Friday, December 1, 2023

Placing Procurement Into Perspective

Kamal Shah

Right through the ages military leaders and strategists have underscored the vital
importance of logistics in keeping a force primed and ready.
Three names one can recognise put procurement into the correct perspective.
Napoleon went on record saying, “The strength of an army lies in its supply lines.”
In World War II General George Patton said, “Logistics wins battles, strategy wins wars.” 
The legendary Chinese War strategist Sun Tzu said, “He who knows when he can fight and
when he cannot, will be victorious.” This adaptation suggests that understanding the
limitations and capabilities of procurement processes is crucial. It emphasises the
importance of assessing the feasibility and readiness of procurement activities before
committing to war. You cannot fight with an empty barrel. 
For those who have studied the 1962 conflict with China it will be relatively easier to
endorse the fact that the Himalayan blunder as it has come to be known in the history books
was aggravated by crippled almost non-existent supply lines and faint procurement
practices. Indian troops were underdressed and under armed. India was not in a state of
readiness and not assessing the situation in these matters is an invitation to disaster.
India has come a long way since that terrible misadventure. But there is still some distance
to go especially in the realm of bridging need with delivery.
In recent times procurement of armament, clothing, medical facilities, accommodation and
above all food supply lines wherever troops are stationed have become a mandate.
In the hardware department one must be even more on the ball and not split hairs. 
However, there is intended delay and more delay, a bureaucratic stubbornness to sanction
materials necessary to keep an armed force in readiness. We have two hostile armies on
separate borders and dramatically different terrains in which combat can take place.
We need to be careful that the sizzle is not mistaken for the steak and self-propelled
publicity not interpreted as actuality.
India’s share of the global arms imports was the highest in the past five years. By contrast we
are just about halfway to the promised goal of crossing INR 35,0000 crores in imports by

  1. There is extraordinarily little indication of reaching it.

One USD 374.96 million deal for BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles with the Philippines is
heartening but it still does not sufficiently address the lacuna in various areas.
The idea is not to cry wolf but to emphasize the concern that rhetoric often covers the acne,
especially the foot dragging by government and the political love for indecision.
Despite the 2020 brawl with China in the Galwan valley, several skirmishes including the
December 2022 clash at the LAC and the buildup of infrastructure on the Chinese side, our
efforts to keep pace are worryingly little and more reactive than proactive.
Our forces are gallant beyond measure and have shown incredible valour yet all too often
civvy street tends to hold the rug if not pull it. The needs of our forces in these inhospitable
locations are often left unopened in dusty files.
In the event of an all-out conventional war with China we will run out of firepower in three
weeks, according to several strategic calculations. The principal areas of conflict are China’s
call for the removal of the historical buffer between India and China by the invasion of Tibet
by China. Beijing’s insistence on claiming Aksai Chin and NEFA as a part of China and a non-
acceptance of any discussions and deliberations on the matter by the Chinese leaders on all
issues. On the nautical side the Chinese threat and intent are tangible. It is no laughing
matter that China behaves as if it has legitimate claims over all 1.3 miles of the Indian Ocean
and is actively building artificial but strategic bases on oceanic islands. While India has
linked a diplomatic partnership between Australia, Japan, and the United States committed
to supporting an open, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific, this QUAD arrangement is not
likely to deter China’s plans in these waters. Yet our latest carrier the INS Vikrant sails with
MiG-29ks because of the hemming and hawing in selecting a choice between the US F18
Hornets, the F 35s and the RafaleM, with the last finally winning the bid. Much as making a
carrier is an impressive achievement, the cantilevered deck and its functional envelope are
outdated.
The Vikrant is no match for the Chinese carriers, and it makes a carrier in three years
compared to thirteen. Cost overruns, indecision, and the democratic exercise of pointing
flinty fingers of accusation over kickbacks have been a bane whether it is the Bofors shoot
and scoot 155mm howitzer, the Agusta choppers, the Czech pistols scandal, the Tatra truck
scam of 2012, or the 2019 Pilatus stink and even the brouhaha over the Rafale. Every time
there is this ugly dimension it is the armed forces that are left vulnerable.
Of course, we are much better equipped as compared to 1962 and so we should be but
again, have our administrations failed our forces to a degree?
The shortage of frontline aircraft even as China strengthens its numbers is frightening. We
are down to a bare knuckle thirty-one squadrons when we should be up at 42. Who is
responsible for this huge gap?
By the same token the five hundred odd strong fleet of helicopters will be at their end-of-life
cycle by 2032. These include the Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal fleets.
Often the delay in getting things going makes technology obsolete. The saga of the Arjuna
main battle tank is a case in point. The ‘obese’ tank has weak firepower and is far too heavy

to deploy in Punjab and the northern deserts of India to play a spearhead role in India’s
“Cold Start” offensive strategy against Pakistan. We will again have to fall back on Russian
armour. By the time it became a reality the Arjuna was already a veritable relic in terms of
state-of-the-art technology. Still there is an order for 118 of these ponderous tanks. 
While there is much publicity given to fighter aircraft purchase because of the high profile
there have been slowdowns in other spheres. The procurement of a modern Tactical
Communication System for the Indian Army has fallen behind. The project intends to
enhance communication and networking capabilities among soldiers on the battlefield. Such
a system changes things dramatically in a conflict zone, especially in recovering the wounded
or sending in support. Its full implementation is awaited. There is also a pressing need to buy
light machine guns in bulk to replace ageing stock.
Our drone investment has been impressive, but the future vertical lift programme designed
to obtain multirole next gen helicopters for attack and recce is behind schedule.
We also need to fast track selection and purchase auxiliary vessels for the navy. Our
submarine project 75I aimed at the indigenous manufacture of diesel submarines has yet to
get off the ground.
We are also in the market for an amphibious mechanised track vehicle to support infantry to
upgrade the Russian made BMP2 fleet. We also need to scoot towards the strengthening of
our artillery with howitzers like the Dhanush and the K9 Vajra which have faced some delay.
Listing the needs can be an endless exercise with over 2600 items that can be made at
home. The advent of the private sector into military manufacture and collaborations with
foreign entities is crucial and should be further encouraged.
Things are changing. The Defence Procurement Policy 2016 was a step forward in increasing
the participation of India’s private sector in military manufacturing. It replaced the last DPP
unveiled in 2013 and has several recommendations for improving indigenous procurement.
It underscored the highest preference to a newly incorporated procurement class called ‘Buy
Indian-IDDM,’ with IDDM denoting Indigenous Designed, Developed and Manufactured.
A major move forward occurred in September 2023 when the government approved nine
capital acquisition projects worth Rs 45,000 crore for the armed forces. This includes the
purchase of 12 Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, five next-generation naval survey vessels, eight
hundred light armoured multi-purpose vehicles, and over two hundred Dhruvastra anti-tank
guided missiles.
The major spur will come from the increased participation of the private sector. Advanced
Systems Limited (TASL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons, is the strategic Aerospace
and Defence arm of the TATA Group is fast emerging as a key defence and aerospace player
in India.

Reliance Naval group helps in Naval systems development and Shipbuilding courtesy a large
shipbuilding facility with a dry dock that it owns. Larsen and Toubro have stepped up big
time in the missiles and launch systems category. 
The Mahindra group has manufactured defence vehicles for a long time in India and is now
into armoured carriers made for the Indian Army. Mahindra Aerospace is owned by the
Mahindra Group and focuses on aerospace solutions related to the defence industry. Larsen
and Toubro have entered the arena big time especially in missile systems and launchers.
Ashok Leyland’s stallion troop carriers have been a staple for ground supply movements and
are now making Field Artillery Tractor (FAT 4×4) and the Gun Towing Vehicle (GTV 6×6) in a
Rs 800 crore agreement. The Kalyani group has taken the responsibility to manufacture the
ATAGS Howitzer guns for the Army. Its subsidiary Bharat Forge develops and manufactures
Armoured vehicles.
So, things are looking up…and good. Most important for the nation is to understand that
“Efficient procurement ensures the mightiest sword in the hands of the warrior.” 
More vitally without proper supplies, an armed forces are merely a gathering of men and
women.

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