Also published @ Financial Express
A webinar on ‘Aatmanirbharta In Defence – Call To Action’ was held on 25 Feb 22 in which those who matter and deal with Defence in the Government and Industry gave their views, and exchanged them with others. There were four themes under deliberation during separate breakout sessions as under :-
Progressive Increase In The Capital Procurement Budget For Domestic Industry – (Opportunities & Challenges)
Developing All Round Defence R&D Ecosystem In The Country
Meeting Wide Ranging Testing And Certification Requirements – Setting Up An Independent Nodal Umbrella Body
SPVs By Industries With DRDO And Other Organisations
The webinar was a follow up on budget proposals which were presented by the FM early in month in the parliament. The objective was to brainstorm the issues involved in order to formulate a plan to convert the proposals into actionable points. The highlight of the webinar was that the Prime Minister addressed the virtual gathering and also took time to attend the final summing up despite his commitments in international mediation to bring about peace and defuse tensions in Ukraine. It indicated the seriousness attached to the whole proceedings and the intent in the days ahead. There were major takeaway points in his address. He reiterated the increased share of orders being given to Indian defence industry in Capital procurement. This is only bound to increase in future. He did mention that budgets would be made available if the necessity arose. To me, it was a reiteration that, in India, funding for defence will never be denied if needed. This has been an Indian trendline ever since I entered the world of defence acquisition. This is also something that those who deal with defence should understand. Prudency demands that all cases are progressed expeditiously. One must go ahead with all preparedness and take necessary action so as to be able to spend enhanced budgets when available. It is better to have cases waiting at finish line rather than languishing in the pipeline. Budgets are transitory, preparation is ongoing and permanent. One cannot slack off in this game. Another major point the PM made was that India’s defence preparedness must be customised to its environment and be a unique system. This is an important point whose import, could be lost in the flotsam and jetsam of bureaucratic detail. I will dilate upon this later. He also mentioned that a third import restriction list was on the anvil. Overall, The PMs comments are very significant in the light of what is happening in Ukraine. Every nation has to stand up on its own in the ultimate analysis. There is no other way than ‘Atmanirbharta’. Apna Haath Jagannath!
I was invited to present my views on Meeting Wide Ranging Testing And Certification Requirements – Setting Up An Independent Nodal Umbrella Body based on a MOD concept note. As per this note easy access to state-of-the-art testing infrastructure is imperative for the organic growth of a robust defence design, development and production ecosystem. Currently, insufficient capacities in trial , testing and certification are key factors which drag down the overall process and adversely impact defence industry and Services. Non-availability of proof facilities, inaccessibility to the test facilities at one place, limited number of ranges and long waiting times are some major deficiencies. As the Indian defence industry grows and R&D opens up for the private industry , start-ups and academia, the requirement of testing, trial and certification of indigenous products will increase exponentially. The infrastructure required for trial and testing is capital intensive. However it is essential for successful development of niche defence technologies. One must find ways to consolidate or create such infrastructure to facilitate Defence Industry and thereby provide necessary support for trials, testing and certification of the products being developed or acquired. Additionally, in order to enhance exports, aerospace and defence products need to undergo rigorous testing/trials as per international standards so that they can be certified at par with international products. In view of the above, MOD has envisaged to set up an autonomous governing body to permit, regulate, promote, hand-hold, monitor and supervise Trial, Testing and Certification facilities and services. This body is expected to act as a Single-Window Nodal agency to enable and regulate the existing facilities of Trial, Testing and Certification of Defence Products for optimal use by the industry, start-ups and academia.
Necessity Factors. At the outset there is no doubt that there is an urgent requirement to expand the training, trial, testing and certification system of defence products. The concept of the MOD is fully endorsed in setting up an independent nodal umbrella body to carry out these activities. However, this is a green field opportunity and hence India must use this window well. There is no doubt that enhanced Atmanirbharta through indigenisation as also enhanced exports, will require extensive and widespread testing facilities. However there is a need to look beyond. The fact is that defence procurement and development is not an end in itself. The end state is, the operational readiness and effectiveness of the Armed Forces. Hence the overall scope should be widened to ensure that the new system and body should contribute primarily to enhancing operational effectiveness. In addition when equipment is modernised there is an undeniable requirement of going through rigorous development, trial, testing and certification cycles. The sum total is that when setting up the new system and an autonomous body, a holistic and wide-ranging perspective must be put in place. This system must cater for the well-being of the Indian Armed Forces rather than the defence industry alone.
Drivers. The envisaged Independent testing and certification body will be driven by a few factors which need to be always factored in. The first driver is that India’s operational and environmental setting has expanded considerably. Our operational orientation has shifted to the High Altitudes of our northern borders along the LAC. The expansion ahead is in the IOR as our maritime aspirations grow. The requirement in plains and deserts continues. Hence our testing and certification regime should be customised and be unique to our environment as directed by our Prime Minister. As the Indian Armed Forces shift from being threat based to capability, the volumes and variety of defence equipment will increase. The lifespans of defence systems equipment (which on an average is three decades) suggests that while modern systems will be inducted, legacy systems will also continue to exist. Modern systems are increasingly becoming software heavy. It implies that the span of testing and certification demands will be enlarged. Certification and testing will start with software( which is really virtual) and extend up to the hard end of structures and certification in space. It includes issues related to IPR also. The user compact has also expanded. Defence forces, security establishments, disaster management agencies and, aviation industry have a large commonality of equipment. Testing and certification requirements for these will be common. The system being put in place must cater for this wider scope. Major features of modern defence equipment is their increased ranges with enhanced level of electronics and complex modern explosives. The new testing and certification regime must be responsive to this factor.
Training, Trials, Testing and Certification Matrix. A matrix along which the new system could be developed was presented (see graphic ). For a growing nation with an expanding defence industrial base, India lacks long range firing facilities, high-altitude firing facilities, and aerospace testing centres in adequate numbers. This is currently impinging on our operational effectiveness. This is also reflected in our inability to induct new systems in time. This is a red flag issue and needs urgent attention. These infrastructural capacities are required simultaneously for training, R&D, trials, modifications and upgrades to war like equipment. These facilities are required extensively and simultaneously by multiple users to include Services, development and production agencies and defence corridors. No nation can have such facilities exclusively for each user or purpose. Currently these facilities (which are inadequate) apart from being owned separately, are being used in exclusive mode by respective stake holders as per their norms and requirements. There is major requirement for consolidation for optimal use as also to identify gaps which need to be plugged through new infrastructure. This is a capital heavy infrastructure development process which will have to be progressed incrementally. Issues related to people and environment are also involved. The entire issue must be approached holistically by the MOD, in consultation with all stake holders, other central ministries and state governments. The bottom half of the matrix encompasses standard proofing facilities , assembly / subassembly testing centres as also component level testing for acceptance, batch proofing and life extensions. These facilities will be required by QA personnel, Defence corridors and production agencies. Many of these facilities are available in the country in a disaggregated manner. The requirement here is to map them and consolidate them in an easy to access, easy to use manner. A certain amount of rigour has to be incorporated to ensure traceability and sanctity of the testing process. A suitable accreditation system has also to be put in place so that the facilities across defence and civil establishments are part of the network.
Recommendations. Aatmanirbharta In Defence demands an Independent Nodal Umbrella Body for Training, Trials, Testing and Certification. However, the watchword is that the national requirement should be catered for by looking beyond the Department of Defence Production. Constitution of an expert committee to assess the overall requirement and evolve a road map well into the future is highly recommended. All stake holders must be involved in the process participatorily with a huge user interface. The priority of the Armed Forces must not be lost sight of. In doing so, the existing capabilities and capacities with Services, DRDO, DGQA, civil sector and IITs must be mapped and consolidated along with the constraints and conditionalities which may emerge. The government must also put into motion a plan as per the road map to create new testing and certification centres based on the assessed requirement. A prioritised aggregator model based on digitalisation – with Exclusive, Specialised, Shared or Public access rights can be evolved. The aggregator model as used by OLA/UBER/ Amazon can be suitably adopted. The emergent structure and system must incorporate transparency, approachability, and useability. Certain aspects of defence testing are niche activities. Hence those agencies which have the capacities to carry out these activities must be co-opted into the process. For example, for explosive testing, IITM, ISRO and DAE need to be incorporated, in addition to facilities at DRDO, DGQA and Ord Factories. A similar approach must be taken when testing out space-based structures. Major testing and certification nodes must be based on defence corridors and clusters of defence production centre. An apex national node at Delhi under MOD will be mandated. The defence corridor nodes must be linked to IIT Madras and IIT Kanpur as knowledge partners. Organisationally the IIT Madras Research Park model is a good start point for the envisaged independent body. The entire system can be developed on a shared funding model cum self-generating basis. This will evolve with time.
Conclusion. Besides the PM, the RM also attended the discussions and summed up the proceeding. From the latter’s mature address, it was clear that there is a positive shift in thinking and approach in the defence preparations of the nation. The four themes discussed in the webinar are fundamental long-awaited reforms. The good point is that a start has been made. The difficult part is staying the course. The easy part is to criticise the whole affair as an exercise in virtual reality and be dismissive about it. The challenge is to put our collective shoulders to it to make Jagannath’s Rath move forward. That is when we will inch into Atmanirbhata. Apna hath Jagannath!
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