De­fence Min­is­ter should go for best tech­nol­ogy

Per­haps a sep­a­rate de­fence ac­qui­si­tion pro­ce­dure is needed for In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion projects with tele­scoped ges­ta­tion pe­riod re­duc­ing the pro­cure­ment time.


[ By Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

D] efence Min­is­ter in Manohar Par­rikar has made a good be­gin­ning by clear­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of 840 ar­tillery guns; 100 to be bought off-the-shelf and bal­ance to be pro­duced in­dige­nously. This would start filling the three-decade-old crit­i­cal void of the In­dian Ar­tillery. Par­rikar has said that the mil­i­tary should be made so strong that no one should stare at us, which in­di­cates the much needed re­solve con­sid­er­ing the dire state the equip­ping has been. While Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has given the call of ‘Make in In­dia, Sell Any­where’ and for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI) in de­fence has been opened beyond 49 per cent on se­lec­tive ba­sis, Prime Min­is­ter Modi has also asked for sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of de­fence ac­qui­si­tion pro­ce­dures. But while Par­rikar would fo­cus on the lat­ter, he needs to re­mem­ber that while over 70 per cent of de­fence equip­ment con­tin­ued to be im­ported, this to­gether with the bal­ance pro­duced in­dige­nously is cer­tainly not state-of-the-art.

More alarm­ingly, and that 50 per cent of all mil­i­tary equip­ment held is ob­so­lete as ac­knowl­edged by the Min­istry of In­dus­try and Com­merce web­site. There­fore, bridg­ing the large asym­me­try visà-vis our ad­ver­saries is no more a game of num­bers alone. If we con­tinue in the same vein of ac­qui­si­tions based on the low­est bid­der (L1), the asym­me­try will ac­tu­ally widen fur­ther con­sid­er­ing the num­bers that need to be filled up. There is par­a­digm shift in the na­ture of con­flict.

Mod­ern-day con­flicts have ex­panded to in­clude sub-na­tion­al­i­ties, ter­ror­ists, in­sur­gents, re­li­gious fa­nat­ics and eth­nic in­ter­ests. South Asia is in the cen­tre stage of sub­con­ven­tional con­flict and in­sta­bil­ity. The en­try of non-state ac­tors has added a new di­men­sion to low-in­ten­sity con­flicts. Re­sponses to such chal­lenges need to be ad­dressed in a fo­cused and cred­i­ble man­ner. Our armed forces need to main­tain ‘qual­i­ta­tive’ edge by up­grad­ing tech­nolo­gies. Mil­i­tary trans­for­ma­tion in­cludes net­work-cen­tric­ity as an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent in­clud­ing nan­otech­nol­ogy, en­abling sin­gle plat­forms to do mul­ti­ple tasks, par­tic­u­larly in the sub­con­ven­tional and ir­reg­u­lar en­vi­ron­ment, while cy­ber and space are the new fron­tiers. The L1, or ‘Low­est Bid’, fac­tor has ruled the roost in de­fence pro­cure­ments in In­dia ever since. Should we let the L1 fac­tor con­tinue to be the ma­jor fac­tor for de­fence pro­cure­ments for our mil­i­tary when tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances have rev­o­lu­tionised war­fare and tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity will be a ma­jor bat­tle win­ning fac­tor in fu­ture? Should we blindly sub­mit to the Bri­tish legacy of L1 bids, de­lud­ing our­selves un­der the pre­text of be­ing ‘cash strapped’ when the widen­ing asym­me­try has af­fected com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties in face of mount­ing threats, the China-Pak nexus and the ret­ro­grade de­fence mod­erni­sa­tion that we have suf­fered over the past decades?

The re­sponse of ven­dors to the RFP (re­quest for pro­posal) is of two types: ‘best price’ and/or ‘best qual­ity’. In­vari­ably, weigh­tage of the for­mer is more and ‘best qual­ity’ be­comes a ca­su­alty. Many times the price be­ing quoted by other ven­dor(s) get leaked out or shall we say ob­tained through eco­nomic es­pi­onage. The en­ter­pris­ing ven­dor then bids a much lower price to ob­tain the con­tract though the qual­ity of his prod­uct that may be qual­i­ta­tively in­fe­rior. The fo­cus on qual­ity is over­shad­owed by the lower price be­ing of­fered. There have also been in­stances when in or­der to pro­mote in­di­geni­sa­tion the GSQR (Gen­eral Staff Qual­i­ta­tive Re­quire­ments) by the mil­i­tary is forced to lower or equip­ment de­vel­oped with­out ref­er­ence to users is sim­ply dumped with them even though of­fi­cially this is not ac­knowl­edged.

To com­pound the prob­lem the ex­ist­ing pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure does not per­mit con­tract­ing through the L2 ven­dor should the L1 ven­dor fail to de­liver for some rea­son. In case the L1 ven­dor fails, the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure re­quires the en­tire process of RFP to be re­peated in­volv­ing crit­i­cal de­lays in procur­ing vi­tal equip­ment for the de­fence ser­vices. An ex­am­ple is the hand­held light-weight Laser Tar­get Des­ig­na­tors for our Spe­cial Forces, the RFP for which was floated some nine years back but this crit­i­cal equip­ment is still not pro­vi­sioned since the L1 ven­dor had failed to de­liver in the first in­stance. The bot­tom line is that the low­est cost bid­der (at its face value) at times can­not re­ally bring in the great value for money.

Ad­di­tion­ally, in the long run it may turn out to be far more ex­pen­sive for our armed forces ver­sus the other bid­der who may be L 2 or L3. The lat­ter two may be ex­pen­sive at face value but may pos­si­bly bring bet­ter long-term cost-ef­fec­tive life-cy­cle, thereby giv­ing much greater value for the money spent in the long run. Pru­dence de­mands not only should we re­view the pros and cons of the L1 fac­tor, per­haps it needs to be re­placed with the ‘Best Tech­nol­ogy Bid’ fac­tor. In the in­terim, we also need to per­mit au­to­matic pro­cure­ment through L2 or L3 ven­dor with­out any loss of time should the L1 ven­dor fail to de­liver.

Ad­di­tion­ally, we are still tak­ing re­course to about 40 month span for In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion projects de­spite rapidly chang­ing tech­nolo­gies. In such cir­cum­stances, our mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion will con­tinue to regress. Per­haps a sep­a­rate de­fence ac­qui­si­tion pro­ce­dure is needed for In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion projects with tele­scoped ges­ta­tion pe­riod re­duc­ing the pro­cure­ment time. Th­ese is­sues re­quire de­lib­er­ate fo­cus by the De­fence Min­is­ter. With the support he is likely to get from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice (PMO), he cer­tainly can break the shack­les of L1 and usher a pol­icy of ‘Best Tech­nol­ogy’ for de­fence ac­qui­si­tions. This will help mod­ernise our mil­i­tary to the ex­tent that our ad­ver­saries would not dare stare at us, very much in ac­cor­dance with the vi­sion of Par­rikar.

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