“Weapons Pro­cure­ment Process is In Tat­ters”

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Viewpoint -

In­dia’s weapons- buy­ing is fre­quently crip­pled by “mul­ti­ple and dif­fused struc­tures with no sin­gle point ac­count­abil­ity, mul­ti­ple de­ci­sion- heads, du­pli­ca­tion of pro­cesses, de­layed com­ments, de­layed ex­e­cu­tion, no real-time mon­i­tor­ing, no pro­ject-based ap­proach and a ten­dency to fault- find rather than to fa­cil­i­tate,” as­sesses a very can­did De­fence Min­istry re­port. As a re­sult of these flaws, the gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship ‘ Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive for the de­fence sec­tor, launched in 2014, “con­tin­ues to lan­guish at the al­tar of pro­ce­dural de­lays and has failed to de­mon­strate its true po­ten­tial.”

The 27-point in­ter­nal re­port pre­pared late in 2017 by Min­is­ter of State for De­fence Sub­hash Bhamre is a sting­ing in­dict­ment of the way the De­fence Min­istry func­tions. Of 144 projects in the last three fi­nan­cial years, “only 8-10% fruc­ti­fied within the stip­u­lated time pe­riod.” Sig­nif­i­cantly, a chart iden­ti­fies how each step of the nine-stage process of or­der­ing weaponry sees enor­mous de­lays.

From the stage of Re­quest for Pro­posal ( RFP), when the gov­ern­ment for­mally reaches out to OEMs to sub­mit their pro­posal to the deal-clos­ing clear­ance given by the Com­pe­tent Fi­nan­cial Au­thor­ity, the de­lays are a whop­ping 2.6 times to 15.4 times the dead­line set.

The prob­lems ac­tu­ally be­gin at the level of the head­quar­ters of the in­di­vid­ual armed forces, when the de­mand for new pur­chases is first raised. Point­ing at a “lack of syn­ergy be­tween the three ser­vices”, the re­port says that the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard do not work as a sys­tem, which “puts greater strain on the lim­ited de­fence bud­get and as a re­sult, we are un­able to meet the crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity re­quire­ments.”

What is more, dif­fer­ent de­part­ments of the min­istry “ap­pear to be work­ing in independent si­los” driven by their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of pol­icy and pro­ce­dures. There­after, once a weapons pur­chase en­ters the ‘Re­quest for Pro­posal’ (RFP) stage, the av­er­age time taken to clear files is 120 weeks or six times more than rules laid down by the MoD in 2016. “The fastest RFP clear­ance was ac­corded in 17 weeks while the slow­est took a mon­u­men­tal 422 weeks (over eight years),” the re­port noted.

The re­port points out that the Armed Forces, as even­tual users of the weapon sys­tems, “con­tinue to view the Ac­qui­si­tion Wing ( of the De­fence Min­istry) as an ob­sta­cle rather than a fa­cil­i­ta­tor”. So there needs to be a “tec­tonic change in mind­set of the min­istry of­fi­cials and the need of the hour is as­sign­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and ac­count­abil­ity.” At the level of Tri­als and Eval­u­a­tion con­ducted by the Armed forces, “the av­er­age time taken is 89 weeks, which is three times more than au­tho­rised.” The armed forces are a part of the problem here, as they list “am­bigu­ous trial di­rec­tives, leav­ing scope for var­ied in­ter­pre­ta­tion.”

Dr Bhamre ob­serves in his re­port that the Tech­ni­cal Over­sight Com­mit­tee (TOC) stage needs to be done away with al­to­gether. “I am not sure whether any TOC has brought up any rel­e­vant is­sue, and is as­sessed to be yet an­other de­lay in the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure. “The Cost Ne­go­ti­a­tion Com­mit­tee ( CNC) stage sees de­lays about 10 times more than that al­lowed be­cause of the in­abil­ity of the De­fence Min­istry to bench­mark costs with global stan­dards es­pe­cially where an item is be­ing pro­cured for the first time or in­volved Trans­fer of Tech­nol­ogy.”

Shock­ingly, even if a weapons sys­tem ac­tu­ally makes its way through this bu­reau­cratic quag­mire, an ac­qui­si­tion can be “shot down” when the file reaches the Finance Min­istry or the Cabi­net Com­mit­tee of Se­cu­rity since “cur­rently, the MoF or CCS is not aware” of the de­fence min­istry’s plans and needs. The re­port also flags the “rain­ing of nu­mer­ous queries, a few of them even of a ba­sic na­ture.”

In other words, the Finance Min­istry does not seem to have any idea of what to do with a com­plex agree­ment once it is pre­sented by the De­fence Min­istry for fi­nan­cial clear­ance so that a con­tract can be signed. Given the fairly hope­less

bu­reau­cratic jum­ble within the gov­ern­ment, the re­port lists a se­ries of reme­dies to de-clut­ter the process, re­volv­ing around “ac­count­abil­ity” and “own­er­ship”, to en­sure the pur­chase of weapons can real­is­ti­cally be ex­pected. But rid­ding the gov­ern­ment of this de­bil­i­tat­ing red-tape will not be easy.

Very re­cently, 17 years af­ter the Air Force stated a re­quire­ment for 126 new gen fight­ers, the De­fence Min­istry stalled the process to build more than 100 of these jets in In­dia un­der ‘Make in In­dia’. The two main firms com­pet­ing for this re­quire­ment were Amer­ica’s Lock­heed Martin, which of­fered its F-16 Block 70IN fighter, and Swe­den’s SAAB, which was com­pet­ing with its Gripen E/F multi-role com­bat air­craft.

Now, the gov­ern­ment wants the In­dian Air Force to “broaden the scope” of its RFI to also in­clude multi- engine fight­ers, a de­ci­sion taken soon af­ter the con­tro­versy over the Rafale fighter deal where the gov­ern­ment was ac­cused by the op­po­si­tion of not be­ing trans­par­ent in its han­dling of the con­tract with the French gov­ern­ment.

For the In­dian Air Force, which is see­ing its squadron strength fall dras­ti­cally be­cause older jets need to be re­tired, there is a strange sense of deja-vu about this all. In 2001, the IAF had pro­jected its re­quire­ment un­der the Medium Range Com­bat Air­craft (MRCA) deal for sin­gle-engine jet fight­ers. The scope of the deal changed dra­mat­i­cally when the gov­ern­ment said that they wanted to in­clude twin-engine fight­ers in the IAF’s fighter eval­u­a­tion. Since twin-engine jets are heav­ier and more ca­pa­ble, “MRCA” warped into “MMRCA,” or Medium Mul­ti­role Com­bat Air­craft, a pro­gramme which was ul­ti­mately scrapped al­to­gether in 2015, af­ter an in­cred­i­ble 15-year process. Fi­nally, in 2015, re­al­is­ing that the In­dian Air Force was des­per­ate, the gov­ern­ment agreed, con­tro­ver­sially, to di­rectly buy 36 Rafale fight­ers from France in an off- the- shelf pur­chase worth more than Rs. 58,000 crores.

But there still re­mained a some sem­blance of hope be­cause in Oc­to­ber 2016, the gov­ern­ment had also be­gan a new process for sin­gle-engine fight­ers, which would be ac­quired in sig­nif­i­cantly larger num­bers, made in In­dia and bought at con­sid­er­ably lower per-unit costs.

With the de­ci­sion to con­fuse this pro­gramme (with a new RFI is­sued in April 2018) and given the min­istry’s own track record, it seems clear that the In­dian Air Force will not be in­duct­ing any new type of fighter for sev­eral years to come other than the in­dige­nous Te­jas LCA, which is smaller and ar­guably less ca­pa­ble than vari­ants of the F-16 or Gripen that the Air Force is re­ally look­ing to ac­quire.

The Te­jas LCA

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Vishnu Som, as as­sessed by NDTV. Lock­heed Martin F-16 with af­ter­burner

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