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Defence acquisition needs to be streamlined now

The success or failure of defence acquisition depends upon the people who operate the system. Even when rules were simple and procedures were straight forward, the acquisition system was struggling.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The Indian Army is making incremental, but confused, progress in upgrading its depreciated artillery profile that has languished gravely since the import of Bofors howitzers in the late 1980s as per Rahul Bedi in Hindu in 2014. In 2020, the same Hindu reports that the Defence Ministry will introduce import embargo on 101 items. It includes three types of 155mm guns which were part of the ‘confused progress in our depreciated Artillery’! Has something changed? In six years, we have inducted or in the process of inducting four 155mm guns — M77 ULH (FMS/ Govt to Govt), K9 VAJRA Self Propelled gun (Buy Global), DHANUSH towed gun (Buy (OFB)) and SHARANG upgunned 155mm guns (BUY (Indian)) and are developing the ATAGS (design and development). Different routes, different categorisations, different guns, different technologies — all made in India in some form. Amongst the most modern in the world. We have milked all technologies and have now started thinking of export! We are leveraging these technologies for developing other systems.

155mm ammunition was in severe short supply. The letter of then COAS about lack of ammunition got leaked. Media had a ball for years. The story is different now. Amidst the standoff with China, I have not heard a word of shortage of Artillery ammunition. A silent revolution in the technologically complex Air Defence weapons has also occurred. The Akash system is under induction into the Air Force and Army. All through normal procedures. Ever since the Strategic Partnership (SP) model was conceived in 2015 many things have changed. Therefore. Is the SP model relevant? The issue needs examination.

As per the draft DAP (page 605), the SP model will enable participation of private sector in Make in India in defence. It seeks to enhance indigenous defence manufacturing capabilities through the private sector over and above the existing production base. The SP is expected to be a System Integrator by building an extensive eco-system comprising development partners, specialised vendors and suppliers, in particular, those from the MSME sector. An elaborate selection criteria has been laid out for SPs — capacity, ability, financial strength, technical capability and capacity/infrastructure, experience and competence in integration of multi-disciplinary functional system of systems, engineering and manufacturing. Emphasis is on being fair, reasonable, non-arbitrary, transparent and rational. The thinking is also that the Indian private sector currently has limited experience in defence manufacturing and even lesser in respect of final integration of complex defence systems. The SP will need to enter into relevant tie-ups with foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) to access advanced and appropriate technologies. Initially the SP model will be applied for Fighter Aircraft, Helicopters, Submarines and Armoured fighting vehicles (AFV)/Main Battle Tanks (MBT). Let us see each item.

India has three fighter aircraft programmes going. The first is the Rafale program where the aircraft are under delivery. The second is the Tejas program where IAF is on the verge of placing orders for 83 aircraft and is committed to the indigenous LCA MK2. The third is the intent of the CAS to go in for the indigenous AMCA. He expects the AMCA development to take place in a timeframe of next 15 years. Where then is the financial or time space for a SP project to produce 114 fighters with a foreign OEM for around $20 billion? More importantly which Indian entity will come forward as a SP along with the OEM after the political fracas of the Rafale contract? I doubt if the Government, IAF or any manufacturer have the stomach for it.

 Turn to armoured fighting vehicles. It is amply clear that we need a tank for high altitudes immediately. India does not have the luxury for waiting for a strategic partnership to flower to deliver a tank. If we do that some more slices of the Eastern Ladakh salami will be lost. We need to develop a tank with what we have and can. The only sensible option available is to convert the K9 VAJRA hull into a light tank with technology from DRDO. Once that is done there is no space for a SP to come in. We would have developed all relevant technologies and would be in a position to evolve into a higher level. At that stage there is no logic to start reinventing the wheel for a new tank through the SP model. In any case between the private and public sectors, the capacity and technologies for AFVs clearly exist indigenously. The SP model is actually irrelevant. Of course, the government and the Army can do exactly the opposite. Strange are the ways of vested interests.

The Indian Navy is in the process of inducting the Scorpene submarines. It is also building a nuclear submarine indigenously. Between these two projects India has sufficient technology and capability to build its own submarine. Further the AIP is to be based on DRDO technology. In this framework the idea of nominating one of the two contenders Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) and L&T as a SP with five OEMs is questionable. Firstly, MDL is not a private player. Hence the propriety of letting a public sector unit into the field is irregular. It is totally contrary to the draft DAP! This is no SP model! Questions abound on the foreign OEM. Who will decide on that? The SP or the government? From the draft DAP it appears that the Government will take a decision. In either case there are bound to be political issues coming up. The government cannot handle normal procurement cases. In this complicated SP model, the government will not have the wherewithal to progress the cases. In any case if there are only two Indian contenders, is it not a better option to engage both? We can hedge our bets, there will be healthy competition, a wider capability base will develop, and future leverages will be far more. The PINAKA was developed on the same model with L&T and TATAs as the production centres. Both are doing well. Why don’t we learn from our successes? Any way one looks at it, the current trajectory of this case is IFFY.

In the case of acquisition of helicopters there is some scope of adopting the SP route despite HAL having adequate technology to produce the ALH. For just one case, do we need a complex model? As of now there is not a single private player with any capability to enter this field. Just imagine, at first the SPs are short listed. Then the OEMs are shortlisted. Thereafter RFPs are issued out with a list of OEMs. The SPs and OEMS will then form partnerships to give a response, make prototypes and go through trials. CNC will be with both SP and OEM. Contracts will be with both. Major issues of post contractual liabilities will crop up. Three- way fights will erupt. What if the OEM and SP fall out and blame the government? I foresee major arbitration issues coming up. Very complicated!

 Besides the procedural aspects there are other issues. The SP model aims to ingest top end technology through TOT. However, it is for consideration – which OEM will part with core technology? If core technologies are not imbibed, we might be better off with a simple BUY and MAKE project. The SP model is a glorified and complicated BUY and MAKE procedure. It also raises another question — are chosen OEMs being given a political backdoor entry into India? For ‘Middleman’ read ‘Politician’?

Further cost and time must be co-related. It has taken the Government half a decade to even come to the decision that this model should be part of the DAP. There is a major message in that itself. If this is extrapolated further; huge delays and cost overruns are clearly visible.

The technological base of the nation has improved with time. To highlight it further, when the model was conceived the nation had some capability. Today it is visibly far more. In such a case the requirement of an OEM to set full shop here is questionable. Also, after having handled major projects, the Indian Private Industry is at a much higher threshold level to take on the challenges. At this stage imposing any OEM on the Indian industry, will only undermine its confidence. Overall, the SP model attempts to meet tomorrow›s requirement with yesterday’s bad experience without taking current realities into account.

The success or failure of defence acquisition depends upon the people who operate the system and not on the DPP. Even when rules were simple and procedures were straight forward, the acquisition system was struggling. We have amended the DPP so many times. Even before a new edition is promulgated, the process of amending it commences. There is no stability to develop expertise or knowledge. Each amendment has complicated the DPP even further. We have celebrated more amendments and less weapon systems. Time should be spent on acquiring weapons rather that amending DPPs. Also, a procurement case progressing under a particular DPP has to continue in that framework only. So different projects initiated under different timelines means different DPPs are still operational. At any given time, cases will be progressing concurrently under 4-5 DPPs at least! Maddeningly complicated! The SP model will complicate it further. It might also create unwanted monopolies. It will not get us anywhere. Reflect. Without any special procedure, we could come out with a plethora of gun systems after three languishing for decades. There is a lesson there — willpower and determination leads to success and not DAPs complicated by contrived Strategic Partnerships.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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Defence

SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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Defence

IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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Defence

ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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Defence

BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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Defence

IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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