Effectiveness of Quality Assurance (QA) in Army Procurements

December 7, 2012
Event: 
Fellows' Seminar

Chairperson: Brig Rumel Dahiya (Retd)
External Discussants: Lt Col Sanjay Pande, Lt Col VS Raghuvanshi and Col OP Singh
Internal Discussant: Col Venu Gopal

Major Highlights of the Paper:

This is second paper of a research project entitled “Synergising QA for Speedy Defence Procurement and Ensuring Quality.” The first paper studied various aspects of quality assurance (QA) in army procurements, from a point of view of efficiency. The current paper critically analyses the effectiveness of the QA in Army procurements and looks at the ways in which the failure data collected from the defects reported on newly acquired equipment during their warranty period can be used to strengthen the Quality of QA.

The difficult and inhospitable terrains (from Thar to Siachen, the variation in temperature is more than 100 degrees) in which the Indian Army has to operate warrants that the soldier and equipment both have to be rugged enough to bear this variation in terrain and climate. One such instance of terrain difficulty was the high failure rates of INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) at Kargil, where the rifle encountered some reliability problems in the very cold climate. The paper therefore stresses the imperative that the equipment in the hands of soldiers must be of superb quality and ought to have a high in-built reliability, in addition to being rugged. The QA of the equipment must therefore be focused to ensure these aspects.

Delving on the effectiveness or lack thereof of QA, the paper says that an effective QA of equipment will ensure that the equipments perform their intended function under given operating conditions, repeatedly, with the optimum maintenance when operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Effective QA in turn ensures that there are no or negligible complaints against the product that has been quality-assured. An ineffective QA on the other hand is evident from the numerous complaints of product failure, especially during its warranty period and for reasons attributable to the design, material and production process, once the product is put into service.

The basic argument in the paper is that the well established system of defect reporting, which happens to be the most important feedback from the user, is not being fully exploited to trace back the causes that lead to occurrence of defects in field. A detailed analysis of the contemporary defect reporting practice and what ails it has been carried out. Some of the major findings of the study are:

  • Though the time lines for defect reporting and investigation are clearly laid down, they are seldom followed. Investigation and closure of many defects takes more than six months and in quite a few cases more than a year. Keeping defective equipment for such long duration without preservation causes further deterioration and also deprives the user of the services of that equipment.
  • The user feels maximum pinch if only one number of that type of equipment is authorised to them on which the defect report is initiated. For instance, if only one generating set is authorised to a minor unit deployed in an operational area, and that remains unavailable to them for want of a defect investigation for a year, the unit is condemned to live without electricity for that duration, unless it borrows one from some other unit.
  • Many times the officers commanding workshops are under tremendous pressure to improve equipment availability, which discourages them from reporting certain defects, and instead carry out repairs of the defective equipment and put them back into service. Thus many defects go unreported, leading to a distortion in the feedback data on QA through defect reporting.
  • In case of equipment not being under warranty period, there is a tendency to avoid defect reporting.
  • Multiplicity of agencies involved in the QA process makes coordination difficult, leading to poor QA at times.
  • QA of products offered by Ordnance Factories and Defence Public Sector Undertakings need a complete revamp.

To improve effectiveness of QA in Army procurements, the paper makes following important recommendations:

  • DGQA must constantly strive to improve the quality or effectiveness of the QA it does on the equipment procured, by making corrections in their QA tools on the basis of dual input i.e. feedback from the field Army in the form of Defect Reports (DRs), as well as from expert judgement.
  • The Officers and staff of DGQA undergoing various courses at Defence Institute of Quality assurance (DIQA) can be given projects on individual cases as part of their course curriculum.
  • It is imperative to maintain a database of DRs at AsHSP or technical directorates in a suitable form and regularly update them.
  • It is necessary that the users (field Army) report the defects meticulously.

The paper concludes by saying that in order to ensure that for the Indian Army to perform its operational tasks efficiently and effectively, it is necessary that only high quality and reliable equipment and weapon system are provisioned. QA organisation responsible for ensuring quality and reliability of these equipment and weapon systems therefore needs to be empowered by the Department of Defence Production. The organisation too, needs to empower itself internally by continuously improving its ability and upgrading its skills. Creation of a Quality Assurance Information System (QAIS) based on the suggested model, wherein feedback from users is analysed to identify the root cause of the problems and their application to relevant activity of QA, coupled with expert judgement in the form of internal and external audit of the quality of QA, would prevent stagnation of these activities and result in a dynamically improving and evolving effectiveness of the organisation, which is highly desirable at the moment.

Major Points of discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

  • There is involvement of multiple agencies in the QA process from DRDO to DGQA. Synergisation of efforts therefore becomes necessary in order to achieve desired results.
  • Quality starts from raw material stage, whereas the quality check commences at a much advanced stage of weapon development. This gap sometimes leads to poor quality weapons getting quality clearance.
  • The failure or defect reporting system has its own problems, which results in less number of defect reports. Online filling of DRs should be permitted to expedite the reporting process. Moreover, instead of waiting for the equipment to break down, advance defects report can be sent based on the performance monitoring of the weapon. It should be ensured that DRs are not confined to manufacturing defect alone; rather it should also incorporate defects arising out of poor maintenance.
  • Sampling procedure of DGQA and QA of items developed by DRDO can be looked into to suggest measures to plug the gaps in the system.
  • The real test of the equipment is not in its survivability during the warranty period, but through the life-cycle of the weapon, as there is less likelihood of the weapon developing problem in its early years.
  • It is not possible to check at design stage weapons that are produces abroad, because DGQA cannot afford to place its staff for the entire duration of designing, which is usually very long.
  • A comparative study of QA process in some advanced countries should be undertaken to learn the best practices in QA.
  • There are 16 functions of DGQA in its Charter of duties. But there is a question mark whether the DGQA is adequately staffed to perform these duties.

Report prepared by Amit Kumar, RA, IDSA