The defence Ministry's fast track procedure (FTP) for buying weapon systems to cater to urgent operational requirements appears to have been riddled with holes in the past, presenting a scenario which is no less than a nightmare for the armed forces.
The FTP, introduced three years after the Kargil war, allows the defence establishment to go around the laid down procurement policy to plug gaps in the military's war-waging capabilities.
The procedure has been invoked on several occasions in the recent years to bail out the armed forces but the outcome has not been good enough.
It has now come to light that the defence ministry compromised competitiveness, in terms of adequate vendor identification in the name of urgency, but the forces did not get any corresponding benefit.
A CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report tabled in Parliament earlier in May shows that weapon systems that should have been inducted in the army within 12 months were not made available to the forces anywhere close to that deadline. In fact, the ministry took, in some cases, more than four years merely to the sign the contract. The CAG has reproached the defence ministry for time overruns in weapon induction saying it has defeated the very purpose for which the FTP was invoked.
A striking example of a fast track buy going awry is the purchase of electronic warfare systems for the army. The contract in this case was signed more than four years after the ministry approved the procurement under FTP. The purchase of extended range rockets also met similar fate. A contract was signed in December 2005 though the FTP was invoked in August 2002. Of course, more time was required for completion of delivery.
The procedure was also adopted for buying unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, explosive detectors and weapons and equipment for special forces but it failed to produce the desired results. The FTP does away with critical elements of the procurement rigmarole such as issue of request for proposals, technical evaluation and trial evaluation for purchasing an established and tested product.
The CAG report has reproved the defence ministry for going in for the FTP when its application was not justified in a few cases. For instance, it says that electronic warfare systems for Kargil and northeast were an urgent requirement in 1999 when the case for procurement was initiated. But it was brought under the FTP in October 2001, by when it could have been procured through the normal procedure.
The revised FTP-2006 provides that the contract should be signed within five months of initiation and delivery be completed within three to 12 months of signing of contract.