Services’ Qualitative Requirements (SQR)
A definition of QR given in a business dictionary states that it is ‘in contracting, quality of design specifications defined in narrative form to be later translated into numerical values’. In procurement parlance in the Services, it could be termed as General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR), Air SQR or Marine SQRs. In general term it could be termed as Services QR (SQRs) as given in the DPP. SQRs are evolved and promulgated to specify essential parameters of military equipment needed in to fulfill other operational requirement and in the procurement parlance to fill an equipment void. They spell out the users’ requirements in terms of functional characteristics in a comprehensive, structured and concrete manner. In other words, they define minimum performance attributes, corresponding to the task or tasks to be performed by the system. SQRs are the basic foundation of the procurement process. In other words, it is the starting point. SQRs form the basis of equipment philosophy and are generally need based. However, they could also be generated as a minimum acceptable specification for equipment, based on what is available world over or within the country. I would not be wrong in saying that they are certainly a ‘wish list’ without being a ‘wish list’. They apprise the vendors about what is being sought and provide a wellset benchmark for subsequent inter-se appraisal of equipment tendered for evaluation by different vendors. Therefore, we come to a conclusion that the formulation of SQRs is an important stage of the entire process; a highly deliberate and meticulous approach has to be adopted while determining them. SQRs therefore should be a balance between what is feasible and what is required. SQRs generally depend on current and anticipated technology levels, enemy capability, plans and tactics and need for equipment to counter the same, own operational doctrines and plans and also most importantly the pattern, climate and place for fielding of the equipment.
Therefore, one aspect which is clear is that poorly conceived and imprecisely drafted SQRs will lead to create confusion, lend themselves to misinterpretations, compromise quality of equipment, prove expensive and cause immense delays. In the Indian armed forces, the SQRs are laid down by the Services themselves although recently, this procedure has been given a lot of attention. It is said that the practice of asking the Services to evolve QRs of equipment sought is a legacy of the Second World War. It is also said that it is too rigid and does not cater for changing technology. But recently, it has been mandated that a Request for Information (RFI) has to be issued prior to preparation of SQRs. Therefore, although the latter aspect of catering for latest technology has been taken care of to a great extent, but the former part of being too rigid is still on the scene. Most of the developed countries have already adopted different procedures as per the level of technology mastered and the maturity of their indigenous defence industry. Is there a case for technological prowess available to be proven based on which the Services will decide whether the equipment suits them or should be continue to allow the Services to evolve the SQRs? The US has already applied this change a decade or so ago and their Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) is the method that they have evolved. Thus, it is left to the field units to determine whether the equipment offered meets their requirement or further developmental work is required. In this methodology, it is not the military that demands development of new systems ab-initio. Advantage is taken of the nation’s technological prowess to tell the military as to what equipment can be made available. Thus, time taken to develop new technologies as per the military’s requirements is eliminated. It also eliminates any overambitious or impossible SQRs. Similarly, China asks its defence industries to manufacture a prototype and field it for use with the field units. The units are then requested to utilise the equipment and come out with the improvements required and thereafter the industry comes out with a Mark II version for further utilisation. These are different examples of methods of SQRs in different countries. In the US model, the industry prowess is demonstrated and in the Chinese model, the efficiency is based on what is available. The British have a similar procedure based on important qualitative requirements called as Cardinal Points.
In the Indian scenario the present capabilities of private and Research Organisation does not allow us to implement the methods followed in the US due to existing prowess in R&D. Therefore, in most of the cases the RFI route to SQRs is possibly the only route, especially so, when the ‘Make’ category of DPP has been hardly utilised. Can these models be replicated in India? Well unless and until the industrial prowess is of the stature of ISRO of India, this is possibly not feasible. Therefore, what can be done to ameliorate the existing delays, goof ups in making SQRs? The solution is to firstly go into details of RFI from national and international vendors and get down to the minutest details and thereafter formulate the SQR. Another way is to follow a bottoms-up approach in which initially only ‘baseline standards’ are evolved for a large variety of military equipment. These standards are grouped together to form ‘basic profiles’. For example, if an air defence missile is required, a particular range and capability should be kept as a basic profile. Thereafter, these could be converted into Short Range SAMs or Quick Reaction ones depending on its usage. These, in turn, help generate broad equipment contours with distinct characteristics. Profile of equipment, when translated into specific distinctive requirements, is called a ‘functional standard’. A functional standard is thus a document that lays down the parameters for the development of equipment. In other words, baseline standards are like building blocks, which are common to a large array of military systems. These are combined to get basic profiles of a range of equipment, whereby profiles get converted into functional standards to define a military product. In other words, when we have a chassis of a vehicle, it can be converted into a pick-up or an ambulance depending on where to use it.
In India, the Services have had their share of bad press, and to a great extent the criticism has been valid. The critics say that in the Indian Service Headquarters, all available books on the equipment and catalogues of the manufacturers are collected. The best characteristics of all known equipment are compiled as requirements with a tendency to include as many features as possible to demonstrate the enormity and exhaustiveness of the work done. I have even heard that Indian Defence Services needs a combination of Tarzan and the best Bollywood actress in each and every equipment QR. Well, this may have been so earlier, but today the Request for Information (RFI) is mandatory and the matrix of responses from the vendors gives a huge input to the preparation of SQR. Thereafter, the SQR goes through vetting by atleast four agencies before it is fielded in a collegiate (General Staff Equipment Policy Committee) headed by the three star General or equivalent head of procurement of each Service. In cases where commonality of equipment exists and standardisation of QRs is merited, a Joint Staff Equipment Policy Committee is constituted, with representatives of all the three services to formulate Joint Services Qualitative Requirements. It may be true that the SQR still may have some characteristics which are difficult to achieve and may have difficulty during trials later. Therefore, my argument that some lenience regarding the deviations in the SQR after trials could be considered by the highest decision making body. Also, during the collegiate, insisting on adding additional features to the SQR which needs to be curbed. Further, it is very important that the officers who draft this SQR have to be knowledgeable not only in their respective field but also in terms of procurement procedures. The first part is implemented but the latter part is difficult to achieve. This tendency needs to be altered. The requirement of a particular parameter is also a matter which needs to be questioned. Sometimes, to pad up, the SQR contains parameters which may not be achievable or creates impediment in the trials. Certain parameters may not be interpreted in common usage or universally accepted parlance. For example, it is very difficult to evaluate the term ‘state of the art’. There could be cases where the SQR is approved in 2004 and the meaning of state of the art in 2014 may be totally different. The aspect of introducing a particular feature in the equipment may increase the cost. But this kind of analysis based on cost needs to be considered. Therefore knowledge of procurement process which can come about with longer tenures of officers needs serious consideration. The, there is the aspect of cost which also needs to be considered during the preparation or discussion of a SQR. Further there needs to be a provision to check and acknowledge a better feature in a particular equipment as the final decision is made on the lowest bidder. It is universally known that the cost versus feature inclusion is a geometric progression factor and not linear. Therefore, SQR formulators must consider the actual need for a particular feature. For example, a man portable missile can function without radar associated with it if the radar only provides early warning and does not guide the missile on to the target. In case the cost is prohibitive and it is easier to procure the missile without the radar such consideration should be either in the SQR or it could be revised at a later date, which presently is not the case due to rigidity.
I feel that Service HQs must put in only primary functional parameters in the SQRs. Alternately, like in the case of Buy & Make (Indian), all SQRs should be PSQR which could be later revised. If the performance parameters are broad based, it helps in easier procurement. Yes there is a danger that the vendor could compete with minimal features but this can always be factored in during trials. Basic equipment also if acceptable to the Service HQ should then be utilized with technology transfer and further research and development by DRDO or private vendors to make its further upgrades rather than starting from scratch. Deviation after the issue of RFP should be introduced in the DPP on SQR issues to allow shorter time frame for procurement. A study of all the cases which were retraced will give an idea that most of the cases were due to non compliance of SQRs.
There is also another way of formulating SQR parameters and that is to have a band in specific features like rate of fire, weight of the equipment, speed etc where it can be from so and so figures to so and so figure. This gives a band for the vendor to be compliant rather than the present single figure found in most of the parameters in SQRs. Therefore, SQRs could be a mix of specific parameters and a band of parameters so that there is a limited flexibility available both for the vendor and the buyer. Also, most important, the trials which are required by the QA agency should be factored in so that all the tests given in the JSS-55555 or such standards are not sought from the vendor. A line in the SQR that the tests under JSS-55555 will be decided by the user, QA agency and the WE Directorate at the RFP or in the trial methodology is adequate to ensure there is no need for unnecessary tests.
SQR in the present form in India seems to be an archaic concept and needs to be revised. Knowledge of the cost factor of each parameter vis-à-vis requirement by the officers who formulate SQRs is of paramount importance. This awareness comes from experience and therefore, longer period for capable officers in such jobs need to be formalized. SQRs have to be need based and each parameter needs to be justified. Reasons for both dilution and not diluting should be explained in the collegiate vetting the SQRs and then considered carefully. The Technical Manager has a major role in the technical scan and the fielding of a matrix on availability of technology all over the world.
Finally I will be reiterating the flaws and suggested solutions for better SQRs:
• Formulating SQRs is a specialised task which calls for officers who are knowledgeable, regarding availability and requirement of various technologies. Therefore selection of these officers should be due to demonstrated competence. If not, they would remain untrained and ill-equipped for the task.
• Irrelevant, unverifiable and non-essential parameters should be avoided. Too many minor details are actually not required in the SQR. These can be added into the RFP or the trial directive later. Words like ‘drivers and operator’s comfort’, ‘state of the art’, ‘compact’ ‘strong and sturdy’ are some words which are non-verifiable and must be avoided.
• Cost of each technology being sought should be weighed against requirement and this should be factored in the SQR.
• Language of the SQR must be universal and easily understandable and interpreted by vendors and the trial team alike so that multiple interpretations are not possible. Factors like temperature and weight could be in a band rather than being specific.
• SQRs should not be wish list for the future keeping the procurement time which takes from two to six or eight years. Also, provisions for upgrade or better technology could be considered in SQRs.
• Padding or increasing the written portion in a SQR, which could be a tendency by every higher level officer to add something new, should be avoided. SHQs must not work in water tight compartments and regular interaction on SQRs between officers of each Service must take place.
• The idea of leaving the proposal to categorization to SCAPCHC or DAC is also a good idea and must be considered. The SHQ should only forward the statement of case with the SQRs.