Every country’s might is determined by the kind of
defence force it has. Now with the pervasive impact of IT, defence
establishments across the world are embracing information technology in a big
way. With defence becoming one promising vertical for IT solution providers, Dataquest
took upon the mantle of understanding the levels of IT adoption and usage in
this area. To this end, a panel of eminent defence personnel gathered in Delhi
for the Dataquest-SAP CIO Meet and deliberated on the topic–"IT in
Defence". The panel consisted of Capt Ganesh K Vanapalli, joint
director, directorate of IT, Naval HQ; Col LR Kar, Joint director,
directorate of standardization, Ministry of Defence; Brigadier Jagdish
Malhotra, Army HQ (Signals); Sq Leader Sudhir Saxena, research fellow—IDSA
and moderator of the event; Wing Cdr V Kumar; Commodore Navin Chandra
VSM (Retd) & CEO (Indian Operations), Infinite Computer Solutions; Wg Cdr BG
Bhalla (Retd), VSM; Cdr Anil Saxena, Convergent Technologies; Lt Col BD
Jayant (retd); and Air Marshall PC Vajpayee (retd), Maintenance
Command, IAF. Excerpts from the discussion:
The state of information technology
Sq Leader Sudhir Saxena: The subject of discussion is indeed macroscopic. I
would broadly classify IT implementation into two broad areas–one is the
classical application of IT as it is available and applicable to the corporate
world or any large information management organization. The second relates to
operational applications. It is important for us to dwell on the kind of IT
applications that power our defence establishment and look at the larger vision
the services have envisaged in the early years which set the course for the
present IT initiatives.
Air Marshall Vajpayee: IT and other related subjects play a very
important role for defence. It is really a force multiplier. We have been using
this word quite often but essentially their particular field multiplies the
effectiveness of any force. We started our IT initiatives in the early 1970s
with the formation of the national development council at that time. We also
invited industries, and defence personnel to get their point of view. But the
exercise was not much of a success for the simple reason that the order was not
for the private industries and it also called for huge capital investments.
Nevertheless this process has continued in small forms over the years. And as a
result we have implemented customized components and are going in for major
Capt Vanapalli: In the Navy we have put in place an Integrated
Logistic Management System (ILMS), the first successful enterprise-wide
inventory management system in the defence services. The system has really taken
off successfully, mainly because the officers within the navy developed it
totally in-house, with no industry participation other than outsourcing the
original software used for it. The other reason the system succeeded is due to
the domain expertise of the developers. The IT industry has developed so many
applications, but many had failed when it was implemented in the defence
establishments. They have failed, because the developers lacked the domain
Sudhir Saxena: How do we visualize outsourcing requirements? Hidden in
that is a very basic agenda whether defence wants to open itself for complete
application and engineering integration along with a set up or we want to do all
the things ourselves?
Col Kar: I think the major issue here is standardization. We would
endeavor to have a single standardized system for the defence services. But the
problem is, as individual organizations, these entities are too big by
themselves to have standards of their own. Furthermore the operating models of
the army, navy, and the air force are different. As far as the hardware is
concerned, standardization is inevitable.
I agree with you to a certain extent. For instance the Navy has created their
logistic management system. So have the air force and the army. The case in
point is three different organizations are helping this activity. This is where
standardization is required.
Brig Jagdish Malhotra: Inside the army DRDO and outside, I have
handled some of the largest software projects in the country. So when we talk of
things like standardization, we need to clearly map the quality requirements and
should aim for integration of the solutions with other sub units within the
Com Batra: The dilemma we have been talking about is not due to the
failure of the industry of not understanding the quality requirements. The
problem I think is related to the fast obsolescence in IT. I think the IT
industry has matured now because of the bandwidth. Moreover, the hardware is
much ahead of what we need. What we now need is to get both the industry and the
defense to sit together and put in place a common IT architecture that really
adds value. I somehow do not agree that we should pursue our own systems in
house, because of the basic reason that there are frequent transfers. Even the
people who are managing projects keep shifting.
Sudhir Saxena: Another point, which I would like to touch upon, is
security, and that brings to a very important feature of IT application in
Brig Malhotra: Well, there is a forum that exists within the army, the
navy and the air force called the steering committee. It is chaired at a very
high rank and they do take care of the security aspect, which is common to the
all the three services and is well taken care of. The basic point I would like
to stress is that the industry must support our systems for longer duration. The
industry has to come to us. And we are looking at support for the next 15 years
even if the systems get a little outdated vis-Ã -vis the current market trends.
Defence cannot chase technology, particularly in our country because of the
economic constraints. Everybody wants the moon; I would like to have it as well.
It is feasible and practical. As far as security is concerned, we need to follow
the policy of some little development within, without compromising our issues.
Sanjay Dhingra (SAP): In the last ten years, the scenario has totally
changed. As far as the defence forces are concerned, all over the world, if you
look back, particularly after the demise of Soviet Union, we have paradoxically
seen a large number of conflicts. So all the nations today around the world
should be geared up to respond. It is very important to keep some aspects,
within the organization where the security levels are required at a very high
level but from the operational point of view. Being from the industry I feel
that we can add a lot of value. The US navy, which is one of the accounts we
implemented an enterprise IT wide solution for, has more than a fleet of 300
ships and when we started implementing IT systems for them, they had 99 legacy
systems. If you see any government organization, not only in our own country,
anywhere around the world would have thousands of legacy systems already running
because IT has been there for a number of years now. The challenge of how to
incorporate the legacy system into a standard system without compromising on the
security is the key issue.
Wing Cdr Kumar: I have seen sides, defence, and industry. I was in the
US for four years. The important point, which was raised, was how to economize
the defence requirements because the funds are limited. I think there are three
or four aspects to it. The fist aspect is that unless the industry knows the
requirements it cannot produce good solutions.
Vajpayee: Some kind of beginning has already been made. If you have
seen MoD’s website, they have promised that all the future contract
requirements, projects will be posted on the website. So one can have a look at
it. But still we have a long way to go. But we are certainly making progress in
Sanjay Dhingra: We should start focusing on the larger picture like
post planning and command management, acquisition, investment management, asset
management system so that you can have global visibility of your assets. Taking
the other point of how we can interface the industry with defence forces–In
fact SAP has got a forum, which we call as the Industry Forum in which we have
21 industries. We are going to start this forum from the next year in India
where we would also invite people from the defence to understand their point of
view of IT and support issues.
Brig Malhotra: I think in defence, IT has to be used in a better way.
A project starts with a Rs 100-crore outlay, it goes on till Rs 600 crore and
then, it is shelved.
Sudhir Saxena: So how are we going to enable the industry to know that
we need this relevant domain knowledge?
Capt Vanapalli: Let me make it very clear to the industry that our
focus or the instructions from the top is to outsource and not develop as our
senior colleagues have already brought out. We are not here to develop software
for the navy. Our core competency is something else; let this be very clear to
the industry. There are no limits, let me repeat, there is no shortage of money
in the services as long as it goes into the right projects and for the ultimate
aim for which it is going to be used. But it takes time. The industry should
realize that if today you give me a proposal, tomorrow you cannot expect to get
an order. It takes time and it can range even between two to four years.
There are many sanctioned projects, which are already in hand by services or
DRDO, or R&D units. Now these organizations are looking at subcontracting
modules out of these, which they are doing already. Because they want to reduce
costs and the effort in that area. The industry should target those projects,
which are already sanctioned, and the budgets are there where the local
organization have the power. You don’t have to go to defense or Army HQ for
sanctioning it. These organizations have full powers to offload and they are
looking for good organizations to come and interact with them.
Sudhir Saxena: Let us be realistic that IT is a force multiplier but
not a force by itself. Since they are termed as force or effort multiplier, they
do essentially form the core part of the entire modernization endeavor, which is
taken up by defence HQ and MoD. We also need to submit that we do not have
budget constraints as far as defence of the country is concerned. It is a non
-planned expenditure, which is not planned by planning commission. So we do not
have any constraints. But we do work under a procedural framework, which we have
inherited over a period of time and have served the country well. So keep that
in mind when you decide to clash with the warriors head on!