Sunday 20 October 2019, 11:54 AM
Equipment Acquisition by the Indian Army
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 10/11/2011 12:00:00 AM

The Indian Army has not procured or introduced into service a major item of modern equipment for at least the last decade. This inability or unwillingness to acquire new equipment has created major voids in the combat capability of the Army. Major cases in point are the repeated trials without a decision for the 155mm towed howitzer; night vision in battle tanks is seriously deficient; there is no light vehicle to replace the erstwhile Jeep and Jonga, the list is long. Most equipment has crossed their useful life both in wear and tear as well as technology.  The weapons and equipment continue to remain in service due to constant refurbishment and overhaul, in some cases the life of the equipment has been extended way past the time recommended by the manufacturer.  This worn equipment coupled with substandard locally manufactured spares has resulted in a dangerous situation where the hollowness could be exposed in war.

These equipment and hence combat deficiencies stem mainly from a flawed acquisition process. This acquisition

Defence Minister A.K.Antony

process has resulted in so many false starts in procuring major systems that the credibility of the Indian Army in this respect is now being questioned by the fighting man as well as vendors. This was illustrated by a major western artillery gun manufacturer walking away last year from the bidding process for yet another trial for the 155mm howitzer.  Preparing a bid or taking part in an equipment trial costs the manufacturer a substantial sum whereas for the Army it is ‘no cost no commitment’.  This ‘no cost no commitment’ concept fosters a fundamental lack of responsibility and accountability at Army HQ and in trial units.

Unless there is a serious relook at the process, these deficiencies will increase to an extent where it will not be feasible to rectify them in a hurry at the time of an imminent war. Every time we have been on the brink of war or engaged in conflict we have embarked on a series of panic buys under the garb of ‘fast track purchases’.

Sending the Indian Army into war unprepared with the required wherewithal has almost been the norm since independence.  It first manifest itself in 1962 where troops were inducted into high altitude in summer clothing with primitive weapons to fight a far better equipped Chinese Army, the result is painful history. This hasty buying continued when the Siachen and Kargil conflicts commenced, more than 80 percent of the casualties in Siachen were due to the ill equipped troops being exposed to the extreme conditions prevalent at those altitudes.   Severe shortages in weapons, ammunition and equipment have plagued the Army in counter-insurgency operations and in the run up to any recent conflict including Operation Parakram when the Indian Army was deployed consequent to the attack on Parliament.  Despite this seeming apathy in providing him the best equipment available the indomitable and intrepid Indian soldier willingly faces adversity whenever duty demands.
If we are to stem this rot, and rot it is, we urgently need to relook at our acquisition process. Major aspects of the acquisition process that need to be introspected upon are elaborated below.

Procedures at Government Level

Defence Procurement Procedure ( DPP)  The DPP was the outcome of the Kelkar Committee, it was promulgated and put into effect in 2002. Since then it has been amended and modified from time to time with the latest version being issued in 2011. The DPP was made to ensure transparency and objectivity in what was considered at that time a corrupt acquisition process. What has actually happened is that it has resulted in such a rigid procedure with so many checks and balances that, many suspect, it has become self defeating. It is nearly impossible for an organization to follow such elaborate steps in equipment acquisition and hope to acquire anything in a meaningful time. The DPP must have inherent flexibility and approval mechanisms to allow for mid course changes in technology or threat perception.

Foreign Direct Investment.  The Government has mandated a FDI of 26% in defence manufacture. At this level of investment foreign firms are reluctant to part with high end technology which has been very expensive to develop and not yet been amortised over adequate number of equipment sales. This results in relatively older technology being brought in by foreign JV partners. This is an important factor in preventing the development of Indian defence industry. There are pros and cons of increasing or decreasing FDI, but unless the return is commensurate to the investment, foreign firms are unlikely to put their best technology foot forward. This needs a serious rethink.

Technology Vs Acquisition Cycle.  Today technology progresses at a rate much faster than the 4 - 6 year acquisition cycle given in the DPP. The cycle is so rigid that mid course changes in the requirement in keeping with advancing technology are extremely difficult or nearly impossible to effect. Due to this, equipment may be already outdated by the time it is introduced into service, particularly if the acquisition process is delayed (as it invariably is). The only way out of this is to hasten the acquisition and to freeze technology at critical stages of development or acquisition, with new technology being introduced in subsequent models of the same equipment.

Availability of Technology.  Due mainly to the point given above, Indian Defence manufacturing is limited to tier two and tier three components, these are largely small parts or non technology intensive components. The Indian defence industry is quite some distance away from developing and integrating major sub assemblies or complete systems. This is compounded by a misplaced security concern that does not allow Indian firms entry into certain components of defence equipment (ammunition, explosives, gun barrels, etc.). Foreign firms have an edge over their Indian counterparts in this regard. If we are to obtain self sufficiency in defence manufacture, then private Indian industry must be allowed the ability to manufacture various components.

Long term Acquisition Plan.  An army’s equipment profile is based on the immediate and foreseeable threat to the nation and the national aim and intention in mitigating such threats. This analysis would then indicate the equipment profile for the three services and each arm or service in the army.  Currently there is no indication of such an analysis based balanced equipment profile in the short and long term.  The outcome is that each arm or service muscles in to grab a slice of the budget pie, reducing most acquisitions to personalities and ad hoc demands that are not related to the threat.  In any case the Army five year plans are usually approved at the end of the plan period, introducing yet another variable. There is an urgent need to have a equipment profile plan that balances the various threats we are facing and are likely to encounter in the near future.  Equipment acquisition must move away from the budget cornering turf wars of the arms and services.

Defence Offsets.  The DPP imposes a liability of 30 percent offsets on foreign defence suppliers, in large deals this is a considerable amount. (Think USD 3 billion in the current MMRCA deal) There are those who opine that the Indian defence industry is not yet ready to absorb such huge offsets, deterring foreign suppliers from participating in big deals. Last year a particular helicopter manufacturer announced in the media that they were apprehensive of being able to fulfill the offset obligation and would not, therefore, offer their equipment.  Alternative means to absorb such huge offsets need to be found.

Indian Army Procedures

The procedures followed for acquisitions within the Army too need a relook as they inhibit realistic procurement.  Some of the stumbling blocks are described below.

• Officers Tenure Vs Acquisition Cycle. On an average an Indian Army Officer has a staff tenure of 2-3 years in Army HQ. This includes officers posted in various procurement directorates like the Weapons and Equipment Directorate (WE). The time schedule in the DPP for acquiring major equipment is 4 – 6 years, considerably longer than the tenure of the officers responsible for its acquisition. During the acquisition cycle two or three officers deal with the project with each new incumbent perceiving that the technology being acquired by his predecessor is either inappropriate or outdated, starting the acquisition cycle all over again.  There is a need for the Army to appoint a Project Manager for each acquisition; such an officer must have the technical capability and tenure to see a project through to its logical conclusion.

• Unrealistic GSQRs.  Equipment is procured based on a General Staff Qualitative Requirment (GSQR) which in turn is derived from an analysis of the operational needs of the Army. Most GSQRs are badly thought out and are technically unrealistic; being often the mere aggregate of technology gleaned from glossy defence magazines.  Good defence manufacturing companies hesitate to respond to such GSQRs and the ones who do are unable to meet the requirement, the outcome of which is repeated trials which invariably fail.  A GSQR must be based on threat and envisaged usage of the equipment.  It must avoid fundamental development as far as possible. In major equipment ground up development is an expensive process and without an assured return manufactures would be reluctant to sink in large funds.  In most cases modifications to off the shelf equipment would suit our needs.

• Lack of Technological Knowledge.  Many officers dealing with acquisition lack technical capability or knowledge of the equipment they are to acquire. This is aggravated by the fact that traditionally in the Indian Army high profile officers do not generally get posted to departments of Army HQ dealing with acquisition. This absence of technical capability coupled with mediocrity of the officers posted serves to retard any acquisition program.  Equipment procurement is a vital function which needs to be given due importance in terms of the qualification and capability of the officers entrusted with this important task.

• Trials.  The procedure for trials laid down in the DPP and by Army HQ directorates is long and laborious with equipment having to be tried in all conceivable terrain in every season.  Often the prospective equipment is tried in conditions and in terrain for which it is not intended resulting in failures of equipment and retrials. Trials are conducted subjectively by officers who often are not trained on the equipment being tried.  A dedicated trial unit of suitably qualified and competent officers would infuse a uniform standard of conduct which is fair to all parties.

• Decision Paralysis.  Large defence buys are big ticket transactions which are invariably drawn into the political arena and can easily become the subject of financial scams both real and perceived. Sensitivity of officers to being accused in a scam has resulted in decision paralysis in the army. Ever since the Bofors scandal, procurements by the Defense Ministry have continued to be mired in controversies. CAG and CVC reports bundled with CBI investigations have now regrettably become routine with the defense purchases. In such an environment of intense suspicion, no decision is the best decision, resulting in no acquisition.  There is no easy answer to this, however if personnel with proven integrity are assigned this task, they can be insulated from such pressures.

In concluding I quote Winston Churchill “The Armed forces are not like a limited company to be reconstructed from time to time as the money fluctuates. ------ It is a living thing. If it is bullied, it sulks, if it is unhappy it pines, if harried it gets feverish, if sufficiently disturbed it will wither and dwindle and almost die, and when it comes to this last, serious condition, it is only revived by lots of time and lots of money.”
He could have been saying this about the Indian Army today.

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Equipment Acquisition by the Indian Army

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