY, Laur, Nueva Ecija — The Philippine Army will seek P64 million to “rehabilitate” some 10,000 mortar rounds and produce airtight plastic canisters to prevent a recurrence of the dud shells and misfires that hounded embattled Marines in Basilan last week.
The 10,000 rounds represent the first batch of 61-millimeter (mm) and 80-mm mortar shells to be rehabilitated and transferred from carton canisters — which make them vulnerable to damage from the elements — to the plastic casings that the Army developed with a private firm, Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino told reporters here Thursday.
Tolentino said refurbishing the mortars would be 40 percent cheaper than buying new ones, which could cost up to $150 each according to military officials.
Holding up the double-seal, prototype plastic canister, Tolentino said: “Even if it [is] rained on, dropped, or soaked in water, the ammunition will not be affected.”
“This is the solution,” he added.
“The problem, really, is in the handling of the individual soldier. Our ammunition is in good condition while in storage; when they are handed to the troops, they deteriorate,” Tolentino said.
“We devised this rehabilitation of our ammunition because it is expensive to buy new ones,” he added.
The quality of the mortar ammunition in the military arsenal came under scrutiny after several rounds misfired or failed to launch during a fierce encounter between Marines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Tipo-Tipo town, Basilan province last July 10.
Fourteen Marines died in the encounter. Ten of them were later beheaded.
The MILF has confirmed engaging the Marines but denied beheading the slain troops.
On Thursday, around 40 mortar shells were test fired here. One misfired and one did not explode on impact and was deemed a dud. The rounds include those from the same lot number, or batch of deliveries, which misfired in Basilan last week.
Tolentino said the test firing proved that the ammunition is in good condition after being pulled out of military storage but is prone to damage by the elements when brought by soldiers into combat.
He said moisture seeps into the cardboard canisters, which come with the mortar rounds when they are purchased. This damages the firing device and propellant charge, the components that launch the shells into the air.
Tolentino said the firing device and propellant charge of each mortar round would be replaced under the rehabilitation program, the first phase of which is targeted for completion by the end of 2007.