A failed procurement procedure

Harsha Kakar
A presentation to the PMO by the MOS Defence, Subash Bhamre, on the failed defence procurement procedure may finally have brought into public domain an aspect which has been common knowledge within the defence community. An aspect which remains ignored is that development of military capacities and capabilities is time consuming. The process takes years and has multiple stages. Even after identification and placing of orders complete induction would span time, depending on the nature and sophistication of the equipment.
The MOS claimed that the procurement process is dogged by ‘multiple and diffused structures with no single point accountability’. It went on to claim duplication of processes, avoidable redundant layers, delayed execution, no real time monitoring and no project-based approach. He also stated that no major ‘make in India’ project has taken off in the last three to four years.
The Armed forces continue to face shortages in critical equipment including fighter aircraft, drones, helicopters, submarines, artillery guns and howitzers and even the basic assault rifles for the infantry. The delays commence from the first stage itself which is generating a General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR) to the stage of final approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The amount of delay varied from 2.6 to 15.4 times the laid down guidelines.  Clearing files itself involved in many cases upto 120 weeks, which was six times the laid down timeline.
Another major reason given by the MOS was lack of synergy between the three services as well as tendency of different MoD wings to work in ‘independent silo’s’. He even stated that only 8 to 10% of the 144 proposed deals in the last three fiscal years fructified within stipulated time. The delay was immense during the UPA regime, solely because Anthony, scared of even the shadow of the Bofors and visualizing kickbacks around every corner refused to clear any deal, delaying where he could and cancelling at even a whiff of a scandal.
The fact is that none of the causes of delay are unknown to the MoD, yet it is unwilling to act. Firstly, within the armed forces there is a major mismatch. The three services view their capabilities in isolation, each desiring a major share of the capital budget. The most cost intensive services are the smallest, the Navy and the Air Force. The impact of a non-appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is the principal reason.
With no single body accountable for collating demands, prioritizing and planning for a centralized capability development program,individual services seek their own and project it to the MoD. The CDS heading the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) would have logically been the single point military advisor, whose role would have been prioritization, collation and evaluating a centralized procurement plan for the armed forces. However, the Government has failed to appoint any, despite its strong demands from the strategic community and being an international norm.
With his absence, the onus of deciding priorities and dividing the budget falls on the Defence Secretary and the Defence Minister, neither of them are qualified nor have the depth of knowledge on matters military. Hence, either the allocation of the capital budget becomes almost mathematical or skewed in favour of a service. This will continue to haunt capability development, unless the Government wakes up and pushes through major changes in higher defence management.
Secondly, the services tend to take prolonged periods of time including retrials on multiple occasions solely to approve an equipment, including indigenous productions. While detailed trials are essential as the equipment once inducted would remain in service for decades, however, modifications and induction can always be simultaneous, at least for equipment being manufactured inhouse. The Danush and ATAG artillery systems being prime examples.
Thirdly, the services continue to change GSQRs at regular intervals, as has been happening with the infantry assault rifles. Thus, retendering becomes a norm as requirements change. Hence, once decided, the services should avoid multiple changes, setting the process back by years. Finally, each equipment is expected to function at all altitudes from -50 degrees centigrade to plus 50. At extreme temperatures a small force is expected to operate, for which special equipment could be considered. This would be more realistic.
Within the MoD, the entire process of acquisition is under the control of a civilian bureaucracy, which apart from lacking knowledge on the criticality of the equipment and capability,are never concerned on the time factor. They are neither accountable nor responsible for any delays in the process. To continuously raise queries, forcing delays is a norm, failing which they could be considered redundant. Thus, the process drags and drags, with no end in sight.
Politics also plays an important part in enhancing delays. Unwarranted comments, as raised in the Rafale deal, pushed the Government on to the defensive, even when there were no kickbacks. It compels it to put off major decisions, especially when elections are around the bend. Asking the air force to reconsider its single engine fighter requirement is an example. The Air Force, desperate for aircraft as its fleet is dwindling would be compelled to fly outdated machines, enhancing possibilities of accidents, solely because the Government seeks another excuse to delay procurement.
Finally, is the ‘bread versus guns’ battle of the finance ministry. How much would it be able to spare for military modernization considering other national projects. This impacts the demands of the forces and leads to restrictions and delays.
The lack of progress on ‘Make in India’ is again due to poor decision making and wavering in mindset at the MoD level. Cancelling the Spike order when the factory was already established, failing to finalize the single engine fighter aircraft and ultimately proceeding ahead with the Tejas are examples. Between deciding and implementation is a time gap, which only grows with poor decision making. Companies are willing to invest but the MoD hesitates in confirming. Which such a wavering MoD, how can ‘Make in India’ move forward?
The Government fails to realize that only nations with a powerful military are respected. China is ensuring that India faces a threat from two fronts, hence continues to arm Pak. The service chiefs keep mentioning this fact, but the Government ignores. Unless the PMO directly intervenes, lays down timelines and forces those involved to act,bringing in accountability, procurement and progressing on ‘Make in India’ would only be delayed forcing the military to battle the next war with last war capabilities.
(The author is a retired Major    General of the Indian Army)