A well-knit logistics framework is crucial to improve operational readiness
Maj Gen J.S. Kataria (retd), YSM
The Indian government appointed Gen. Bipin Rawat as the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS ) on 30 December 2020 to head the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA). The DMA is designed to coordinate long-term planning, procurement and joint training. It is perceived that the mandate given to the DMA would enhance jointmanship amongst the three services. The integration of logistics and its amalgamation with the emerging technology is considered a low hanging fruit for the DMA. A well-knit logistics network would result in saving of critical resources, improve the teeth-to-tail ratio and enhance operational readiness.
India has vast borders with varied terrain.
In the north, exists the Line of Actual Control (LAC ) with China, extending to 3,439 km. In the east, a border of 1,643 km and 4,096 km exists with Myanmar and Bangladesh respectively. To the west, India has 3,323 km of border with Pakistan, inclusive of 1,085 km of Line of Control (LC) in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a long coastline of 7,516 km to the south and west, inclusive of Andaman and Lakshadweep Islands territory. The vastness, coupled with the distances, hostile climatic conditions and under developed state of infrastructure along our borders pose multifarious challenges for the planning and execution of logistics.
Military logistics encompasses planning, procurement, transportation and provision. The current logistics system of our defence forces is a legacy of the past. The adoption of technology to keep in sync with the fast-changing dynamics of the emerging battlefields of future has been slow and tardy. The inventory automation lacks rear and forward linking which leads to lack of complete visibility of logistics functions. This has resulted in our continued dependence on the archaic Push Model rather than the Realtime Response Model.
The weapon systems held with the forces are of varied origin. The case in point is the small arms weapons systems. The much hyped INSAS system
of the Nineties has failed to deliver. Resultantly, rifles, carbines and machine guns are procured from different countries, causing tremendous pressure on our logistics system. Same is the case with guns, tanks, aircrafts and a host of other equipment. Of late, there has been some progress towards indigenisation of guns, UA Vs, vehicles et al. However, the road towards self-realisation is long and steep.
Maintenance of aircrafts and ships is extremely complex. The problem with regards to fighters, bombers, helicopters and the transport aircrafts held with the three services is compounded due to the large number of take-offs and landings required during training. Inadequate indigenisation and multisource procurement have led to large maintenance inventories and longer lead time.Comparatively, the Indian Navy is better organised with respect to ship maintenance and logistics support system.
The defence forces are the biggest users of load carriers. The operational requirements demand that they have four by four or six by six wheels drive mode. The design of these vehicles differs from those operating along our highways. In the past, most of our military vehicles were procured from the international markets and manufactured in our Ordnance Factories under licence. They were found wanting in quality and were heavy on maintenance.
The requirement of different fuels and lubricants for different vehicles has always been a cause of concern. Their inventory runs into thousands of variants. During the 1971 war, India faced political hurdles from the original equipment manufacturers (OE Ms) with respect to certain critical oil/lubricants. In the aftermath of the war, the defence ministry of India mandated the Indian oil companies to cut down the military’s dependency on foreign countries for fuel, oils and lubricants. The challenge was that the Indian defence forces had equipment of both Soviet and NATO origin.
By the mid-Eighties, the oil companies in concert with the Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun and the R&D Centre of Indian Oil Corporation at Faridabad indigenised most of the defence forces requirement. It was further facilitated by the joint venture between the newly formed AVI-OIL India Ltd with NYOC of France in 1993. At the same time the launch of Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and other heavy vehicle manufacturers in the country gave an impetus to the indigenisation. It led to standardisation of the vehicle platforms, improvement in quality control, reduction in inventories and facilitated maintenance. Today, majority of the vehicles held with the Indian defence forces are indigenous. Interestingly, even the use of diesel #2 (the more efficient and least polluting) and turbine fuels have been standardised.
The advent of technology and the ever- growing communication networks has added new dynamics to the spectrum of conflicts and logistics support. Today, the military strategists are looking at Non-Contact Battlefields and Network Centric Warfare amidst various spectrums of conflict. The killing of Iran’s General Soleimani by the US drones is one such example. These dynamics merit a review of the current logistics system to keep in pace with the ongoing revolution in military affairs.
There is a need to have a Collective Inventory Display. In this, the system of demand, supply, procurement and stocking are combined. This would generate inventory automation, visibility, negate overstocking and reduce down time. It would also provide flexibility, jointness and reduction in inventory cost. Standardisation of containers and modular based repairs/ logistics supply chain in the three services is the need of hour.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) should be co-opted into the logistics system. The use of drones for transportation of critical modules for maintenance/logistics support merit inclusion. As the trial to remove the divisional headquarters is in progress, it is time to consider trial of Logistics Support Regiment encompassing all facets of logistics. The DMA can play a vital role in the infusion of future technologies into logistics operations in the three services, and open up space for the enhanced participation of defence industry.
At the time of Independence, India had 16 Ordnance Factories which were largely designed for repair and overhaul facilities. India created the Department of Defence Production and Supplies and started building Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO ), Ordnance Factories and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU s), after the 1962 War. The tight bureaucratic control, lack of any accountability in perspective planning, absence of time schedule for development/ production, poor transparency in financial dealings, labour unions, red-tapism and blame game amongst the multiple agencies have kept these organisations in the lowest ebb of their performance. It has resulted in high level of defence import and dependency on foreign players in the logistics management.
Of late, the ministry of defence (MoD) has attempted to give an impetus to the indigenisation of defence equipment. Apparently, it should improve accountability and transparency in the functioning of DRDO / the Ordnance Factories. The recent development of the Light Weight Howitzers (Dhanush), drones and some other equipment by the DRDO /Ordnance Factories in collaboration with the industry appears to be a result of improved accountability. It would have a direct bearing on the development of our defence sector with far reaching ramifications on the Indian economy and the logistics operations.
Role of Industry
To safeguard our national security, India needs to have a strong industrial base with the state of art technology to indigenise modern weapons system in sync with the rapid technological advances. The government has paved way for the indigenous production, through the launch of USD 130 billion planned expenditure towards modernisation of the armed forces in the next five years. The new policy on defence production has opened up space for foreign OE Ms to commence operations in collaboration with Indian companies.
Currently, there are two defence corridors that have been identified – UP and Tamil Nadu. The former leverages the existing ecosystem in the state for R&D testing facilities. The latter’s ecosystem is suited for investment and manufacturing. The Indian defence industry needs to leverage the existing facilities and also move into the logistics support chain of the defence force. It includes the IT industry, defence ancillaries, clothing, food products, maintenance support, transportation and a host of other facets. Closing down of the military farms and increasing dependency on the existing milk industry and frozen meat products are a step in this direction.
With the rise of belligerent China and hostile Pakistan, the only way India can safeguard its national security is by embracing technology. It necessitates R&D in defence and other high technology sectors. The investment in R&D often contributes towards higher exports, improved economy, development of human resources and better defence preparedness. The acceleration of indigenous defence industry through the home-grown technology would reduce our dependency on foreign shores, minimise stocking and facilitate visibility. To win wars, strategy and planning are vital, but to have the right material at the right time needs no emphasis!