India’s military routinely berates Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials for interminable delays in progressing its long-deferred modernisation, but rarely ever concedes – except occasionally, and that too in private – its own culpability in formulating fantastical qualitative requirements (QRs) or specifications for varied materiel that eventually deadlocks acquisitions.
Serving and retired service officers lose no opportunity on television news channels, in newspaper columns and at seminars in attacking MoD babus for their hidebound inefficiencies in acquiring military equipment. They claim these wilful civil servants perennially stymie the services’ endeavours to grow India’s military capability, hold their power projection capacity to ransom and retard countering proliferating neighbourhood threats due to enduring equipment, ammunition and varied ordnance shortages.
Undeniably, they have a point, as the MoD remains hugely culpable in the convoluted process of materiel procurements that in recent years has become even more complex. The ministry’s successive procurement procedure manuals over the past two decades, running into hundreds of pages each, defy comprehension even for their own and associated armed forces officers, necessitating infuriating unravelling.
Some years ago, former Indian Army (IA) Chief of Staff General V.K. Singh had accurately observed that military procurements in India were a “version of snakes and ladders, where there is no ladder, but only snakes”. He had also warned against the snakes jeopardising the acquisition process by ‘biting’, after which the entire process slid back to the beginning.
Little has changed in the intervening period since General Singh retired in 2012.