Home Defence Acquisitions - A Ladder-less Game of Snakes and Ladder

Defence Acquisitions - A Ladder-less Game of Snakes and Ladder

CLAWS recently organised a five day workshop on Defence Acquisitions for the Director level workforce at the Services Headquarters[i]. Apart from the CLAWS faculty, ‘who is who’ in the business of defence acquisition shared their experience and perspectives on defence acquisition. The participants of the workshop heard views of a former Deputy Chief (Planning and Systems), former Director General of Weapons and Equipment and former Financial Advisor (Acquisitions) amongst a host of experts serving in the Service Headquarters and Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. The article attempts to review and link two rather topical issues emphasised upon by the eminent speakers which merit much debate to stimulate intervention, hopefully before DPP 2015 is published.

Much to the amazement of the participants, defence acquisition was described by an eminent speaker as a customised game of ‘Snakes and Ladder’. In this version of the game ‘ladders’ have been omitted, and all the ‘snakes’, irrespective of wherever and whenever they bite, bring back the player (acquisition case) to the starting point. Obvious implication being that no part of the procurement procedure can be bypassed under any circumstance. ‘Any’ and ‘every’ case has to go through all of the time and resource consuming stages of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). The analogy underlines two long standing complaints against the DPP. Firstly, the ‘one size fits all’ approach is largely responsible to make the game ladder-less. Secondly, the apparent failure of the ‘fast track procedure’ has also contributed to make defence acquisitions a ladder-less game. The ‘snake’ analogy has even more worrisome implications. The game of defence acquisitions includes say ten or eleven stages. If a player hits a ‘snake’ at stage five or six, he would invariably have to go back to stage one and start de novo!

The second issue relates to the length of the text contained in the provisions of the DPP, which inspires much awe and even greater agony in the industry and the service community. The current version runs into 361 pages cover to cover[ii]. The length problem is critical because whatever is written in the DPP (version in vogue) is inviolable and hence to an extent, addition of more text in each revision of the DPP creates some additional ‘snakes’. The Secretary Defence Production in January 2015, while speaking in an Assocham seminar on Defence Acquisitions said that it was his dream to see that the DPP reduced to 25-30 pages. For a variety of reasons, almost all stakeholders except the staff responsible for revising the DPP appear to be in agreement on this one issue. However, Shri Amit Cowshish, Former FA (Acquisitions) rightly highlighted to the workshop participant that the core procedure is contained in just about 19 pages (Para 7 to 77)!

It would be only prudent to do a brief causal analysis to determine as to why and how the DPP has become such a challenging and lengthy game of snake and ladders. The DPP came into being in response to the observations of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) contained in the 187th Report (1989) with regard to irregularities in a capital acquisition case. The PAC recommended that the government should draw up comprehensive guidelines with regard to negotiations and implementation of defence contracts and the first avatar of the DPP took shape in Feb 1992. Therefore, the document was originally conceived to answer the felt need of avoiding irregularities in capital procurement and certainly the voids in defence capability were not the reason which prompted its scripting.  Further, the DPP which was a mere 84 pages in the 2002 version, has grown to 361 pages in its last release. The document has grown nearly four times in about a decade of its existence. Authors would argue that the procedure has grown on account of efforts to respond to the legitimate requirements of the stakeholders and the latest version is much more potent and versatile in comparision to its first avatar. However, a rudimentary content analysis would reveal that that much of the growth is still aligned to the very reason for which the DPP came into existence. For instance:

  • The word “capability”, irrespective of context, appears 50 times in DPP 2006, 48 times in DPP 2008, 59 times in DPP 2011 and 46 times in DPP 2013.
  • The word “user”, again irrespective of context, appears 77 times in DPP 2006, 82 times in DPP 2008, 83 times in DPP 2011 and 110 times in DPP 2013.
  • Interesting to compare the above two with the usage of the word “integrity”. The DPP 2002 did not contain the word “integrity” at all. The 2005 version used integrity 4 times, the 2006 version uses it 25 times, 2008 version uses it 33 times, 2011 version uses it 43 times and finally the DPP 2013 version uses it a whopping 82 times.

No statistical tool is required to make sense out of the above data. While the per page usage (considering the pages have grown four folds) of the words “capability” and “users” has decreased over the years, and usage of the word “integrity” has increased comparatively. It would not be wrong to propose that the DPP, which was conceived to address procedural irregularities, has also evolved more to address the issue further, each time it was revised. Moreover, the focus on user and capability development has not changed much over the years. Such content analysis without context, in is in no means a comprehensive approach, but is still an indicator of some trend. Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in its eating. The fact remains that over-usage of integrity did not help in case of helicopter purchase on one hand, and neither has it led to a more satisfied set of stakeholders, users and suppliers inclusive.

A new version of the DPP is on the anvil and it would be only prudent that the changes being considered for incorporation in the DPP are those which address the core requirement of capability building for the armed forces. All other issues are secondary to this core requirement. Any new provision which brings more ‘snakes’ on the game-board needs to be avoided. The procedure desperately needs ladders. The authors desperately need to give up the one size fits all approach. Stages which are redundant to particular equipment category need to be skipped.  Above all there is need to put in place a ‘snake management mechanism’, which identifies potential snakes, manages snake bites to ensure that such cases do not go back to start point and last but not the least, steers procurement cases clear of ‘snakes’.

The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.

[i] The Workshop was conducted from 09 -14 Feb 2015 and coordinated by Col Anuraag Chhibber, Senior Fellow, CLAWS.

[ii] DPP 2013


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Sanjay Sethi
Former Senior Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]
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