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IDSA COMMENT

Future Challenges for Quality Assurance (QA)

May 28, 2013

Introduction

With the new Defence Production Policy (DPP) in place and the likelihood of increased participation of indigenous private players in R&D as well as production of defence systems, the Directorate General of Quality assurance (DGQA) is going to be confronted with new challenges for which it needs to be well prepared. One major complaint of the DGQA vis-à-vis the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is that the latter does not seriously involve the former in its developmental projects. This invariably leads to numerous problems, particularly since all the activities involving testing and evaluation are carried out by DRDO during the development stage of its products. However, in the case of future projects, which may be entrusted to private players, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is likely to invest a substantial amount of funds. Thus, there would be a need of entrusting a monitoring agency to update on the progress of the projects and ironing out technical hitches. But more importantly, ensuring that the operability, quality, reliability, maintainability, technological modernity as well as integrity of the product under development is in consonance with the aspiration of the user (the services in this case) to the extent possible. This is where a heterogeneous mix of various members from user, maintaining agency, DGQA, bureaucracy, etc., are likely to work under the supervision of a common project manager.

Expectations from DGQA

In order to contribute constructively towards development of a desired product, the DGQA shall need to plan and list accordingly the activities it may be called upon to perform. ‘Testing and Evaluation’ for quality is one such envisaged role. Information collected through each stage of testing and evaluation will be the most important input for five major functions:

  • QA tests required in the next stage of product development and creation of the test facilities that would be necessary for conduct of those tests.
  • Monitoring the progress in the product development and determining the time required for production.
  • Improvement in the product design for better performance and reduction in costs using the principles of value engineering.
  • Checking of the product specifications against the requirement projected by the users.
  • Determining the operator and maintenance training requirement.

Envisaged Future Role

From Quality Assurance Plans (QAPs), the DGQA would be required to graduate to Quality Support Plans (QSPs) which would facilitate and enable it to provide all the inputs at various stages of R&D and production of a defence system. The QSPs prepared will have to be amalgamated in the Total Quality Management (TQM) philosophy of the respective industry that is called upon to develop a particular system. For this reason, the QSPs have to be designed to be flexible to accommodate the TQM of various manufacturers. Also, developmental ‘Testing and Evaluation’ will have to be planned to address the following requirements:

  • Identification of technical capabilities and limitations of available concepts and design options under consideration.
  • Listing the stresses that the system under development will have to be subjected to, in order to ensure robust design, short listing of most suitable materials and best production processes.
  • Assessment of project to ensure that the critical technical and operational parameters envisaged by the user are met.
  • Certifying the system’s readiness for operational or field evaluation based on analyses of the test data.

Though many tests being performed by DGQA during No-Cost, No-Commitment (NCNC) trials shall have to be shifted to testing and evaluation of the defence systems at developmental stage, yet the contemporary practice of QA at production stage for acceptance of the product shall remain with DGQA. Another major difference between such developmental projects and the QA practice in present day procurement cases would be that the QA testing and evaluation in the former case would have to precede the field/operational evaluation trials. The QA personnel would also be required to assist the field trial teams in carrying out operational testing and evaluation of the product as hither-to-fore.

Focus Areas

During the development of a defence system, a pro-active approach by the DGQA would call upon the organisation to focus upon three major areas: critical operational parameters, critical technical parameters and the measures of effectiveness and suitability. Critical operational issues would necessarily mean that the system, when fully developed, shall be able to perform its specified mission, for example, in the case of a weapon system, to successfully engage intended target at desired range while being operated safely in a combat zone. Critical technical parameters would be the engineering design and material factors that the system must meet or exceed to ensure that established performance thresholds are achieved. Measures of effectiveness and suitability would determine the extent to which the system would perform its intended mission and the interoperability, reliability and maintainability of the system respectively.

Conclusion

Call for self reliance in development and production of defence systems has opened a new vista for private indigenous industry. However, this being an extremely challenging task, the indigenous private players would look at DGQA for guidance and expert advice in development of quality defence systems. In order to achieve this, the DGQA shall need to plan in advance and gear up for the new opportunity of producing cutting edge defence systems for the armed forces.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.