The General officer recently retired as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff (P&S) after a chequered career in the Army. His tenure coinciding with the promulgation of a new Defence Procurement Procedure of the Ministry of Defence witnessed many path breaking changes in India army’s procurement procedures.
Armed with new provisions under DPP-16, Lt Gen Saha brought about major changes in the culture of the procurement offices. Today, the army readily interacts with the industry at all stages of a project. This interactive approach was also broadened to include the academia, an extremely important first step to implement the Make in India call.
In a free and frank interview with Nitin A. Gokhale, Editor-in-Chief of BharatShakti.in Lt Gen Subrata Saha, covers the entire gamut of procurement. The General’s experiences and views provide a window into working of the various offices involved in procurement and how his office gave a boost to it.
“WIN INDIAN WARS WITH INDIAN SOLUTIONS“
Exclusive Interview with Lt Gen Subrata Saha, Retired Deputy Chief of Army Staff
Nitin A. Gokhale (NG): Your primary exposure in the Army had been MS matters and operations. When you were posted as the Dy Chief (P&S), and the ambit of your job was to include procurements, how did you prepare for the job?
Lt Gen Subrata Saha (Lt Gen SS): To begin with I got a month’s joining time in which I was briefed in detail on the policy, procedures, plans and progress by DG Perspective Planning, DG Weapons and Equipment, DG Financial Planning and all DGs of the Line Directorates who are part of the DCOAS (P&S) group. Soon after taking over I visited DPSUs, OFs and the DRDO labs dealing with the Army. I studied in some detail the capital procurements in the 11th and 12th plan periods. Past experience as GOC Infantry Division in a Strike Corps, Addl Director General Military Operations (A) and the recent experience as GOC 15 Corps provided the operational foundation on which these exhaustive briefings and studies helped to build a good perspective on capability development and the road map for the future.
NG: There are various factors that delay procurement. What is the effect of short tenures and lack of knowledge of processes and procedures among officers manning various appointments? Any attempts being made to mitigate the situation.
Lt Gen SS: Short tenures, particularly at the senior level, is a challenge. Understanding the process and yet being sure that it does not become so overwhelming as to affect outcomes is the crux, which takes time to master. There are many executives who become such experts, indeed professors of process that at the drop of a hat they would want to start a tutorial on the DPP, with less concern for the outcome or constructive ideas to improve the system. Optimum tenure has to be balanced with competence to deliver in the job.
Inclination for technology along with operational competence is a must in pre AON (Acceptance of Necessity) activity. Post AON, a mix of technological competence along with ability to understand and intelligently interpret policy is required. I must add here that technological competence is not necessarily the domain of technical stream only. There is a distinction between procurement, acquisition and capability development that needs to be understood.
The Military Secretary grants extended tenures and extended overlap period for Colonels and Brigadiers as required. With shortening technological cycles and more disruptive inventions we will have to think in terms of either a separate cadre of officers for acquisition or officers alternating field unit/formation assignments and acquisition/capability development assignments.
NG: Make in India was the new slogan during your tenure. What were the challenges it posed to defence procurement keeping in view our approach for ages that relied far more on import dependence?
Lt Gen SS: The grand vision of the Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi of ‘Make in India’, which he announced on the Independence Day 2014 from the Red Fort, is providing the right environment for getting out of this very high dependence on import for defence.
Whether it is along the Line of Control in J & K, Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen, Line of Actual Control on the Northern Front or the counter proxy war, our battlefield requirements are unique. Since 2011, we are the largest importer of arms in the world. With such a huge domestic market, the present arrangement of importing equipment and adapting them to our requirements is not helping anyone. Take any example from night vision devices to guns or missiles, our numbers clearly provide us the opportunity to be global leaders. The importance of indigenisation and self reliance in defence needs no emphasis, if anything it requires commitment to R & D, quality, trust and handholding.
Since the beginning of 2016 we embarked on an extensive outreach programme to connect with the industry and academia for our modernization needs. We started the process by holding interactions with the industry in industrial hubs across the country. The aim of these interactions was: to promote an understanding of the modernisation requirements of the Army and concomitantly discover capabilities of the Indian industry.” This provided us an opportunity to interact with all industries large, medium, small, micro and start up. As many as 19 such Army-Industry bilateral interactive sessions have been held with 1967 entities in different parts of the Nation.
By the time we did the third or fourth Army-Industry interaction, we realised that while bilateral Army- Industry interaction may provide for some immediate requirements, but for the long term and to be truly indigenous we need to involve the Academia. In the trilateral Army – Industry – Academia interactions an additional aim was to discover academic activities that could be aligned to meet future requirement of the Army. We held 12 trilateral Army-Industry-Academia interactions at different IITs, IISc and other institutes of technological excellence involving 753 scholars. We conducted four tours for scientists and industrialists to forward areas in J & K, Sikkim, Deserts and Rann of Kutch and Ladakh to give them an opportunity to understand the requirements first hand. We laid out equipment displays/conducted firepower demonstrations for 2318 scholars and industry representatives at Ahmednagar, Coimbatore, Gopalpur, Devlali and Mhow. Besides these we had several subject specific seminars and workshops in Delhi. We defined this mission as “Win India’s Wars with Indian Solutions“. To transform from import to indigenous, such collaboration between the User – Industry – Academia is an imperative. I must add that the idea has captured the imagination of all stakeholders now.
NG: What was the share of private industry in defence manufacturing when you took over, and how much is it now?
Lt Gen SS: I may not be able to answer your question exactly in ratio or proportion terms; but some of the major CFA approvals for procurements involving private Indian industry in this period include 3rd and 4th Pinaka Regiment, 4X4 Light GS Vehicle, Ballistic helmets, and Tracked self-propelled guns. Besides this there are others where the private industry is supplying to DPSU and OF.
NG: What are the incentives the government gives the defence industry?
Lt Gen SS: One of the important tenets of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 is “to promote growth of the domestic defence industry”. DPP-2016 introduced specific provisions to act as growth stimulus to the domestic defence industry. In order to promote indigenous design and development of defence equipment, DPP 2016 introduced the “Buy-Indian Design Developed and Manufactured‟ category of acquisition and accorded it the top most priority.
DPP 2016 also provides greater impetus to the MSMEs, with certain category of “Make‟ projects reserved exclusively for them. There are unique provisions in the Make Chapter. Both in Make 1 – Govt funded and Make 2 – Industry funded, in case there are no orders within the stipulated period of successful prototype development the portion of the development cost incurred by the industry is refunded. And mind you without any deduction for the experience gained.
In addition some State Govts have promulgated their defence industrial policy with specific incentives in terms of land, interest subsidies, tax incentives, power tariff, equity support, skill development etc.
NG: To what extent have you been able to get the academia into design and development; defence R&D. Any technology breaks achieved?
Lt Gen SS: From May 2016 we started to involve indeed challenge the academia through the trilateral Army – Industry – Academia interactions. We held 12 trilateral Army-Industry-Academia interactions at different IITs, IISc and other institutes of technological excellence involving 753 scholars. The enthusiasm to participate in the mission was very encouraging. We got a good sense of academic activities that could be aligned to meet future requirement of the Army. Professors and scholars came forward willingly to participate in the tours to forward areas and equipment display/firepower demonstrations. There has been some very meaningful contribution in technology seminars.
For the first time Army has published two volumes of Compendium of Problem Statements, which are actually an outcome of detailed interactions that we had with the academia, their interactions with forces deployed in the field and industry. Volume 1 comprising 50 problem statements was released by the Raksha Mantri on December 5, 2016. Volume 2 comprising 28 problem statements was released by the COAS Gen Bipin Rawat on March 24, 2017. The purpose of the problem statements is to seek indigenous solutions to enhance effectiveness of the Indian Army in the varied terrains and environment in which they operate. Both the volumes are hosted on the Indian Army website on the ADB page.
Some good solutions have been received, which are under deliberation. For example, a proposal for futuristic technology for bullet proof jacket was presented by Dr Shantanu Bhowmik after the Army – Industry – Academia interaction in Coimbatore last year; this was sponsored by us and is now under consideration in an advanced stage as a Technology Development Fund project under the DRDO. Solutions to the problem statements that are coming up shall be taken forward, depending upon their technological readiness level, either as Army Technology Board/Technology Development Fund/Make projects.
In order to institutionalise the process of engagement with academia we signed MOU with IIT Kharagpur, Bombay, Madras, Gandhinagar and Bhubaneswar. The institutes too have made internal forums for engagement with Army Design Bureau.
NG: Your experience with DRDO?
Lt Gen SS: I have witnessed with pride the successful test firing of extended range guided Pinaka and enhanced range Brahmos personally at Balasore. Similarly other projects such as WHAP (Wheeled armoured platform), Advanced Towed Arty Gun System (ATAGS) are progressing very well.
All the DGs and myself were regularly interacting with the Secretary R&D, SA to RM, CC R&D in addition to the scheduled Quarterly Interactive Meeting by respective DGs and all of us collectively in Half Yearly Review Meeting. In addition, regular visits to the labs helped in providing useful user inputs.
I think the important thing is to follow a collaborative approach and combine our technological capability and operational experience towards taking projects forward to fruition. In case a project is not succeeding it is better to be pragmatic, take the lessons and move on to the next. Once a prototype succeeds it is important to translate it into a good product, emphasising the need for: (a) selecting a capable production agency; and (b) collaboration between DRDO, production agency and the user.
NG: You have been instrumental in raising the Army Design Bureau. Please tell us about its role and focus.
Lt Gen SS: The role of the ADB is to be a facilitator for research & development efforts and initiation of procurements of weapons and equipment required by the Army. The former Raksha Mantri, Shri Manohar Parrikar had accorded approval for setting up the Army Design Bureau (ADB). It was inaugurated by Gen Dalbir Singh former COAS on 31 Aug 2016.
The ADB is fast becoming the central repository of technical know-how for the Indian Army. They are collating operational requirements from the field formations and progress them with DRDO, OFB, DPSUs, Defence Industry and academia. They will generate long term research requirements for the Indian Army and share the same with the DRDO and a cademia. ADB will assist in formulation of GSQRs and Statements of Case in respect of Indian Army. They will collate and bring to fruition the innovations undertaken by the field formations.
Led by an Addl Director General (Maj Gen), the organisation has two major components; a Technical Resource Centre based in Delhi, which acts as the central repository; generates research and development requirements and assists in initiating procurements. The second component is the Simulation, Innovation and Design Centre based in Secunderabad, which takes forward innovation projects and proposals from the field, undertakes limited design work and simulation requirements of the Army.
NG: The strategic partnership model is not yet been cleared by the government. How important do you think such a model is for India’s defence industry transiting into the global big league tomorrow?
Lt Gen SS: The strategic partnership model is primarily meant for the Nation to become self reliant for our defence needs. The model potentially enables us to harness the growing capabilities of the private industry and willingness of foreign OEM to ‘Make in India’. The aim is to create capacity in the private sector on a long term basis.
The Minister for Defence Finance and Corporate Affairs, Shri Arun Jaitley, held consultations with the industry representatives on the model on 11 May 2017. According to the press release, “The proposed strategic partnership model is intended to enhance competition, increase efficiencies, facilitate faster and more significant absorption of technology, create a tiered industrial eco system, enable participation in global value chains as well as promote exports. This would gradually ensure greater self reliance and dependability of supplies essential to meet national security objectives.”
In its conception the Strategic Partnership model was considered necessary for achieving self reliance in platforms of strategic importance where competitive bidding is not feasible due to limited vendor base, high cost, technological intensive nature of the system and sporadic demand. For platforms/systems where there is potential for competition, and long term partnership is essential due to long life cycle requirements and complex nature of system, the process for selection could be routed via the Make process. For example in Armoured Fighting Vehicles; the numbers of response received to the Expression of Interest (EoI) for the Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) Make project clearly shows there is adequate potential for competition. Keeping in view the long life cycle of the ICV the agency nominated as the development partner could be nominated as the strategic partner. Through the Make process Indian industry would acquire capability to integrate, design, and be relatively better off in terms of IPR as compared to getting straight ToT of nominated foreign platform through a selected strategic partner. Similar process for the next generation main battle tank or the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) should provide for higher self reliance.
While decision is taken on the strategic partners for armoured fighting vehicles the long term future of the two OFs presently involved in manufacturing ICVs and Tanks respectively needs to be thought through beyond their commitments of the current generation of equipment that they are manufacturing.
NG: Thank you for speaking to BharatShakti.in, General.