Home Indo-US Military Relations: Adding a New Dimension Post Visit of the POTUS

Indo-US Military Relations: Adding a New Dimension Post Visit of the POTUS

Abstract : The article is about adding a new dimension  to Indo US military relations. Co-operation in the field of management best practices would boost military to military ties and bring in much need Revolution in Business Affairs in the Indian Army.

“Joint exercises, collective training, visits to fighting formations, exchange of personnel for seminars, and vacancies on courses of instructions” is most often the standard recipe for strengthening military to military ties between nations who consider themselves as natural partners. All of them are aimed at improving friendship and gaining familiarity of men, equipment and standard operating procedures that closely connect to shape the fighting machinery. Invariably, the ultimate purpose of such initiatives is to enhance interoperability.  The next stage is to move towards military sales and transfer of technology. Sale of military equipment and transfer of technology not only  furthers interoperability, but has significant socio-economic ramifications, bearing on the war waging potential and the defence industrial base of the two nations, apart from geo-strategic implications. Such military to military relationships are built very slowly on account of the fact that the huge sums of moneys are involved. Moreover, due to the sensitivities attached to matters defence, the agencies involved in building of such partnerships, more often than not, try to read too much between the lines of the proposals, which are often well intentioned.

A brief review of the Indo US military to military relationship would confirm that it is much in consonance with the standard recipe. On the joint exercise front the two countries cite participation in Ex-Yudh Abhyas,  a Brigade Command Post Exercise; Ex-Shatrujeet, an amphibious exercise between the US Marines and the Indian  Army conducted as a table-top event in Trivandrum;  and Malabar series of exercises with the US Navy involving contraband control, sea control, air defence exercises and sea replenishment[i]. On the military sales front the progress has been slow but consistent. The US today is the leading supplier of military hardware to India. An institutionalised mechanism called the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative was conceived in 2012, to facilitate transfer of transformative technologies to India. This is definitely a move away from the normal, where such offers were not considered for India on account of a variety of concerns.  However, despite the US willingness and lucrativeness of what is probably on the platter, a guarded and conservative approach was adopted to move forward with just four rather low complexity path finder projects[ii].

With that as a brief background to the nature and state of the military to military ties between the two nations, this article proposes to add a third dimension. An off-the-cuff comparision of the maturity of the business processes of the two countries is enough to indicate the scope of cooperation in this field and its consequential benefits. The Indian management processes (describing them as business processes is uncommon in India, the finance minister in a debate in Rajya Sabha asked members not to make ‘industry’ a bad word[iii]) can be classified into two broad categories. The first category includes processes that have existed for many decades including some of those that were inherited from the British. These processes have seen little or no change and most of them have become part of the army’s traditions. Identification of current requirements, forecasting of future needs, provisioning and sourcing would fall in this category. The other category of processes includes those which have shaped in last two decades and include the likes of the Defence Procurement Process, Defence Procurement Manual, Defence Works Procedure etc. These processes answer current and more demanding needs of the army and have undergone periodical incremental changes. However, both categories of processes have neither seen any re-engineering effort nor have they absorbed international or industry best practices. Moreover, there is a near absence of enterprise wide information systems which can monitor performance of army’s processes as well as assets at the enterprise level.

On the other hand, the US Department of Defence (DoD) has laid a lot emphasis on maturity of its business process. The DoD has in the past ordered a series of measures with a view to ensure - business process re-engineering, business process transformation and induction of industry best practices into its own business processes. Revolution in Business affairs is a priority agenda for DoD and apparently the US defence forces have benefited from it. Better Buying Power, Performance Based Logistics, E-Commerce, Paperless Contracting, E-Malls, and End-to-End Procurement Initiative are some of the recent oft cited initiatives that support the above argument. Further, the DoD despite initial challenges has been successful in operationalising enterprise wide information systems that address operational, logistic and administrative needs. The DoD processes today can compete with top of the line profit making industries when it comes to efficiencies.

This rather startling asymmetry offers a vast scope of cooperation which will benefit both countries. End-to end business processes can't be imported just by sending high profile officers to attend schools of instruction in the US. In any case such officers on arrival can be employed on a related staff assignment only for a very short while, and thereafter career progression moves take them to command assignments. If the Indian army means to transform its processes, then the only viable solution is to create a joint institutionalised mechanism for best practice benchmarking. A mechanism that identifies processes of Indian army for benchmarking against parallel processes of the DoD, thereafter analyses the gap between the two and finally suggests a methodology for change. The mechanism could also imbibe from end-to end processes defined in the Business Enterprise Architecture, to include ‘Budget to Report’, ‘Procure to Pay’, and ‘Hire to Retire’[iv].  

Modernisation of Indian Army is an absolute necessity, if the force has to remain relevant in the Indian sub-continent. Successive governments have realised this and undoubtedly the country’s executive has in principle always supported the army on this account. It is also true that modernisation endeavours have been planned and are at various stages of implementation in operational, logistics and administrative domains.  Though the challenges in these three domains are very different, there runs a common thread amongst them. The modernisation in the operational domain is largely contingent on induction of equipment and that in the logistics and administrative spheres is more dependent on operationalisation of enterprise-wide business applications that can efficiently manage the vast assets of the Indian army. Hence it would not be wrong to say that the pace of our modernisation is directly dependent on the efficacy of our acquisition processes which are used to procure equipment and information systems and of course on availability of adequate funds to do so. Given that the budgetary resources at the disposal of the defence forces have remained near constant at around slightly less than two percent of the GDP, it is indispensable that available funds are utilised, both in revenue and capital budget heads, with utmost discretion. In other words the business processes that help us procure and sustain military equipment and information systems are the key to military modernisation. 

Given the significance of business processes and their impact on modernisation and sustenance of the Indian army it would be best to exploit the Indo-US cooperation framework to transform the Indian army’s business processes. The US who is today willing to offer transformative technologies should have no issues in sharing their best practices, much of which is already available on the web. With transformed processes it would be easy to engage militarily with the US because then the two countries will speak a common language.

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

[i] Website of Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., United States of America.  Retrieved from https://www.indianembassy.org/pages.php?id=53

[ii] Restructuring Management of Defence Value Chain – Finding Match for Frank Kendall’s Job Profile by Sanjay SEthi, Retrieved from: http://www.claws.in/1335/restructuring-management-of-defence-value-chain-%E2%80%93-finding-match-for-frank-kendalls-job-profile-sanjay-sethi.html#sthash.QObVuI1J.dpuf

[iii] Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Arun-Jaitley-on-land-bill-Dont-make-industry-infrastructure-bad-words/articleshow/46382720.cms on  Feb 26, 2015

[iv] BEA 10.0 Retrieved from http://dcmo.defense.gov/products-and-services/business-enterprise-architecture/10.0/classic/index.htm

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Sanjay Sethi
Former Senior Fellow
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