Russia, traditional supplier of mobilised ground systems to the Indian army, is reportedly upset at the army’s procurement process for self-propelled air defence gun missile system, which began in 2013, dragged itself painstakingly through assorted tests and assessments, and is on the verge of inking a deal with South Korean defence manufacturer Hanwha Defence. Defence procurement is a minefield of lobbying and it is easy for the non-specialist to get lost in the technical capabilities or defects attributed to various models touted by various manufacturers. But what can be made out is that the Indian defence procurement system needs urgent overhaul for Indian defence manufacturers to turn from bit suppliers to sophisticated systems designers and integrator.

According to various reports, one of the two systems from Russia on offer meets the requirements of modern battle conditions, with its 3D radar that is capable of recognising and targeting small drones. However, this machine failed the 30-degree gradient test. So, the army is settling for the South Korean model, which has a 2D radar and will not be able to target small objects like drones. The Russians want to be given another chance to prove that their equipment can meet the specified norms. However, the real question is not whether the Russians should get the order or the Koreans. Why should India be obliged to buy the entire kit from any particular vendor? India is a large enough arms importer and endowed with sufficient manufacturing expertise to procure the components, from whichever company in whichever country, and integrate them as per its requirements. It has the money, the nous and the diplomatic clout to pull this off. What it seems to lack is the procurement process and the political will to do this.

The CAG report on Rafale warplanes had brought out that the shoddy manner in which Air Staff Quality Requirements were specified was one reason for delays in procurement. Specify the functional requirements, not technologies, bid for components, not finished systems, and integrate them at Indian shops.