Procurement: India Counts Its Curses


July 15, 2009: Indian government auditors have released another list of procurement problems, some of which are more corruption than incompetence. In the latter area, the auditors concentrated on two long-standing problems, that never seem to get fixed. First, there is the Indian made Dhruv helicopter. The navy bought six of the Dhruvs for evaluation, and did not like what they saw. The main complaints were lack of engine power, and poor reliability. These were considered fatal flaws for helicopters meant for SAR (search and rescue) and ASW (anti-submarine warfare.) The army actually bought 40 Dhruvs without thoroughly testing them (or under intense pressure from the government to "buy Indian"). Then the army discovered that, although the purchase contract stipulated that the Dhruv be able to operate at high altitudes (5,000 meters/16,000 feet), its engine (as the navy noted) was underpowered and could not handle high altitudes. So the army has to keep its older helicopters in service

 The 5.5 ton Dhruv was in development for two decades before the first one was delivered seven years ago. Since then, over 80 have been delivered, mostly to the Indian Army. But some foreign customers (Nepal and Myanmar) have also taken a few. A series of crashes indicates some basic design flaws, which the manufacturer insists does not exist. The navy disagrees, even though the fleet is desperate to replace over three dozen of its elderly Sea King helicopters (a 1950s design, and the Indian Navy models are 20-35 years old.)

But not all the procurement problems have to do with the decades long effort to create an Indian weapons industry. India continues to have problems with their Russian made, Krasnopol laser guided 155mm artillery shells. India has been having problems with these shells since it first got some to use in 1999, during the border war with Pakistan in the Kargil region of Kashmir. Only about 28 percent of the shells fired, performed as advertised. The shells either missed the target, or failed to explode. Despite this, India agreed to buy 8,000 Krasnopol shells, for $40,000 each, in early 2002. India thought some of the problems were with the laser designators, and bought designators some from Israel, to replace the Russian ones. This was not the case, and recent tests of Krasnopol shells still in inventory, have been even more disappointing. The Indian auditors want to know why these ten year old problems have not been fixed. No meaningful response from the army so far.

Getting "smart shells" to work effectively is nothing new. Back in the 1980s, the American 155mm Copperhead round was developed, at great expense, to take out tanks with one shot. The Copperhead was laser guided. That is, it homed in on laser light that a forward observer was creating by pointing a laser at the target. It was the same technique used with laser guided bombs. But this was expensive technology. Each of the 3,000 Copperhead shells eventually built, cost several hundred thousand dollars (the price varied, up to half a million bucks, depending on who was doing the calculating). While a hundred dollar, "dumb", artillery shell will land with 75 meters of the aiming point, the Copperhead would land within a meter or two. But so what? It turned out there were many easier, and cheaper, ways to destroy enemy tanks. This was demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf War, when a few Copperhead shells were used, successfully, but to reactions of, "whatever."

 The Indians want to use their Krasnopols to take out enemy bunkers in mountainous terrain, where a barrage of dumb shells might cause avalanches, or otherwise tear up the terrain, and make it difficult for their infantry to advance. A new American smart shell, Excalibur, is used in urban fighting, where you just want to hit one building, and enable nearby infantry to quickly rush in. Excalibur was also delayed over a year because of reliability problems. But Excalibur, which uses GPS for guidance, eventually got its bugs worked out. Not so with Krasnopol.

The auditors found numerous other problems, like letting the war reserve of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles fall below acceptable levels, then taking four years to get additional missiles from Russia. Meanwhile, the army decided that it would replace the Russian missiles, beginning in 2013.

Finally, we have rather 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.





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