Indian Army is still waiting on the delivery of its last order for old-style combat boots, which will arrive by 2019. Ironically, Indian manufacturers export high-quality combat boots to the US Army.
Former Army officials believe that it is the Army’s convoluted procurement process that is at fault for the delay.
ThePrint asks- Indian soldiers without quality combat boots: Misplaced defence spending priorities or procurement red tape?
Services decide design of combat boots, not defence ministry
Former financial advisor (Acquisition), ministry of defence, and former distinguished fellow, IDSA
The services lay down the specifications for the item that is to be procured. Then, the RFP — request for proposal — is issued. Once the bids are received, these are evaluated and, if required, negotiations are conducted with the lowest bidder. On completion of the negotiations, the order is placed with the approval of the competent financial authority.
If the value of the contract is within the financial power delegated to the services, the defence ministry’s approval is not required, but in case the estimated value of procurement is beyond the delegated powers, the proposal is processed by the ministry with inputs from the services.
For revenue procurement, full powers are exercised by the defence minister and the lower functionaries, including those in the services.
Hypothetically speaking, even if the amount is Rs 1,000 crore, the defence minister has full powers to sanction it. This is as far as it goes.
As far as the design of the combat boots is concerned, it is something that the services decide, not the ministry of defence. This is true for all items, be it boots, a bulletproof jacket, or even a capital item like a tank. The services have an elaborate procedure to lay down the qualitative requirements of every item.
Army commanders also have special financial powers that allow them to procure items from the market in case of an emergency.
Not all orders are delivered in one consignment. Supplies are often staggered over several years, especially if the order entails large quantities. At times, this is also because of the constraints of the production capacity of the suppliers.
Acquisition of shoes takes same time as procurement of sensitive weapon system
Lt. Gen. S.L. Narasimhan (Retd)
Member, National Security Advisory Board, and Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies
Two issues need to be looked into in this regard. One is whether the Indian soldier is poorly kitted. The kit that he carries does not conform to the requirements of the modern battlefield. A lighter, weather-proof combat kit has been elusive. As far as the issue of combat shoe is concerned, the requirement of the Indian soldier is a bit complex. He has to operate in jungles, desert, plains, high altitude and snow-bound terrain. The basic DMS boots need a drastic change. In addition, there is a requirement for shoes for different terrain.
The selection of a replacement is hindered both by bureaucratic issues and Army’s own trial process. Different units deployed in different terrain carry out the trials. If a negative response comes from any of the units, the selection process is unduly delayed. The acquisition of a simple thing like shoes also takes the same time as procurement of a sensitive weapon system. Bureaucratic issues also ensure that the procurement is delayed on mundane requirements. So, what should be done?
First, there is enough capacity and capability in India’s civil industry to cater to the requirements of armed forces. Once a specific company and the product are approved by due process, subsequent approvals should be delegated in the true sense.
Second, the Integrated Financial Advice (IFA) system adds to the woes. An integrated procurement team at all levels up to division is the need of the hour. It should have representatives from the user, the IFA and quality assurance. Its performance should be evaluated on the number of procurements it has been able to successfully conclude. Third, armed forces need to be agile in inventory management and carrying out trials, and be proficient in procurement procedures.
It’s not just about shoddy boots, it’s about misplaced priorities
Editor, Defence and Security Alert, and BJP MLA
The speed and alacrity of defence purchases are directly proportional to their display value at the Republic Day parade. This snide observation has been proven correct time and again.
Back in the 1990s, the insurgency was at its peak in Jammu and Kashmir, and militants numbered in the thousands against the few hundreds today. The Army first tested the T-90 tank in the Russian steppe during the winter. At the same time, Army units were carrying out road opening and area-domination operations in the Kashmir Valley without the requisite number of snow boots.
Another striking example is how Jodhpur’s markets were flooded with an outstanding amount of desert camouflage pattern cloth because the Army was deployed there for Operation Parakram. The official Army camouflage pattern was, of course, olive green for the desert, while the Jodhpur market was selling the US military pattern export surplus stocks.
So it isn’t simply a question of boots being shoddy and inadequate, or having combat clothing that doesn’t match the environment, it is about where our priorities are. Ammunition purchase is also a victim of this apathy.
In both cases, the priorities begin with the Army headquarters. Somewhere in the labyrinth corridors of Army headquarters, they lose their way or fall by the wayside. For the next few decades, India’s primary military operation will be counter-insurgency, low-intensity type, which requires a long slog. A good boot and clothing is essential for it.
Remember the old adage: we should learn to walk first before trying to run or fly!
Ordnance factory should focus on ammunition, not boots & uniforms
Brig. S.K. Chatterji (Retd)
When I was serving, the quality of boots was not exactly as bad as it is being portrayed. By and large, the combat gear was of good quality.
The issue, however, is that the boot should have improved with time. The necessary upgrades that were needed to make it better weren’t carried out. Despite the fact that the boot was supposed to be ankle length, its design was too low. Since it was low, we needed to add extra ankle protection against snake and insect bites. The Indian market was already producing and exporting such designs, but we didn’t have them.
The leather of the boot was too tough. This is also something that should have been improved but wasn’t. The ordinance factory that manufactures all this gear is only part of the problem. Then there is the issue of delayed procurement. The boots would remain in various depots for a long time before they were issued. This would further harden the leather. The boot would soften up after being used for sometime.
Items like uniforms and boots need not be manufactured by the ordnance factory at all. They should focus on items that are difficult to outsource like ammunition.
By bringing in private players, we can completely eliminate this problem. A variety of designs would be readily available and the military services can choose the one that suits them best.
Army needs support not just from public sector, but also private players
Retired Air Vice Marshal of the IAF, and visiting fellow at Oxford
The widespread criticism of the poorly equipped Indian soldier can be looked at through two prisms.
On one hand, if one benchmarks the personal equipment, including shoes, all-weather clothing, helmets, bulletproof vests, night-vision devices and light weapons, against those with soldiers in the West and in smaller Asian armies like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, there is a wide gap.
However, if one benchmarks it against the ordinary PLA soldier and against what existed in the pre-Siachen and Operation Pawan times, there have been wide-ranging improvements, particularly in terms of high-altitude equipment and battle-kits for the special and elite forces. But much of these improvements can be attributed to large-scale imports.
The only way the ordinary infantryman or counter-insurgency formations can improve on this is with indigenous development, and that is where a familiar storyline plays out. The same is the case with personal weapons like assault rifles, and close-combat weapons. The bottom line is that India’s million-strong Army needs far greater support from not only the public sector, but also from the private sector.
My own experience in the IAF with flying clothing, with respect to indigenous quality, is far from satisfactory. Much ground has been covered, but much needs to be done.
Had Army gone ahead with smaller order, procurement would have been faster
Amrita Nayak Dutta
The Army being deprived of good-quality combat boots for decades is a result of the failure in prioritising on soldier gear and the long and complex defence procurement process in India.
First, despite multiple complaints about uncomfortable and non-durable combat boots manufactured by the ordnance factory boards (OFB) for decades, the Army brass has lacked the will to act on the issue.
One reason for this is that Army personnel had ended up buying their own boots over the years and had nearly accepted that they would have to make do with it, given that the rules mandated that boots had to be procured from the OFB.
Second, the procurement process for something as basic as footwear for the Army can go on for years, and is prone to red tape and graft.
A classic example here is the sports shoe procurement for the Army that started around 2005-2007. After multiple user trials and feedback from the world over, the process met a dead end with objections from animal rights activists over the use of leather. Now, even a decade later, fresh field trials for the sports shoes are yet to begin.
Even in the recent case, 12.72 lakh such boots are currently at the contract or price-negotiation stage under the defence ministry, adding to the delay. Had the Army gone ahead with a smaller order, the financial powers would have remained with the Army and the procurement would have been faster.
Further, the ‘lowest bidder’ factor in the tender process means Indian soldiers cannot have boots which ironically India exports to other countries.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, journalist at ThePrint. You can reach her on twitter @deekbhardwaj.