Scandals, payoffs and blamegames

The first paragraph of the foreword to the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), the ministry of defence's Bible for all capital procurement states, "Defence Acquisition is a complex decision-making process that endeavours to balance the competing requirements of expeditious procurement, development of an indigenous defence industry, and conformity to the highest standards of transparency, probity and public accountability."

With the ongoing brouhaha on the acquisition of the AgustaWestland VVIP choppers, one is left wondering, which part got lost in translation. Complex decision-making and requirements of expeditious procurement have certainly been kept sight of. What seems to be missing from the public domain is proof of transparency, probity and public accountability. This is not to say they don't exist. Like everywhere else, this information is available on a need-to-know basis as defence procurement is not necessarily an issue for public discussion from a strategic point of view. The process is a complex and many-layered one and engages multiple government departments.

The technical specifications for any kind of weapon systems to be acquired are within the wherewithal of the various service headquarters of the armed forces, in line with their operational requirements and long-term strategic plans and extends from 10 to 20 years. The aim is to acquire state-of-the-art systems, keeping in view the long-term perspective. The formal process of acquisition is complex, where the defence ministry (MoD) and service headquarters play the primary role and are supported by secondary players in a long line of checks and balances. The whole process is informed by numerous contractual negotiations on price and support services. This is very finely balanced as there are often no comparators for doing a trend analysis of pricing of a new product and the possibility of single vendors is a reality. As far as possible, there is an attempt to move away from a single vendor situation unless a product is a proprietary article (where design and technical know-how is owned by the producer), as multiple vendors open up the field to greater competition and choice.

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