By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Dec 15
It has been reported that the secretary to the Department of Defence Production complained, in a lecture earlier this week at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, that the military frames such ambitious specifications for equipment being procured that Indian companies get left out of the procurement -- because they simply cannot fulfil those requirements. In doing so, he only voiced in public what many others have murmured in private. What the officer could also have said is that those requirements often baffle the world’s most technologically advanced defence companies too. This results in tenders being frequently cancelled and years lost as acquisitions begins anew. Only now has the government begun questioning inflated specifications --- termed “staff qualitative requirements”, or SQRs. An example of this has been Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s insistence that the air force buy a hundred or so Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, overruling the protests of air marshals that the fighter was not good enough and did not meet their SQRs.
The flawed framing of wishful SQRs has been criticised by many --- but most trenchantly by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a 2007 report that audited 37 separate defence acquisitions between 2003 and 2006. After scrutinising 11 SQRs, the CAG found that four had spelt out requirements that were unavailable anywhere in the world. In four more cases, the requirements did not meet the military’s stated operational needs. And in seven cases, there was no way of testing whether or not the equipment even met the SQRs. Many suggest that a key reason behind unrealistic SQRs is the military’s desire to get the “best of the best”. Officers framing SQRs combine the best qualities of several different equipment types into one, disregarding the well-known fact that weapons design involves trade-offs between different parameters. For example, a tank designer balances between mobility, firepower and protection. The more armour slapped on for additional protection, the less mobile that tank will be. For that reason, a tank cannot simultaneously be the world’s best protected, most heavily armed, and also the most mobile. Similarly, in framing SQRs for a fighter, the more weaponry one wants the aircraft to carry, the less space there will be for fuel, reducing its range. An SQR cannot demand high weapons-load as well as long range. Yet, by combining top-of-the-range parameters, officers have often arrived at SQRs that simply cannot be met.
A successful “Make in India” policy requires a deliberate and well-considered review of specifications, so that weaponry being bought is within the design capability of an industry still at an early stage of the learning curve. It is natural for soldiers, sailors and airmen to demand the world’s best weaponry when putting their lives on the line. Imports are not the only solution; the answer will often lie in relatively simple equipment that costs less, can be procured in larger numbers, easily handled by those members of the armed forces who are relatively less educated, and built and maintained by Indian defence companies. These will inevitably improve incrementally as indigenous scientific and technological skills develop and mature.