Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Vocal for Local” call and launch of Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-Reliant India Campaign), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tweaked its capital acquisition manual to promote greater self-reliance in defence production. On July 27, it released the draft Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 (DAP-2020) for public comments.1 The draft incorporates suggestions received from various stakeholders on a previous draft – the draft Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2020) – which was also put in the public domain.
Among other features, the draft DAP-2020 improvises upon Chapter III A of the draft DPP-2020, which was articulated with the intention to streamline para 72 of Chapter II of the existing DPP that facilitates the acquisition of systems designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
Will the Chapter-III A make a difference in realising Prime Minister Modi’s call for an Atma Nirbhar Bharat? The answer lies in understanding the issues surrounding the indigenous development of defence equipment by the Indian entities, particularly the DRDO, and then juxtaposing them with the procedures articulated in Chapter III A.
Since its creation in 1958, the DRDO has been at the forefront of indigenous design and development of defence equipment. The organisation, which has 24,700 employees, including 7,300 scientists, and a budget of Rs 19,327 crore (or four per cent of the MoD’s budget for 2020-21), is known for many remarkable achievements in strategic programmes, a glimpse of which was the recent successful conduct of Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test.
However, in regard to conventional arms, there has been a deep-rooted perception that the DRDO has not been so successful, even though the organisation, with all its human resource and budgetary constraints, has designed and developed a range of complex systems including Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Main Battle Tank Arjun, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system, advanced towed artillery gun, and myriad other weapons and sensors. In terms of value, the DRDO-designed products (other than strategic systems), whether inducted or in the process of induction, amount to Rs 2,65,007 crore, as of 2017.2
Notwithstanding these achievements, the ultimate users, i.e., the armed forces, often complain about time and cost overruns and performance shortfall of the equipment designed and developed by the DRDO.
It is important to note that unlike strategic systems in which the DRDO has greater freedom in the developmental process, in conventional weapon systems, most of which are developed through the Mission Mode, the DRDO has to navigate through a complex web of stakeholders and labyrinthine bureaucratic processes which often work as a stumbling block.
The involvement of various stakeholders, which include armed forces and production and quality assurance agencies, brings an element of diffused accountability as agencies involved are accountable to different administrative heads. The lack of synergy among stakeholders has been commented upon by various authorities, including the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, for its adverse impact on timely completion of projects.
More significantly, the lack of synergy has sometimes generated rigid institutional biases, leading to undue delay in placement of orders even after projects have gone through the rigorous process of development and testing. This not only demotivates scientists and the industry involved in the project but directly affects India’s self-reliance as the budget which could have been utilised to procure home-grown technologies is ultimately spent on importing arms from external sources.
The Chapter III A of the draft DAP-2020 has attempted to address some of the abovementioned constraints by articulating detailed step-by-step procedures to enable smooth acquisition of systems indigenously designed by the DRDO and other MoD-owned/controlled design houses. The chapter has identified 12 steps to be followed, ranging from identification of projects for the DRDO and others to award of contract and post-contract management. The chapter also provides for the spiral development of weapons and platform so as allow quick induction of developed products and continuous capability enhancement of the inducted system through incremental technological improvements.
Significantly also, the chapter provides for Joint Project Management Team (JPMT) to bring a semblance of synergy among various stakeholders. Comprising representatives from the concerned armed force, design house, quality assurance and maintenance agencies and the Acquisition Wing of the MoD, the JPMT is intended to facilitate smooth progress of projects.
While the abovementioned steps stipulated in the chapter are a move in the right direction, they need to be strengthened further to make procedures more robust and conducive for timely completion of projects. One key area which needs improvement pertains to the power of the JPMT. In its present form, the JPMT can, at best, discuss issues arising during the developmental process without any power to take decisions on its own to facilitate timely completion of the project. The real power is vested with higher authorities who are not directly involved in the project’s day-to-day execution. In short, the JPMT is not empowered to be responsible to deliver projects on time and to the budget.
In comparison to the suggested JPMT in Chapter III A, similar institutions in other advanced defence manufacturing countries such as the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and France are real drivers of the indigenous projects with necessary powers vested with the team to take decisions in the projects’ interest. Such an empowered arrangement would be desirable to promote R&D in Indian defence
Another area that needs refinement pertains to trial and testing of the equipment. The draft chapter in the present form lays emphasis on a multi-layered trial evaluation – developmental trials, user assisted technical trials, field evaluation trials, staff evaluation, and acceptance trials – before a product is finally inducted. Such a multi-layered trial provision does not necessarily add value; rather, they consume time and money and not necessarily in the best interest of product development. An empowered JPMT with the responsibility to undertake trial evaluation in its entirety would shorten the process, quicken the developmental pace, and enable India to become Atma Nirbhar in defence technology.