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Quality Assurance (QA) in Army Procurements

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  • June 22, 2012
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: S Kalyanraman
    Discussants: Manoj Shrivastava and VS Raghuvanshi

    Mahendra Prasad began his presentation by focusing on his ongoing research project which attempts to unfurl various aspects of quality assurance (QA) in army procurements, an area understudied so far. He mentioned that “Quality Assurance (QA) in Army Procurements,” was the first paper in a series of papers encompassing the Project Work entitled “Synergising QA for Speedy Defence Procurement and Ensuring Quality.” In the next paper, effectiveness of the QA in Army procurements plan to be critically analysed using the failure data which would be collected from the defects reported on newly acquired equipment during their warranty period. In the third paper, case studies of few selected procurement cases would be carried out. The final paper will explore the best QA practices and how these can be applied in our context to evolve a better QA system.

    Introducing the paper, the author said that defence procurements are done primarily under two heads – capital and revenue. The former is guided by DPP, and include: fifteen years Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), five years Services Acquisition Plan (SCAP), and Annual Acquisition Plan (AAP), which is a subset of SCAP and is a two year Roll On plan. The latter is guided by DPM and includes mainly replacement equipment and assemblies, spares, components for maintenance and operation of already sanctioned assets. QA checks of all the hardware procured by Army are carried out by DGQA. Further, he elaborated upon the various stages of the evolution of DGQA. In its course of evolution, in 1968, Directorate of R&D (General) was bifurcated into Directorate of Inspection (General Stores) and Directorate of R&D (General Stores). Directorate General of Inspection was re-designated as Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) on 04 Jul 1987. At present, DGQA Organisation is under the overall control of Department of Defence Production and Supplies in the Ministry of Defence. Further, Lt Col Prasad delved on the functions of DGQA which provides QA cover to the entire range of Arms, Ammunitions, Equipments and Stores on procurement. He then talked about functions which are specific to procurement, like, vetting of response of vendors to Request for Information (RFI), assist in formulation of General staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs), assist in preparation of Requests For Proposals (RFPs) etc.

    Subsequently, Prasad talked about Procedure of Acceptance of Capital and Revenue Procurements which is similar if not the same for both capital and revenue procurements. The first and foremost step here is that after placement of supply order an Acceptance Test Procedure (ATP) incorporating all the tests and certification for acceptance of the product ordered is prepared. In his analysis Prasad observed that the conditions laid down for acceptance are extremely stringent and capital intensive for vendors participating in the bidding process. The stakes are very high as finally only one vendor is likely to get the contract. Expenditure incurred by all other vendors not winning the bid therefore becomes wasteful expenditure and discourages them from fielding their equipment. It has been observed that many vendors withdraw at this stage. Moreover, lack of multi-skilled engineering staff with DGQA is invariably evident from the fact that the number of DGQA staff attending a meeting (especially pre-bid meetings with vendors and technical evaluation committee meetings) exceeds those from other departments/ branches/ directorates. On the draft ATP he said that it is prepared by the vendor on whom the supply order is placed. Since a vendor has a vested interest, it may not mention some very important tests for which he does not have the facility and/or certifications,. To improve QA in Army procurements, Mahendra Prasad made following important recommendations:

    • In order to cut costs and time required for technical and environmental evaluation it was recommended that only those tests should be undertaken by DGQA, which are not possible to be carried out anywhere else at various laboratories accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) in the country.
    • Reputed vendors may be permitted self-certification on case to case basis taking into account their past performance.
    • To address the interaction problems of user and WE directorate with DGQA, it is felt that a single window system for interaction with DGQA will go a long way to obviate this long-standing sore point.
    • For creation of a pool of staff possessing multiple skills, bifurcation of staff into broad streams as mechanical, electronics and computer science and inter directorate postings may help.
    • Regarding ATP it is felt that a well-researched and stringent ATP can minimise occurrence of a number of defects due to material and manufacturing inadequacies, after the equipment is put into service.
    • The selection process of the officer cadre needs a complete revamp.

    Lt Col Prasad concluded by saying that for the success of any military mission, right equipment, at the right time, in the hands of soldiers is as important a factor as the training and physical fitness of soldier himself. Thus, factors causing delay in procurement of Army hardware need to be identified, analysed and eliminated. Two most important features that equipment in the hands of soldiers must possess are high reliability and military ruggedisation.

    Discussion Points

    • Since the DGQA is overburdened, the agency should divest itself of the task of promoting small scale industries.
    • Many discussants shared Prasad’s point that the expenditure incurred by all other vendors not winning the bid becomes wasteful expenditure and discourages them from fielding their equipment. It was suggested that those vendors whose bid were rejected must be compensated in a suitable manner. For this suitable provisions in DPP need to be included.
    • It was argued that authorising regulatories of foreign governments to certify their countries’ product is a tricky proposition, since in these days of cut-throat competition, many countries would not mind promoting their own companies, even if it compromises the quality. Moreover, the advanced countries may give the certification with the belief that India does not have the requisite testing facilities to check the veracity of the foreign certification.
    • It was pointed out that Customer Service Directorate for single window interaction is in the anvil. It will reduce the time lag considerably.
    • Since many agencies are involved in the process of procurement, an empowered central authority is desirable. Increasing the autonomy of the DGQA would be a welcome step.
    • It was suggested that the DPP should be elaborately dealt with in the paper to see how different agencies’ roles have been incorporated in it.
    • Significantly, one discussant argued that quality assurance done by DGQA merely involves checking specifications and parameters given in GSQR. It would be better to grade the product in some order of quality level to enable selection of best product within budgetary allocation.
    • It was argued by one participant that QA is an unending process and specific to particular environment. What is quality for US may not find acceptance in the Indian conditions.
    • Many participants agreed with the author’s observation that the two most important benchmarks of QA are high reliability and military ruggedisation. Soviet equipments were very good on these criteria and were widely regarded as soldier-friendly.
    • Consumer-interface, which is very strong in many countries, lacks attention in India. It remains to be seen whether the DGQA is evolving towards TQM (total quality management) or not, since in TQM consumer is the focal point.
    • Assurance level is a standard statistical tool across the world for quality analysis, but DGQA does not have its assurance level defined.
    • Regarding the lack of qualified technical officers to oversee the process of procurement, it was pointed out that mere recruitment of technically qualified persons for QA job will not yield much, unless periodic training aiming at updating their technical knowledge is ensured, since technology is fast changing. Moreover, while selecting officers for the QA job more emphasis should be on aptitude than knowledge; the later can be imparted at the time of training. High integrity and passion for the job should be the benchmark for selection of officers.
    • It was argued that Ordnance Factory’s services can be better utilized in production of defence materials, since they have very good infrastructure facilities at their disposal.
    • It was pointed out that a product failed to meet specifications at the trial stage is accepted later subject to “rectification” without any further trial.

    Chairperson’s Remarks
    Dr. S. Kalyanaraman complimented Lt Col Prasad for a very comprehensive and detailed presentation on a topical issue concerning the Indian Army. He suggested a slight tinkering with the title to bring it in sync with the content of the paper and his research design.

    (Report prepared by Amit Kumar, Research Assistant IDSA)