July 25, 2013: Logistics experts in the Indian armed forces are facing an impossible situation, as they try to improve their ability to get supplies, especially spare parts and equipment upgrades, to the troops. At the moment most supplies, spare parts, and purchasing authority rests with the Ministry of Defense and its notorious (for corruption and inefficiency) procurement bureaucracy. The military points out that the United States, and most Western nations, use a much more efficient (and cheaper) logistics system that depends on consolidating many functions (to get cheaper prices and better service) and freely using competitive bidding to hire civilian firms to handle many logistics chores (maintenance, transportation, and all sorts of supplies). Currently, India is stuck with a corrupt and intransigent civil service and a network of state owned firms that supply most of the maintenance and logistics needs of the military. But these state owned firms are also notoriously corrupt and inefficient, and the military wants to replace all this with a new consolidated logistics agency and competitive bidding (which would put the inept state owned firms out of business). While the military has logic and efficiency on its side, the Ministry of Defense has thousands of local and national politicians in its debt. The state owned firms are all over the country and provide patronage type jobs (which is one reason these firms are so inefficient) that politicians will fight to preserve. Military efficiency is important, getting elected is more important.
This situation is tragic and a growing number of Indians realize it. India, a regional superpower and the world’s largest democracy (with a population of over a billion), lives in a very rough neighborhood and military efficiency is becoming a necessity, not just a worthy goal. To deal with that, India has always maintained large armed forces and one of the largest armies (a million troops) on the planet. But keeping these troops equipped, for what is expected of them, has proved to be very difficult. The army keeps falling behind in replacing aging weapons (like artillery) and obtaining new technology (missiles and smart munitions). Getting the money from the government has been the least of their problems. The biggest hassles are with corruption and failed efforts to develop local weapons manufacturers.
Effort to create domestic defense industries has been crippled by corruption. Several major weapons development projects have failed because bad ideas kept getting funded, and the effort never produced anything the military found acceptable. For example, the 5.5 ton Dhruv helicopter was in development for two decades before the first one was delivered eleven years ago. Since then domestic and foreign users have expressed dissatisfaction. A series of crashes indicated some basic design flaws, which the manufacturer insists do not exist.
Then there is the effort to develop and build a tank. Many of the problems with the Arjun tank project had to do with nothing more than government ineptitude. The Ministry of Defense was more interested in putting out press releases about how India was becoming self-sufficient in tanks, than in attending to the technical details needed to make this happen. The Ministry of Defense crowd has done this sort of thing many times. Moreover, if it isn't incompetence screwing things up, then it's corruption. Cleaning up the Ministry of Defense, and all the politicians that get involved with it, so far, is a problem without a solution.
Efforts to develop missile systems has also been a long running failure. Work on indigenous missile designs, under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP), managed by the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), India's equivalent to the U.S. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), has gone on for decades, with no useful weapons to show for it. The most common problems were apparently caused by inept software development. While India has a lot of local talent in this department, creating this kind of specialized military software is very difficult and the best programming talent tends to join the growing number of new companies that sell their services to foreigners. But India is determined to develop the capability of designing and building high-tech weapons, something few countries can do. India is following in the footsteps of China and Russia, two nations that still had most of their population living in poverty, while the state concentrated resources to create the technological base needed to build modern weapons.
There are also some obvious cases of corruption. Some were almost comical, as in the case of the army ordering electric carts, "for use in hospitals", and then delivering most of these golf carts to a military golf club. Another time golf carts were ordered as special engineer vehicles, and these also ended up at the same golf course.
But the defense ministry also has a knack for sheer ineptitude. For example, the procurement bureaucrats allowed the war reserve of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles to fall below acceptable levels. Once discovered, the bureaucrats took four years to get additional missiles from Russia.
Finally, there's the ever persistent demand for payoffs from foreign suppliers of weapons. For the last sixty years India has had to buy major weapons, and high tech items, from overseas. When Russia was the only supplier, there was less opportunity for extorting money from multiple suppliers, because these were state owned arms manufacturers and there was not a lot of variety. But once the Cold War, and the Soviet Union, went away in 1991, India began to seek better quality weapons from the more numerous Western suppliers. Demanding bribes from suppliers, to be selected, became a major draw for senior government officials. It was big money, easily obtained. This was so widespread that it became widely known, and eventually the media was able to expose a lot of it. In the last decade it's become much more difficult to score a bribe. But this has resulted in many suppliers being blacklisted or, for purchasing of new weapons, getting bogged down in investigations of whether or not the suppliers had bribed someone.
The Indian government bureaucrats have a well-deserved reputation of gumming up the works and preventing needful things from getting done. For the military, this has meant an aging stock, or increasingly obsolete weapons, that they cannot get replaced or even updated.