GOCO-A need to think before we leap
The above thought process of the Shekatkar Committee makes it evident that one of the aims of GOCO is to create a manpower surplus for other commitments of the Army. To me it also gives reasons to believe that the Committee had an impression that these 30,000 combatants are all associated with repairs of vehicles. Should the eight ABWs employing around 13000 civilians and only 2000 combatants be put into a tail spin for this obsession for more boots on the ground? From where will the remaining savings of 28,000 personnel come? Obviously from those outfits providing close engineering support to tanks, guns, missiles, helicopters, UAVs etc. Army Base Workshops (ABW) like the Naval Dockyards and Base Repair Depots of the Navy and Air Force are the Army`s integral resources for sustaining ‘Through Life Equipment Readiness’. These are engineering resources established before World War II, with a comprehensive knowledge cache on systems engineering of weapon systems built over the years, through base level reset of tanks, guns, rocket systems, missile systems, small arms, radars, aviation and communication systems. The principal aim of base reset/repair is to restore full mission capability of the weapon system which has degraded due to effects of age (vintage), usage and deployment (AUD effects). A new Gun system capable of firing say, 800-900 rounds before a mission critical failure, has its capability degraded over a period to 120-150 rounds and a tank with a mean kilometers before failure of 400 kms can come down to 30-50 kms! A comprehensive base reset can restore the equipment to full mission capability. This is the operational significance of the Base Repair infrastructure which all armed forces possess.
Given this backdrop, privatizing engineering support operations requiring multi disciplinary skills and competencies, in the 21st century, is an example of stone age thinking. Engineering and Operations are two sides of the same coin. In fact, engineering ensures equipment readiness to commence and sustain combat operations. In the Yom Kippur war, it was engineering that created superior force ratios by recycling up to an armoured brigade in 48 hours. Whenever engineering has failed during operations, major disasters have struck, e.g. Columbia Space Shuttle disaster (2003), failure of Patriot missile during Gulf war (1991) and HMS Sheffield (1982). GOCO is for privatization of public services not national security assets. There is an inherent convergence of objectives in the private sector, they will also aim to maximise profits and this could be at the cost of equipment readiness. Private owners of defence engineering operations could raise costs manifold, once public sector skills wither away. It would therefore be prudent to focus on the root cause of the sub optimal performance by ABWs. It makes sense to privatise logistic support functions of ABWs as a first step rather than engineering support functions, to bring in efficiency and in the interest of national security. Once logistics of ABWs becomes contractor operated, base reset of complete systems may be carried out by private sector, if proved cost effective. This calibrated approach will ensure that the viability of these national security assets is retained during the transition period, in view of the uncertain situation at the borders. The fact is that most of the Army`s inventory is of imported origin and the private sector does not possess adequate skills and competencies to take on this workload without hand holding.
GOCO partnership allows each partner to perform duties for which it is uniquely suited; the Govt establishes the mission areas and the private sector implements the missions, using best business practices. Correctly implemented with highest standards of probity, it can bring in efficiencies, cost savings and higher productivity. However, for a nation faced with the prospects of a two front war, howsoever remote the probability may be, a substantial hedge of organic assets against unforeseen circumstances is a must. National security in our context cannot be outsourced and the practices being experimented unsuccessfully in some small countries need not be replicated here. It may be prudent to first operate Govt manufacturing plants and factories manufacturing vehicles, earth moving equipment, communication systems, ammunition, general stores and clothing under the GOCO model rather than combat engineering support, which directly impacts day to day combat readiness. Even some R&D activities could go the GOCO way successfully, as has been shown by some west European countries.
Most GOCO initiatives in MRO of complex weapon systems have created severe organizational entropy and terminated into an adversarial oversight system by Govt employees affecting smooth equipment reset operations and have become an unaffordable venture for the Govt due to contractors hiking up costs after Govt sector skills have withered away. GOCO could become NO GO if implemented with undue haste and absence of a systems view. If planned well, it can be transformed into an efficient Govt-Contractor partnership based system, to concomitantly guarantee high equipment readiness and profitable running of Govt owned industrial base facilities. Having had a deep insight of the Army`s equipment readiness state and the critical holdups which stymie comprehensive equipment capability resuscitation (called - Like New Condition or Zero Km Zero Hours), I consider a hybrid approach as desirable.
COAS has acknowledged that the Army is maintaining a 30-40-30 profile of weapons & equipment i.e. 30% modern, 40% obsolescent and 30% obsolete inventory. The operational consequences of such a mixed inventory has never ever been amplified by anyone from the top brass. The operational implication of such a mixed and
ex-import inventory is that if it is not kept in a mission capable state, there is every likelihood of the force graduating towards hollowness. A hollow force is defined as a force that is without substance, is awaiting spare parts and trained personnel for its tanks, guns, missiles, small arms, rocket systems, etc; and gives appearance of readiness when actually the capability is not there. Warning signs towards this during Kargil and Parakram have been forgotten. Army`s planners in general do not appreciate the concept of integrated readiness and planning in individual silos is a prevalent best practice,relying mainly on garage availability, with a belief that all weapons will deliver at full throttle when the need arises. While there is a reasonable focus on Soldier readiness, similar concern about Equipment readiness is sadly lacking. The ABWs are the only industrial resource available to sustain combat readiness of this vintage inventory as most systems are of imported origin or being made under TOT with questionable quality and as supply chains have dried, spare parts are not forthcoming. This crucial point gets consistently overlooked and limited efforts have been put in to upscale engineering capabilities at ABWs. There is a misplaced focus on acquiring new weapon systems without appropriate mission engineering and capability gap analysis. Consequently, even today the Army operates four types of tanks, four types of ATGMs (fifth one in pipeline) and six types of AD missiles. Even when a system gets acquired, resources for operational sustainment do not get inducted concomitantly, creating gaps in engineering support capability. Such a situation does not afflict acquisitions of the Air Force or the Navy and comprehensive engineering facilities come up at Base Repair Depots and Naval Dockyards. It is for this reason that their platform readiness is way ahead of the Army`s. Against this backdrop, the initiative of GOCO at ABWs appears to be a case of dismantling the fence without knowing why it had been set up in the first place. There are approx 8.5% maintainers in the Indian Army. The Air Force and the Navy have approx 40% maintainers . The US Army alone has 2,20,000 maintainers out of which 47,000 are civilians. British Army still has around 9% maintainers despite drastic downsizing. The Air Force and the Navy do not seem to be in a tremendous haste on privatizing their engineering assets, whereas Lt General Shekatkar and his team have recommended to the Govt that 30,000 engineering personnel (combatant) could be shed and yet the Army will be forever ready for a two front contingency! In any other country such large scale downsizing of an engineering Corps would have been subjected to a hard nosed scrutiny by a Parliamentary Committee.
For GOCO to succeed and succeed it must in the overall interest of Army`s Equipment Readiness, a sequential well considered approach is recommended, so as not to affect the viability of these strategic security assets. Govt need not accept unattractive offers. A 25% excess capacity (surge capability) has to be created for all war like systems. It must be well understood that total ‘GOCOization’ of ABWs is neither feasible nor desirable. It would maximize entropy, lead to loss of civilian jobs, compromise weapon system readiness and an overall ability to respond to national emergencies like Kargil or Parakaram. A mixed strategy may be practicable, where private sector skills are inducted, in a graduated and selective manner to ramp up efficiencies. As a first step, contracting out of all inbound logistics and plant readiness services like upkeep of production line, machinery, consumables, spares parts (Reset Kits), test cells/equipment, test sites, etc ,to keep the assembly line production capable 24x7. This is a major limitation of the present system as non engineers who are adept at procuring shoes and mosquito nets are provisioning / procuring spare parts, a practice not adopted in any fighting force including our own Air Force and Navy, besides UK, US, Russia, China and other defence forces. The concept of readiness based sparing is just not there. Next step, could include handing over resuscitation of combat support systems like high mobility vehicles, field artillery tractors, wheeled bridging systems, generators, simulators, manufacture of spares, earthmoving equipment, masts, MUAs, etc. (Full GOCO of mostly combat support equipment). Lastly, weapon systems like rifles, LMGs, MMGs, Mortars, Guns, Tanks, Infantry Combat vehicles, sighting systems, thermal imagers, radars, rocket and missile systems, UAVs and helicopters (Combat equipment), could be included (Partial GOCO) as per following work share:-
• All non-confidential systems to be contracted out; either to be overhauled in Govt facility or at contractor’s production lines; like engine, transmission, running gear, electrical and hydraulic systems, recoil systems, drives, cranes, winches, APUs, day and night sights, GPS, etc.
• All confidential systems to be reset in house, by Army personnel and civilian technicians of EME in the interest of system security & preventing compromise of system vulnerabilities, e.g. MMGs, AGLs, turrets, hulls, armaments, missile launchers, radio & EW equipment, radars, NBC systems, computing systems, fire control systems, BMS, etc.
• System integration, testing and evaluation to be carried out by Army as per duty cycles envisaged when actually deployed.
• A seamless collaboration between Govt and contractor is sought to be achieved by integration of engineering capabilities of both with control and balance remaining with Army.
• It would be prudent to run a pilot in one ABW, rather than attempting GOCO in all ABWs concomitantly.
There are several financial, technical, testing and evaluation, quality, and regulatory issues which will have to be resolved while undertaking this exercise. These could form the part of a feasibility study. Some salient issues are mentioned below:-
• The most critical aspect is the creation of a robust financial baseline against which the contractors can bid competitively. This is just not there.
• Civilian manpower – both skilled &supporting, is to be put on the rolls of the contractor or retained by Govt? Wages and retiral benefits by contractor/Govt? Employee should not lose financially or be rendered jobless.
• Facility operation contract may have to be given for upto 10 years to enable contractor to stabilize engineering operations, and facilitate self investment to bring in efficiencies. Requires suitable changes in DPM/base workshop procedures.
• Key infrastructure services like electricity, water, waste, disposal, access roads, testing tracks & ranges, security, lighting, firefighting to be provided by Govt as ABWs are located in Cantts.
• All ABWs need to acquire ISO certification – ISO 9001, (Quality management standards) ISO/14001 (Environmental mgtstds) and ISO/ 18001 (Safety mgtstds) to facilitate wider bidding and making it more attractive to industry.
• Performance based logistics (PBL) for input materials like spare parts (Kits), technical services, plant readiness, transportation of product from/to units, could lead to better efficiencies. Even sub-system/LRUs integration and testing could be included in PBL as performance work statements.
Govt oversight by Army`s Industrial Engineers (EME) is a must as they alone have a full systems view, knowhow at sub systems level and black boxes and the capability to ascertain the content of resuscitation and the degree of equipment capability enhancement carried out. There is a grave danger in our context, of Contractor doing lip service and recycling old aggregates and spares to maximise profits and placing an unreliable system in the hands of the war fighter.
Contract Type and Contractor Matters
Govt needs to give preference to companies who are already in the business of MRO and remanufacture, lest there is repetition of the failed efforts at overhauling of Nissan vehicle engines in the 1980s by fly by night operators. Instead of cost plus contracts, contracts offering incentives for becoming efficient and productive have succeeded. The German approach to creating private sector capabilities has yielded significant results. Properly executed this initiative can restore the viability of these national security assets for next 20- 25 years, run these Govt assets profitably, retain civilian employment and rev up manufacturing in the SMEs for manufacture of spares in excess of 2000-3000 crores. The combatant manpower can be downsized by about 30%.
“At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernization and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal. We need forces that are agile, mobile and driven by technology, not just human valour.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Combined Commanders Conference, 15 December 2015
GOCO should end up creating a responsive, innovative and an efficient weapon system remanufacturing base, capable of meeting current and future national security needs, while relying to the maximum possible extent on skills and competencies of the private sector. An effective public – private partnership model can deliver desired weapon system readiness. It could rev up manufacture of spares and sub systems in the SMEs and open up surplus capacity for carrying out reset operations for other countries. A technology driven Army will depend heavily on this Integral Technical Capability and Industrial Base, to retain its cutting edge in the years ahead. Do not hand it over without a careful thought at the highest level. May be it is time for an Indian BRACS (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) to give it a holistic consideration.