Qualitative Requirements Of Military Equipment Need For A Process Revamp

The Prime Minister of India expressed his grave concern about the delays in defense procurements during the Combined Commanders’ Conference held in October 2004, as it adversely affects the modernization of the defense forces. This issue has been engaging the attention of experts for a long time. Most of them fault poor planning, inflexible mindsets and tardy decision making for failure to utilize the defense budget and the resultant surrender of unexpended funds. The Group of Ministers on National Security, in their report submitted to the Prime Minister in February 2001, also took a serious view of this inadequacy. It was critical of the cumbersome and archaic procurement methodology and the lack of a dedicated procurement structure.

Generally, everyone blames complex procedures, ‘play-safe’ bureaucracy and over-zealous finance officials. Surprisingly, the fundamental cause for delays in procurements has remained unidentified and hence, unaddressed so far. However, a comprehensive study of recent cases reveals that faulty formulation of Services Qualitative Requirements (SQRs) has been the principal cause for delay in most instances. 

SQRs refer to the essential characteristics of proposed military equipment projected against a specific time period to counter an estimated enemy threat or to fill other operational needs. The defense forces formulate these to achieve full operational exploitation. 

The SQR is really the basic building block on which the complete edifice of the procurement system is based. It is the start point. The entire procurement process is, therefore, directed towards getting the equipment, which satisfies the laid down SQRs. Deviations to SQRs can only be sanctioned by the Defense Minister on the recommendations of the Defense Procurement Board (DPB), and is a highly complex and time-consuming process. 

Poorly conceived, formulated and drafted SQRs create confusion, lend themselves to misinterpretations, vitiate the environment, and cause immense delays. At times, the whole process has to be aborted at an advanced stage or a number of special dispensations obtained to regularize infirmities. Here are a few examples that prove the point.

In one case, the military sought equipment, that could be carried by two persons in a battlefield. It was an essential and inescapable parameter. However, after three years of tendering and trials, it was realized that such equipment neither existed nor was feasible. The closest any equipment came to meeting the parameters was so heavy that it had to be carried by six men. Obviously, the user directorate had not formulated the SQRs realistically. Now it was faced with a dilemma, either to reframe the SQRs and recommence the process all over again or to dilute the requirement from a two-man load to a six-man load and seek a deviation. It was also in a quandary as to how to justify seeking a grant of deviation of this magnitude. It took two years to finalize the deal. 

In another interesting case, the SQRs for a piece of equipment contained over 130 essential parameters. An analysis of the responses revealed that such a machine did not exist. The best product in the world did not meet over 25 major parameters. The concerned Service Headquarters did not know how to proceed. There was no way that the Defense Minister could be convinced to grant such key deviations. Moreover, requesting for dilution of vital parameters would have exposed the slipshod manner in which the SQRs were framed. Finally, it was decided to abort the case and start it ab-initio with a fresh and realistic SQR. It resulted in a delay of over three years.

In yet another case, an essential parameter of reversibility was not included while framing the SQRs for inviting proposals. After extensive trials over a period of three years, it was felt that the requirement of reversibility was overriding and inescapable. As it was not an initial stipulation but introduced later on, it invited protests from the participating producers. The whole matter was debated in depth at various levels to salvage the case. Finally, it was considered beyond redemption and closed. A fresh case with a revised SQR was ordered to be initiated. It caused a delay of nearly five years. Troops are still waiting for the acquisition to materialize. 

There are any number of such examples. It will, perhaps, be more appropriate to aver that there is hardly a case where the SQRs do not warrant revision or necessitate grant of deviations. 

Reasons for faulty SQRs

It is the very process of framing the SQRs, which is to blame for its deficiencies. After the inclusion of a projection in the acquisition plan, the sponsoring directorate is asked to finalize the SQRs and initiate a case for its procurement. The task of preparing the first draft is assigned to the concerned branch. All available books on the equipment and glossy catalogues of the manufacturers are collected. The best characteristics of all known equipment are compiled as essential requirements. Generally, there is a penchant to include as many features as possible to demonstrate enormity and exhaustiveness of the work done.

As the draft travels upwards in official hierarchy, it gathers more parameters. Every officer feels that he must contribute his bit by suggesting additional provisions. The process thus goes on. Once the draft is circulated to other members of the approving committee, it receives further stipulations from the maintenance agencies, development organization and the quality control people. The most interesting part is that every one suggests additions to the parameters but no one recommends any deletion. Thus, the final SQR takes the shape of a well-compiled ‘wish list’ of utopian dimensions. Highly ambitious capabilities are sought without reference to their viability and achievability.

The SQRs are made by the services without considering the technologies available or likely to be available in the planned time frame. No inputs are obtained from the industry as regards their capability. The whole process is done with highly limited knowledge and blinkered views. In most of the cases, performance parameters do not even relate to the technical parameters.

The SQRs are the same whether the equipment is to be purchased outright or developed indigenously. This invariably creates problems for the development agencies as they are given little technological leeway. Additionally, such SQRs do not relate to available technology. Thus, the development agencies are forced to embark upon new and unknown technologies. It becomes a highly expensive, time consuming and uncertain exercise. As a matter of fact, SQRs for equipment to be procured should be based on the equipment in production in the world market while SQRs for indigenous development should be based on the current level of technology, research proficiency and the time frame assigned. This is a major flaw in the system.

All three services work in watertight compartments. They do not seek each other’s advice or opinion. Unbelievable but true, the Army prepared SQRs for helicopters without reference to the Air Force, thereby depriving itself of the expertise available with the latter. Similarly, the Army formulated SQRs for deep-sea diving equipment without consulting the Navy. There is definitely no ‘jointness’ amongst the services as regards procurement of equipment. 

SQRs should always be realistic, broad-based and spelt out in terms of verifiable functional characteristics. But, in many cases, instead of giving broad performance requirements, they tend to get too specific for minor details as well. The SQRs for a towing vehicle contain over 115 essential parameters. At other times, parameters are too general in nature, vague and unverifiable. For example, an essential parameter for a new vehicle stated that the vehicle should provide adequate comfort to the driver. It became extremely difficult to determine and evaluate ‘driver’s comfort’ of competing vehicles during field trials, as it is an individual-specific and indeterminate quality.

A Service HQ has recently posted GSQR for a vehicle on its web site, which contains essential parameters that cannot be quantified at all. It states: “The vehicle should be compact with excellent running characteristic to permit quick acceleration… It should be strong and sturdy to permit optimum mobility in all types of terrain. It should be robust enough to withstand handling in cross country terrain for prolonged duration.” Parameters highlighted here are indeterminate and can lend themselves to different interpretations, leading to impasse at a later stage. For example, how can ‘prolonged duration’ be computed? Additionally, they are all essential parameters and hence, any deviation at a later stage would need sanction of the Defence Minister.

A look at the procedures followed abroad

The concept of Qualitative Requirements is a legacy of World War II days. It is too rigid and does not cater for changing technology. Most of the developed countries have already discarded it.

The British now ask the services to provide basic Cardinal Points Specifications (CPS) only. These are operational parameters specifying performance requirements in very broad terms. It helps the Defense Procurement Organization to study the projections in detail and decide on ‘make’ or ‘buy’ decisions in consultation with the research / development agencies and the defense industry. Even the procurements are carried out on the basis of CPS, which are made known to all the producers.

It is a very ingenious method, in which the producers, while conforming to CPS can introduce innovative techniques and ideas. All products, which comply with CPS, are trial evaluated by the services to identify the most suitable one for introduction into service. This also provides a common platform to judge different technologies for futuristic adaptation and further research. 

The Russians follow a ‘bottoms-up’ approach, in which, initially only baseline standards are evolved for a large variety of military equipment. These standards are grouped together to form basic profiles, which in turn help generate broad equipment contours with distinct characteristics. The profile of equipment, when translated into specific distinctive requirements is called a functional standard. A functional standard is, thus, a document that lays down the parameters for the development of equipment. In other words, baseline standards are like building blocks, which are common to a large array of military systems. These are combined to get basic profiles of a range of equipment, whereas profiles get converted into functional standards to define a military product. Such an arrangement is ideal for a country, which rarely imports any military hardware but develops its complete requirement indigenously. It is a highly cost effective system as it exploits the technology mastered over a range of products. It reduces inventory and facilitates easy life-cycle support.

As regards the United States, it introduced the concept of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) a decade ago to reduce acquisition time. The concept aims at offering comparatively stabilised technologies to the defense forces and let the commanders ascertain their suitability in operational environments. Thus, it is left to the commanders to determine whether the equipment offered meets their requirement in its current form or further developmental work is required. In this methodology, it is not the military that demands development of new systems ab-initio. Advantage is taken of the nation’s technological prowess to tell the military as to what equipment can be made available with the technology mastered. Thus, time taken to develop new technologies as per the military’s requirements is eliminated. The ACTD concept can work best for the countries, which have a well-developed scientific base with multiple agencies working on different competing technologies. This approach has the added advantage that the military is made aware as to what is technically feasible in a given time frame, rather than seek equipment with over-ambitious and impractical parameters.

India needs to revamp its process

The present system wherein the user directorate initiates SQRs containing operational and technical characteristics should be done away with. Service HQ should prepare and forward only Operational Characteristics (OR) of the equipment sought. OR are purely military characteristics, which pertain primarily to the functions to be performed by equipment, either alone or in conjunction with other equipment in service. It implies that the military should initially restrict itself to specifying operational parameters in broad terms only. Thereafter, Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) under the Defense Minister should deliberate upon the case to decide on ‘make’ or ‘buy’ approach. DAC has representatives of Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) and Department of Defence Production amongst others. Their opinion as regards indigenous competence becomes a major factor in decision-making. It is desirable to obtain inputs from the private sector as well as it has developed considerable skills in various fields.

Once a ‘buy’ or ‘make’ decision is made, the case should be returned to the Service HQ to frame Qualitative Performance Requirements for Purchase (QPRP) for ‘buy’ cases and Qualitative Performance Requirements for Development (QPRD) for ‘make’ cases respectively. QPRP are based on the equipment currently available in the world market, whereas QPRD are based on futuristic technologies under development. With inputs received in DAC, the Service HQ is now fully geared to make a clear distinction between the existing and the achievable. It, therefore, modifies the earlier parameters to make them more realistic. It also gives a detailed description of the equipment with all its operational facets duly specified in a precise and quantifiable manner.

In ‘buy’ cases, QPRP are forwarded to the Acquisition Wing, where a Technical Parameters Committee (TPC) is constituted under the concerned Technical Manager to generate Technical Characteristics (TC). TPC has representatives of DRDO, Director General Quality Assurance, maintenance agencies and sponsoring service. Members of public and private sectors should also be invited on ‘as required’ basis for advice. TC of equipment pertain primarily to the technical characteristics of equipment possessing projected QPRP. Thus, invitation for bids should include QPRP as prepared by the Service HQ and TC as formulated by TPC.

However, in ‘make’ cases, the Service HQ forwards QPRD to DRDO. DRDO should have a standing Research Oversight Committee (ROC) to analyze all QPRD. It should be a broad based arrangement, conducive for consultations with the best brains in the country – whether from public/private sector or the academies. ROC should perform the functions of a think tank where various technological alternatives are brain-stormed in depth. ROC is tasked to produce Qualitative Research Requirements (QRR) for the equipment to be developed. QRR is primarily a technical road map, which broadly spells out technology to be adopted, assignment of responsibilities and outline contours of various phases of development with time frames. Once the Defense Development Board under the Scientific Advisor to the Defense Minister approves the QPR, it acquires the shape of a Policy Statement and acts as the basic document for the development of that equipment. 

Thereafter, the case is progressed by DRDO, who define Technical Specifications (TS) of the equipment (which flow from the QPR). These specifications relate to research, actual design development, production processes and engineering. Close interaction and periodic joint reviews with the user service are maintained throughout the development phase.

A schematic representation of the suggested mechanism is given below.

The proposed mechanism has the following major advantages:

  • Service HQ prepares realistic and well spelt out Qualitative Performance Requirements after obtaining extensive inputs at the DAC meeting, where other services are also present for discussion.
  • Technical Characteristics are not left to the military but are formulated by a technical committee after wide ranging discussions, thereby ensuring their applicability and practicality.
  • It ensures separation of formulation of parameters for procurement and development.
  • Formulation of Qualitative Research Requirements is assigned to the scientific community, being a matter of research and development.
  • Close and regular joint monitoring of the development process is institutionalized.

The present system served its purpose when India bought all its military hardware from the world market. In any case, all the major purchases were from the erstwhile Soviet Union and the country took what was offered to it. Formulation of SQRs really did not mean much. In most of the cases, Russian equipment on offer was studied and SQRs framed accordingly. There was neither any alternate source nor any worthwhile indigenous effort. But in the present environment of open competition, multi-source procurements and credible indigenous research base; the current system has outlived its relevance and is proving to be a major impediment in the expeditious procurement of military equipment. It is time we recognize this fact and carry out a total revamp of the process.


This article first appeared in the India Defence Review and has been reproduced here with the permission of the Editor.