As an emerging economic and military power, India must possess armed forces that can guarantee security of its interests in a dynamic international geo-political environment. However, slow and tardy modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces has been causing disquiet amongst all who are concerned with national security. Existing critical deficiencies are cited as a proof of India’s failure to keep abreast with newer technologies and weapon systems. The defence forces remain deprived of modern weaponry while the allocated funds lapse. Even the Prime Minister of India expressed his concern during the Combined Commanders Conference held in New Delhi in October 2004. Many attribute this state of affairs to poor planning, rigid mindsets and complex procedures.
India has failed to appreciate that procurement of new defence equipment for modernisation is a multifaceted process requiring highly specialised management.
Group of Ministers (GoM) on National Security had also taken a serious view of this inadequacy. It was of the opinion that the then prevailing procurement mechanism led to sluggish modernisation of the services due to lack of integrated planning and sluggish implementation. In its report of February 2001, it suggested creation of a separate and dedicated procurement structure to inject a higher degree of professionalism to reduce delays. The main focus of the GoM was on bringing about improvements in the structures and procedures through integration of civil and military components and by ensuring ‘jointness’ among the Armed Forces to the extent desirable.
Consequent to the acceptance of their report, a new set-up was established in MoD in October 2001 and an exhaustive procurement procedure has been put in place. However, there has been no discernible improvement and the services continue to wait indefinitely for new equipment to materialise.
Complex Facets of Modernisation of Defence Equipment
India has failed to appreciate that procurement of new defence equipment for modernisation is a multifaceted process requiring highly specialised management. It is not a routine governmental activity. Defence procurements are intrinsically linked to a nation’s foreign policy and diplomatic interests. Additionally, there are strong political and corporate lobbies at work to push their products.
Major weapon producers in the world are primarily systems integrators, as various sub-assemblies are produced in different countries having different export policies.
Funds involved are very large and the quality of equipment selected has a profound influence on national defence potential. There is no open tendering. Invitations are sent to a few selected vendors. A fine balance has to be maintained between need for generating competition and security imperatives.
Most of the sophisticated equipment has to be imported as the indigenous defence industry is still in a nascent stage. There are a limited number of producers in the world market and very few are ready to part with their ‘top of the line’ products. The problem gets compounded where technology transfer is sought as an essential part of the package.
Major weapon producers in the world are primarily systems integrators, as various sub-assemblies are produced in different countries having different export policies. Many governments impose riders on the usage of their products. There are some countries whose domestic laws preclude assured subsequent sustenance of the equipment bought. This complicates negotiation of life cycle support for the equipment.
As there is an element of secrecy in the procurement process, all decisions come under scrutiny subsequently. Therefore, it becomes essential to follow the laid down procedures diligently. Deviations, if any, have to be accounted for and duly justified for posterity.
Negotiating contracts is an arduous and time-consuming process, as a large number of aspects need to be unambiguously spelt out to avoid subsequent misunderstandings.
All expert committees have so far concentrated only on reforms in structures and procedures. No dispassionate, objective and holistic exercise has ever been carried out to identify the underlying reasons for inordinate delays which continue to dog the system. Even the Kelkar Committee has overlooked intricate interplay of dynamics of domain interests and conflicting attitudes that defeat all attempts at reforming the system.
Some of the common and recurrent impediments are discussed below.