Our ability to defend our country has been exemplified by the indigenous strides we have made in the field of space technology, nuclear technology, missile technology, ship building, gun technology, aircraft technology and communication technology. It is our endeavour now to be ahead through modernisation. We need to shift our focus on becoming a sea power, fill in the major gaps and attune ourselves to the oncoming storm of disruption in military affairs
Basic Issues of Modernisation
- Are the Indian Armed Forces modern enough to defend India? The answer is yes. This was clearly visible in Doklam where China baulked at conflict escalation.
- Are the Indian Armed Forces modern enough for a regional power which is destined to be the third largest economy? The answer is no, not yet.
- Defence acquisition is not a standard open market commercial form of procurement. One cannot buy rifles like brinjals.
- High standards of public trust in the people who procure defence equipment is a prerequisite. In addition, transparency, probity and public accountability are very important. Most importantly, commitment to cause, knowledge and team work are required in these issues. As a nation, we have fallen short as evidenced by scams which have dotted our defence procurement horizon – Bofors, HDW, Kargil Coffin scam, Tehelka, TATRA, Augusta Westland and the ongoing Rafale controversy.
- There is a need to have a balance between competing requirements of
- Expeditious procurement
- High quality standards
- Appropriate costs.
Defence procurement has some unique features. These are as under: –
- There are supplier constraints since not everybody has the capacity to make weapons.
- Technological complexity of weapon systems makes it difficult to assess, evaluate and procure.
- Foreign suppliers have problems in many respects.
- High costs are not justifiable in many cases.
- Foreign exchange variations impact on cost and budgeting.
- Geo-political ramification of a deal could be complex.
After this, there are some fundamental choices to make. First, whether to design or develop indigenously, go in for a foreign procurement or buy from Indian sources. The next choice is whether going in for a normal or fast-track procurement. That is based on our operational requirements. The third choice is to go in for new equipment or upgrade an old weapon. This is important considering that one cannot replace about 50 per cent equipment in one go. It is not affordable or absorbable. The factors to consider are that buying new equipment means more effectiveness, latest technology, costly but low on maintenance. However, infrastructure change, training and transition instability are involved. Upgradation is less effective, cheaper since costs are postponed and high on maintenance. However, infrastructure and training costs are low. Transition instability is low and most importantly it leaves us with an option to go for the next generation in the later timeframe. Finally, the decision is situational, and it depends on what you need, what you afford and what you can wait for.
- Issuing a Request for information (RFI).
- Defining services qualitative requirements (SQRS).
- Get the acceptance of necessity (AON) from the defence acquisition council.
- Tendering and solicitation of offers (RFP).
- Technical evaluation of equipment.
- Field evaluation.
- Staff evaluation.
- Technical oversight.
- Commercial negotiations / contract negotiation.
- Approval of competent financial authority (CFA).
- Contract/supply order placement (SO).
- Contract execution and post-contract management.
This process could take up to 2-3 years or more depending upon the complexity of the weapon system being procured. Add the planning time, production time, and delivery time. One sees that any procurement of a modern weapon system becomes a decadal process. In the meantime, goal posts could change through disruptive technologies, changing threat perceptions and geopolitics. The entire process is very risky and iffy. This process is similar in most countries. Notwithstanding all this, modernisation happens in the western world at a good pace and in aggressively ambitious countries like China. In our case, we have some major challenges. These are outlined below: –
- It is the duty of our political and bureaucratic hierarchy to put the best weapon in the soldier’s hands. They have failed to a large extent since a national perspective is lacking and our processes are deviled by scams. They must get their act together.
- Indigenous design, development and production represented by 51 DRDO labs and establishments, 41 ordnance factories and 9 DPSUS have not met our growing aspirations. It is dotted by poor quality, unacceptable delay, poor technology and research capability. We have invested heavily in them and we should make them work. Reform through knowledge infusion and effective leadership is the order of the day.
- Private defence industry is at a nascent stage and will take at least a decade or more to even come up to scratch. In the meantime, we must get the best of our youth to contribute to this country and not make the Apples, Googles, Microsofts and Pepsis of another world rich and prosperous.
- The Services must master the knowledge of making this machinery move. Indian Navy and Artillery have done that. Others should follow their model. Also, there is a need to reassess the total force levels with which we are to function. We cannot expand and modernise. If we modernise, we should contract and if we expand, we cannot modernise. India cannot afford both.
- We need to have an integrated joint approach which is feasible only if there is a CDS. For all this to happen, there is a need of a major relook at the staffing pattern at MOD and the kind of bureaucracy who will be at the helm of defence modernisation.
- The country needs to allocate greater budgets for defence to build modern defence capacities if we are to be able to meet the threats emanating from a toxic Pakistan and a predatory China.
Having said this, you might wonder if anything can go right in this regard. My answer is, yes, it can. Our ability to defend our country has been exemplified by the indigenous strides we have made in the field of space technology, nuclear technology, missile technology, ship building, gun technology, aircraft technology and communication technology. However, we need to shift our focus on becoming a sea power, fill in the major gaps and attune ourselves to the oncoming storm of disruption in military affairs. Luckily, China has some instability – cooling economy, BRI pushback and a military in transition. Our toxic adversary Pakistan is economically defunct. This gives us a ten-year window of opportunity to set our house in order. In this ten-year window we must carry out surgical strikes on the defence procurement machinery to make it work. These are highlighted below
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