Decoding the GSQR Conundrum, Nuts and Bolts

Sub Title : The challenges in GSQR formulation and the way ahead

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 2 May – Jun 2021

Author : Lt Gen Sanjay Verma, PVSM, AVSM, VSM** (Retd)

Page No. : 31

Category : Military Affairs

: July 1, 2021

GSQR formulation is a key process in the entire acquisition cycle. However, in  many  instances GSQRs have been repeatedly amended or are too ambitious. This results in the entire process being thrown out of gear. Appropriately framed GSQRs are the need of the hour. The article looks at the challenges in GSQR formulation and suggests the way ahead

Defence Capability building is a continually evolving and dynamic process. Potential adversaries, threat analysis, technology imperatives, geopolitics coupled with National policies and aspirations are the significant drivers of this process. An important facet of this exercise is to timely identify capability voids and plan to  fill the same. Once the need to procure a certain type of equipment is established, the parameters that an equipment must have need to be worked out. These are referred to as the General Staff Qualitative Requirements or GSQRs.

The Dynamics

GSQRs are often criticised  blaming the user  for asking for the moon, being aspirational and looking only at cutting edge technologies and not wanting  what is perhaps indigenously available. The Services have also been blamed for being rigid and at times obliquely accused of tailoring the Service Qualitative Requirements (SQRs) to suit a particular weapon system. Such criticism led to  the Hon’ble FM  suggesting, in May 2020, that realistic SQRs be framed.

The Process

GSQR formulation is a key process in the acquisition cycle and the Request for Information (RFI) is the enabling activity which lays the foundation of  a GSQR. DAP 2020 elaborates the entire process from the mechanics part to qualifying the objective and content. Services are free to explore any avenue in seeking inputs on available products that meet operational parameters  to help formulate the SQRs. Information can be sought from anywhere in the world exploiting all possible sources be it defence attachés, internet, databases, journals, magazines, expos and all law enforcement agencies as  well.

The contents of a RFI therefore assume significance to enable generation of correct inputs. To that extent inputs sought right from basic specifications in terms of capability, timelines, volume, indigenisation level, transfer of technology, budgetary estimate, maintenance philosophy and certification and testing standards need to be exhaustive and need professional application, if justice is to be done.  Classification of parameters as Essential Parameters-A and Essential Parameters-B are enabling provisions besides the clause  of  Enhanced Performance Parameters (EPP) which specifically enables procurement of a technically superior product with suitable incentive to the vendor.

SQR & RFI formulation is a complex process involving collegiate vetting by a multitude of stakeholders  including the concerned Service HQ, HQ IDS, DRDO, DDP, DGQA, Standardisation, Technical Managers and any other departments deemed necessary. Interaction with vendors and industry is expected and legislated. GSQRs are  approved by the Staff Equipment Policy Committee.

The Challenges

  • RFI to GSQR. The RFI process as laid down is rather elaborate and exhaustive. It may not be wrong to say that at times it asks for too much detail at a stage where basics are to be sought. Looking at transfer of technology, indigenisation plans, maintenance support, offsets, trial methodology as also framing vendor criteria all together is a challenge for the staff at the line directorates. The inputs being sought need  to be framed with clarity leaving no ambiguity. The questions should lead to what the vendor has readily available as also what can be made available within realistic timelines and cost implications in order to arrive at correct classifications. More often than not the vendor provides inputs aligned with the user requirements and aspirations irrespective of existing capability.
  • Classification of Parameters. GSQR parameters are drawn up based on Request for Information and at times without mapping them to cost or stipulated timelines. No vendor will negate any desired parameter compliance in this query but  on the contrary will also make tall claims. This is the reason why the provisions of stipulating Essential Parameters -A and Essential Parameters -B have not found much headway. Enhanced Performance Parameters have also not been meaningfully exploited other than finding mention in some surveillance equipment and similar cases. This is a classic provision available to help procure T-1 and L-1 rather than the L-1 by default.
  • Interaction with Industry and Vendors. This can be termed as the nemesis. While the provisions give adequate opportunities for interaction and deliberations, the outcome is not what is desired. The conduct of these proceedings has to be deft and extremely professional to arrive at correct appreciation of capabilities. But owing to competition, lack of in-depth knowledge of existing systems, lack of domain knowledge of the technologies involved and forecasting of technology both from the user and industry perspective, this exercise leaves many questions unanswered.
  • Articulation of Parameters. An objective articulation of each parameter is the key to a realistic QR. Subjectivity in any manner is liable to interpretation as it suits a particular vendor. Further parameters , where required and feasible  must have a carefully calibrated broad band/range rather than being rigid.  Where deemed necessary EPP should be factored in to give flexibility of opting for a technically better product. It is also pertinent that this will also cater to any technological improvements made between the RFI stage and ultimate trial evaluation.
  • Careful Broad Banding of Parameters. This is something which needs immediate attention and the user alone can do this. The diversity of terrain in our context as also the operational challenges and deployment patterns are well known. Equipment which is required to operate in the deserts as well as high altitude will obviously need a QR that it should be capable of operating in temperature ranges from -40 deg C to + 50 deg C. However, in the case of terrain specific equipment we should make QRs basis the actual requirement.
  • Contemporary to Futuristic QRs. This is a challenge the user faces very frequently while framing QRs. While the process of RFI gives inputs about available capabilities as also technologies, the dilemma being faced is balancing between what is presently available and what is likely in the near future. During the acquisition  process it may well happen that available technology becomes less relevant and enhanced capabilities are available. Thus, we may be inclined to  factor in enhanced capabilities  in the QR at the very inception. However,  in this case the assurance of a reasonable vendor base, time factor in development,  availability of equipment for trials and  cost escalations are issues which will impact the process.
  • Global vs Indigenised Solutions. This is a factor which has assumed more relevance with our focus on an Atmanirbhar Bharat. It stands to logic and is in the spirit of spurring the Indian defence Industry. The quest for indigenous solutions has, however, always been there, be it in the categorization of procurement as evident from the various AoNs taken over last many years for big ticket procurements. To cite examples, for the  air defence radar systems or different missile systems proposed to be globally sourced the AoN categorically permitted only critical quantities to be imported and stipulated that the long-term requirements be met indigenously. However, the manifestation of the same has not been as desired.
  • Procedure and Process Inertia. The complete process from RFI to GSQR formulation is a file driven process, which given the set-up and mind set is mired in inordinate delays and deliberations. While two months is stipulated for a RFI it is virtually impossible to do justice to the type of inputs being sought. The GSQR process of stagewise collegiate meetings followed with a formal approval by the Staff Equipment Policy Committee involving multitude of stakeholders is a herculean task in itself.

Way Ahead

The freezing of GSQRs is a foundation over which the entire edifice is to come up and any weakness at this stage will lead to complications. While no fault can be found with the process per-se there is a need to provide agility to the dual task of RFI & GSQR formulation in order to make it relevant and time bound. A few recommendations in this direction are as under: –

  • There is a GSQR Cell existing in the Army Design Bureau. The GSQR Cell needs to be empowered and enabled. This will indeed enhance professionalism and accountability. As of now each RFI is initiated by the respective user i.e. the line directorate and a set of draft GSQRs drawn up which move up to the GSQR Cell and translated into final GSQRs before being presented to the approving committee.
  • However as seen the RFI is not a simple document and besides the operational parameters there are other inputs too – right from the basic specifications in terms of capability, timelines, volume, indigenisation level, transfer of technology, budgetary estimates, maintenance philosophy and certification and testing standards. These are rather exhaustive and need an in-depth professional application. The job involves expert knowledge, skill and awareness which spans across a range of technological fields, such as designing, maintenance, production, quality assurance/control and operation of equipment.
  • The GSQR Cell should also be made responsible for RFI with a nominated officer from the user directorate. Operational parameters being user driven and the rest of details being steered by the GSQR Cell will be a more effective method. This GSQR Cell should have embedded representatives from DRDO, DGQA, &DDP and incorporated members from CII/FICCI and SIDM etc. The GSQR Cell should also hire young systems engineers for a tenure of three to five years. Two to three retired officers having relevant exposure should also be hired. This will lead to a robust setup with a focussed professional outlook.
  • Defining boundaries to parameters is essential to avoid rigidity and also run into the risk of a single vendor situation. Parameters should be specified in an acceptable band.
  • Theatre Specific GSQRs are a reality and shying away from these on operational pretexts needs a hard look. The requirements need to be identified for each sector. There are certain weapon systems and equipment which can be confined to a particular sector without the need of deploying to another theatre. Examples are mini UAVs, surveillance equipment, mobility platforms, radars, communication systems and so on. Looking for a singular platform as the only solution which fulfils all parameters whether it is in plains, deserts or high altitude is fraught with risk of failure, protracted trials, delays not to mention the huge cost penalty.
  • Bold framing of Essential Parameters A and B will result in realistic setting of GSQRs with flexibility of evaluating and acceptance of parameters not immediately available but indicated by the vendor to be made available by the time the delivery commences. This will also help in user identifying critical requirements to be under Essential Parameters to be immediately available and reserving certain quantity to fructify in a later time frame with better technology.
  • Enhanced Performance Parameters provision should be fully exploited when a technologically superior item with better parameters is to be accepted. Very often one hears the criticism that L-1 criterion is the bane but  this provision can help go in  for L-1 and T-1, provided it had been thought of while framing the QRs.
  • GSQR vs PSQRs. This is something which is very pertinent to major platforms like Artillery Guns, Main Battle Tanks and other Force Multipliers. PSQRs or provisional QRs give the option of freezing the QR based on the achieved parameters and are not cast in stone. This is feasible in developmental projects through the DRDO. The Artillery Towed Advance Gun Systems is an apt example for which the DRDO is the nodal agency with two industry partners identified. As the development matures the achieved parameters subject to their operational acceptance will be frozen without the risk of closure of the case for not meeting the GSQR. This will also help in realising the overall need in a calibrated manner in a cost-effective manner and holds a lot of promise towards seeking Atmanirbharta.
  • Operational Parameters based on realistic threat assessment and identifying the capability voids and mitigation road map.

o             There is a need for correct appreciation of the requirement as also timelines.

o             This will reduce the need of frequent revision of GSQRs. After all planning is being done basis a long-term  perspective plan and if that be so then why the frequent revision or deliberations of GSQR.  There are many examples where the GSQRs have been frequently revised, sending wrong signals.

o             Technologies required in foreseeable future be flagged and assigned to R&D agencies.

Take the case of replacement of Capabilities for the Mechanised Forces in service as on date which has been in a loop for almost a decade. The Future Ready Combat Vehicle or New Generation Main Battle Tank or the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle whatever they be called are for next thirty-forty years. The technology has to be futuristic goes without saying. The replacement of the existing fleet can at best commence not earlier than five to seven years and spread to another ten years if not more and is contingent  on the capability of the Industry and budgetary constraints. Should this be on a common GSQR frozen today for the entire replacement?

Mid-course upgrades are always an option but the upgrades of BMP, T-72 and T-90 have had a slew of problems So, why can’t we think of the GSQR 1.0 to be so drawn that it addresses the capability void mitigation of defined numbers in a time bound manner with matured capabilities and GSQR 2.0 which becomes applicable to the next lot keeping pace with technological developments and capabilities as they mature. The induction, costs and development will be spread out rather than keep waiting for the very best in the first platform itself. The industry and the development agencies would also be clear in the intent.

There is a need to break the mind sets and do things differently. As  enunciated above there are various options available. The procedures are enabling but merely travelling the beaten path will not yield results. As technology is rapidly advancing, we should break the requirements, procure small numbers, procurements be specific to theatre and keep abreast with what technology has to offer. For larger platforms think long term and draw a capability void mitigation plan for each weapon system. We need to choose an appropriate procurement strategy. Here sustenance issues and lifetime support are relevant and must be factored in.

To conclude it may not be wrong to state that the criticism so often made on GSQRs is not truly justified as the processes and procedures are more than flexible, enabling and accommodative but yes, their implementation coupled with lack of imaginative thinking perhaps by all the stakeholders falls short of expectations resulting in this perception.