According to media reports, MoD had deduced internally that the much publicized ‘Make in India’ initiative is floundering, the entire weapons acquisitions process is badly broken and beset with huge delays, with only 8-10% of 144 proposed deals in the last three financial years fructified within the stipulated time periods; average time taken by 133 schemes was 52 months (more than twice the laid-down time-frame) and average time taken to clear files is “120 weeks” (2.3 years) against stipulated 37 weeks laid down by the ministry in 2016. This was reportedly part of the power point presentation by Dr Subhash Bhamre, MoS Defence Minister to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in end 2017.
The presentation pointed out: tendency to find faults rather than facilitate the process; entire ‘Make in India’ policy in the defence production sector continues to languish due procedural delays, without taking off in any concrete manner; arms procurement process dogged by multiple and diffused structures without single-point accountability, duplication of processes, avoidable redundant layers doing the same thing again and again, delayed execution, no real-time monitoring and no project-based approach.
MoD contacted by media on February 28, 2018 naturally had no comments to offer because what Dr Bhambre brought out has been known for decades. Besides talking of accountability, remember the sinking of INS ‘Sindhuratna’ with 18 sailors on board because it was running on outdated batteries while a bureaucrat sat on the file for sanctions replacement batteries available in India for 15 months? Dis then Defence Minister AK Anthony take any action whatsoever against this individual? Would Dr Bhamre or Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman care to find out what happened to this particular bureaucrat and was he on ISI payroll to assist sinking of this submarine? It would not be surprising if he has moved up the ladder?
Getting back to Dr Bhamre’s presentation, it contended that more than a year after the new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) pushed for domestic defence manufacturing, acquisitions under the Buy and Make in India category still take the longest to fructify, while the least time is taken by the Buy Global category acquisitions. It said the defence procurement procedure continues to languish because of procedural delays. What Dr Bhamre may not know is that these procedural delays are ‘deliberate’, intended to create criticalities and facilitate imports for money making. That is the very reason the Buy Global Category always has smooth sailing. Sponsored media accuses Armed Forces of favouring foreign armaments but every decision for weapon / weapon-system procurement is taken by MoD.
More importantly, the qualitative requirements (QR) if changed, is done ‘by MoD’ with the gun fired from the shoulder of the concerned service. Decisions are also manipulated. For example, part of the LMGs for the three services are being procured under ‘Buy Global’ costing Rs 1819 cr and 5,719 sniper rifles similarly are being imported at a cost of Rs 982 cr but the more essential 7.42 lakh assault rifles are completely under Make in India, between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and the private industry at a cost of Rs 12,280 cr despite the OFB not producing a single state-of-the-art small arms past decades.
Dr Bhamre’s forthright presentation rightly projected that Armed Forces continue to view MoD’s Acquisition Wing “as an obstacle rather than a facilitator” and pointed to the need for a “tectonic change” in mindset of the ministry’s officialdom, also stressing that the tendency to accept delays should be unacceptable. Why the media could not elicit any response from officials is because the presentation is a tight slap on face of the MoD with all the noise of having simplified procedures every year and despite the Prime Minister’s push for ‘Make in India’. But the question now is what beyond? Will the “tectonic change” in the mindset of MoD officials come left to their own machinations, without inducting military professionals into MoD and DRDO (military being the lone user in latter). Is the government serious about defence or merely ‘Make in India’ within the defence sector?
The Prime Minister needs to break the jinx in India’s defence by directing Defence Minister to seriously examine the following:
• Conceptualizing a National Security Strategy(NSS). This is vital to focus India’s strategic intent, signaling both friends and adversaries, developing comprehensive national power, shape defence procurement and modernization plans, and direct India’s sub-conventional, conventional, as well as nuclear force posture. The drafting of NSS should not be purely by government officials, or by purely a group of veterans. Logically, it should include military officials, diplomats, civilian specialists and scholars. One method could be let this selected group be affiliated to an independent Think Tank for coordinating and working out the NSS.
• Comprehensive Defence Review. This should be a purely military exercise that should be assigned to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, in addition to chalking out a military strategy that should be based on the NSS.
• Restructuring Higher Defence Set Up including MoD. Examine and propose reorganization of higher defence set up including MoD: appointing the CDS; merging HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) completely with MoD; replacing MoD with Department of Defence (DoD) manned majority by military professionals; merging Department of Defence Production with Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the like.
• Defence Manufacturing – DRDO versus Privatization. This should be seriously examined in keeping with global trends; DRDO to concentrate on R&D with commercialization left to private industry; to include privatization of defence PSUs and OFB. This will also help DRDO concentrate developing technologies for asymmetric advantage.
Government needs to acknowledge that the rot running in MoD-DRDO has been running deep for decades. General VK Singh, MoS (EAM) wrote in his autobiography that the ‘pipeline’ was going right up to the PMO. No amount of band aids will help where major surgery is required. Dr Bhamre has separately also warned of dark clouds building up over the border with China, saying, “At the Line of Actual Control the situation is sensitive as incidents of patrolling, transgression and standoffs have a potential of escalation.” This must be seen in conjunction Pakistan’s heightened proxy war backed by China. It is for the government to take a call on all the above mentioned issues, not let matters drift beyond streamlining ‘Make in India’.