India’s new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2008), unveiled by Defence Minister AK Antony on August 1, is remarkable only for its lack of movement beyond an equally insipid predecessor, DPP-2006. Typically, Mr Antony pronounced the new policy a perfectly timed triumph, which would go a long way towards removing the exercise of all judgement from decisions related towards defence. Mr Antony genuinely believes that national security decision-making can be reduced to a series of checklists, which can be followed blindly to avoid controversy and debate.
True, DPP-2008 makes changes in the offset policy, notably the permission for offset banking, which will be welcomed by foreign vendors. But the really far-reaching changes that were hoped for, to vitalise India’s indigenous defence capability, simply did not happen.
DPP-2008, like its predecessor, lays down procedures for the capital procurement of defence equipment (Rs 48,000 crore in 2008-09) under three broad heads. The “Buy” procedure, on which most attention is focused, lays down rules for off-the-shelf purchases of defence items from foreign arms vendors. A variation of this, the “Buy and Make” procedure, stipulates rules for buying equipment as well as the blueprints for manufacturing it in India. The third heading, called the “Make” procedure, lays down how India’s domestic defence production establishments — the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), eight defence PSUs, 40 ordnance factories, some 12 major private industrial houses and 500-odd SMEs — will produce arms and equipment for India’s defence. The new policy glosses over this section.
It is not difficult to see why. Media reports centre almost exclusively on big-ticket purchases of fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers from foreign vendors. Political mud slinging centres on kickbacks supposedly paid by foreign vendors. And almost every significant foreign purchase gets scrutinised by the CVC. Unsurprisingly, the MoD too focuses entirely on sailing through this “Buy” minefield without blowing a hole in its side.
This unwarranted focus on “Buy” procedures is superficially reinforced by an axiom of defence economics, which is: the cheapest way to obtain defence equipment is to buy it off the shelf, a slightly more expensive way is to buy the technology and build it, while the most expensive and risky method is to go in for development.
But this is true only from the shallowest perspective. The real cost of military equipment adds up in far deeper and long-lived ways than the price paid at the time of purchase.
Perhaps the most crippling cost of buying, rather than developing, arms is the doctrinal cost. Every major military power first considers its own reality — its geography, its likely enemies and their capabilities, its allies, and the capabilities of its own soldiers — and then frames a doctrine for how it will fight. This is even more important for a country like India, which has multiple geographies, several potential enemies, no local allies, a relatively poorly educated peasant-based soldiery, a high tolerance for casualties, and a very short time window in which to impose a military solution. India’s military equipment must be tailored to those realities.
But it is not. Instead of a well-considered analysis of India’s geography, strategic environment and psyche, the foundation of our planning rests on an unviable hybrid. Our defence doctrine is born of western experience; we are equipped with Russian bloc equipment. Neither of them suits our circumstances.
Take our doctrine first. India’s defensive formations in the plains from southern J&K to northern Rajasthan are based on a discredited World War II Maginot Line-type concept of linear defence based on ditch-cum-bunds (DCBs) constructed along the border. Our desert defences use the western concept of strong points, interlinked with minefields. The plan for our strike corps to take the battle into Pakistan is supposedly the brain-child of General K Sundarji; in fact its intellectual genesis is the 1982 concept of AirLand Battle, spelled out in the US Army’s Field Manual FM 100-5.
To implement this alien doctrine, India has an equally alien military machine. Much of our heavy equipment (tanks, combat aircraft, battleships) comes from Russia. These were carefully designed for a specific operation: a quick sweep across Western Europe, with superiority in numbers making up for relative inferiority in equipment quality. Russian tanks, guns and radars are designed to function in that battlefield; cold weather, little dust, no need for extensive repair and operating with immense superiority of force. None of these conditions apply to India.
Untangling this dangerous knot must start with designing our own equipment. No international vendor will do this for India. The first step must be the laying down of targets for indigenous design and production. It is nobody’s case that the services be forced into accepting equipment that does not meet standards. But, over the last half century, the military has become used to buying products off the shelf, while judging indigenous products far more stringently.
All this requires a different kind of discipline; the discipline of development. The military must clearly frame its equipment needs to suit our actual operational environment. It must fund R&D at least partly from its ample budget and specify a minimum order quantity that will allow the developer, whether in the public sector or private, to recover his costs. And finally, when a product is delivered, it must be evaluated with a sense of ownership and the confidence that the developer will provide continuous improvements to suit the actual conditions in which the equipment is deployed.
6 months ago