Anything With Nothing

“We, the willing, led by the ambitious, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

Anonymous

Spoofs like the above on the original quote by Konstantin Josef Jireček were common in the Rashtriya Rifle units employed in counter-terrorist operations in Kashmir in the ’90s. Equipped with antiquated hand grenades, bulky communication equipment that emitted a beep that could be heard a mile away etc. The RR units were forced to salvage hand grenades and communication equipment from the killed terrorists. Cheery, boisterous humour and grit was the overall flavour as India was a ‘poor country‘ with limited resources. The excuse trotted out by the brass to junior officers on the sad state of affairs. The Rashtriya Rifles was fondly called as the Ram Ram Fauj by the troops. Satirical humour of an ill-equipped military force surviving Ram Bharose. Thus for the vast majority who have served in the Army, claims that the military was equipped with ‘the state of the art’, is laughable. Ironically what kept the nation poor was never debated.

Thus for the vast majority who have served in the Army, claims that the military was equipped with ‘the state of the art’, is laughable. Ironically what kept the nation poor was never debated.

The CDS of India has announced that ‘We are not expeditionary forces that have to deploy around the globe. We have to guard and fight only along our borders and, of course, dominate the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). So we should not go in for larger amounts of imports by misrepresenting our operational requirements.’ ‘indigenously developed weapons, is the way forward even if those met just 70 per cent of the specifications the military ideally required’. All hell has broken out in social media with most questioning the announcement. As it appears to question the professional acumen of the officer cadre especially the General Staff. The delicate subject of military professionalism and the GSQR(General Service Quality Requirements) a subject that has mostly been treated with kid gloves had dramatically come into the national limelight. For an officer cadre that sheds a lot of blood and sweat in the service of the nation, the indignation is understandable. But is it justified?

A more nuanced look at the enunciation of government directives by the CDS will reveal that this is long overdue.

A more nuanced look at the enunciation of government directives by the CDS will reveal that this is long overdue. It will also reveal glaring deficiencies in how military procurements have happened in India. The angst seems more on the public pronouncement that many interpret as questioning their professional judgement till date. It is also a reflection on the frustrations of dealing with the public sector dominated indigenous defence industrial ecosystem. Another unstated faction that is fanning this outrage is the well-entrenched ‘import lobby’ that stands to lose. The Indian military has mostly lacked a policy direction on its procurement strategy. It was widely rumoured that defence deals and kickbacks were the lifeblood of political funding and the driving rationale for most defence imports.

That the Indian military officers are professional in operations are undoubted. They are a motivated bunch who mostly lead from the front is also recognised.

That the Indian military officers are professional in operations are undoubted. They are a motivated bunch who mostly lead from the front is also recognised. The data on casualty figures empirically prove this. The same officer, when put behind a desk in a procurement task, is not that effective. The reasons for this has nothing to do with the calibre of the officer, as their counterparts who come through a similar selection process in the Navy do a much better job. The differentiator then is the longer tenures that naval officers enjoy in crucial appointments. This is not resented by others in service who also are mostly posted in other Class A cities. For the Army and the Airforce to a lesser extent, a Class A city posting is a prized two/three-year tenure. By the time they become oriented to the procurement process they are posted out. Another unstated reason is the shorter durations of senior officers in command tenures, where the long term perspective goes missing.

The Defence Procurement Procedures are tomes created by a bureaucratic mindset that treats all stakeholders suspiciously. The long procedures tenured by multiple appointment holders, leave the average officer at the mercies of the IFAs and auditors. The civilian bureaucracies with much longer tenures are past masters in cornering the uninitiated in the intricate mazes of the procurement jungle. A single query timed correctly can setback the journey through the procurement maze by years. For the proficient and the bold officers, there are the well-tested tactics of anonymous letters and the inevitable scrutiny by the CAG and CVC. In organisations that are extremely pyramidical, a small enquiry with no substance is enough to affect career progression. This begets the famous zero error syndrome in the military hierarchy. It also explains why many military officers who are fearless in operations, become apprehensive of observations on files.

In the information age with smart technologies embedded in all weapon platforms, not recognising the vital role of creating Indian OEMs in the development of trusted and resilient platforms can be disastrous.

Now that the Prime minister has enunciated government policy to back Indian manufacturing and products. It is clear that the CDS has merely spelt out the policy of the elected political leadership. The military hierarchy should do the necessary structural tinkering in HR policies and treat procurement appointments as specialisations that need training, grooming and length of tenured appointments. Sparse budgets are going to be the norm as the economy is stalled. The faster the military adjusts to this reality the better for the nation. The Indian military has to handhold the development of indigenous technologies by studying how other countries have done it. Implementation will require adjusting the same to local conditions. With smart technologies embedded in all weapon platforms, not creating Indian OEMs in the development of trusted and resilient platforms can be disastrous. The PM and the CDS have only announced the overarching political and strategic vision. The success will depend on the military hierarchies ironing out the structural dissonance existing in a flawed human resource policy. It will also require a de novo approach to procurement. The military will need to invest in a phased and iterative process of development by user feedback.

Many operationally deployed units have started spending regimental funds meant for the welfare of troops on purchase of commercial quadcopters etc for surveillance

An officer cadre that fails to equip the military citing procedural issues slowly loses respect in the rank and file. Many operationally deployed units have started spending regimental funds meant for the welfare of troops on purchase of commercial quadcopters etc for surveillance. This is after recognising the centrality of averting casualties as the highest form of welfare. It is also indicative of the failure of not only the military hierarchy but also the national leadership. The military-industrial policies that have hamstrung the rise of India were till date blamed on the MoD bureaucracy. That excuse is partially addressed by the establishment of the office of the DMA. A whole of nation approach to delivering on the economic front during the pandemic is the need of the hour. Indigenously developed weapons are a major step in achieving this. It will not happen overnight and many a hiccup will occur en route, but it is undoubtedly the correct path to pursue. A young and impatient nation connected by social media and increasing transparency waits for the government to deliver.

6 thoughts on “Anything With Nothing

  1. Superby expressed, If this adaptation does not happen starting now, we will be seriously hampered, both as a military and as a nation, which has to take the path of self-reliance however painful and inefficient it may appear in the short-run.

    Undoubtedly checks and balances will have to be built-in iteratively as we go along. Better QRs, involvement of end-users, timelines, QC and so on will put us on the right path.

    Systems on many counts already exist. It will be more a question of unflinching commitment of top management and better implementation on ground in many cases.

  2. You have articulated everything correctly. Indigenisation is a challenge, we struggled a lot. A case in point is manufacture of Assault Rifles. It was to be progressed under strategic partnership with a private player, letting out one of the OFB factories during Mr Parrikars’ time as Defence Minister. We are back to OFB. Besides, GSQR is a dead concept, we should be looking at operational requirements and work accordingly.
    Most important is Accountability. No one questions the delay. No one is accountable. It is a sad case of authority without accountability. It has been projected so many times.
    And most importantly, fixation with imports. Especially, in electronics and ICT. Normal dialogue i hear is, it is better to sell it to US company and route it to India, it will find acceptability.
    Hope powers that be see your point. Regards

  3. The author has addressed the issues very well. “For the proficient and the bold officers, there are the well-tested tactics of anonymous letters and the inevitable scrutiny by the CAG and CVC.”With this the author has brought out a very important point.

  4. An article by annonymous shows the author doesnt have moral courage to speak his mind and therefore deserves to be treated with contempt and put in recycle bin !!

  5. Thank you for a very well written piece. The apathy shown to indigenously developed products, the layers & layers of procedural delays & absolutely no one being held accountable in the system, must be tackled simultaneously. I hope we do not miss the bus now.

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