Indian Army soldiers use a field radio while searching for the wreckage from two Indian Air Force Jaguar bombers. India's much-delayed new tactical communication system faces additional hurdles. (Agence France-Presse)
NEW DELHI — India’s overdue Tactical Communication System (TCS) may be further delayed or fail because development will be restricted to domestic companies under the procurement category called “Make India,” experts and Army officials said.
“The main challenge is adopting a completely new set of procedures for Make for the first time in the form of experimentation with the Army, which is hardly prepared for the same,” said defense Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier.
“Make requires extensive interaction and synergy with numbers of agencies by the Corps of Signal in the lead; more time has been spent in understanding the system, which itself has flaws, than activating procurement. Buy and Make may have been a better option which would have facilitated acquiring project management expertise in the initial stage,” Bhonsle said.
TCS is a $2 billion network-centric warfare system to provide a secure, digitized communication network linking troops on the battlefield with theater command-and-control centers. TCS must be transportable in mountainous and desert terrain, and will be able to transmit large amounts of data, such as maps or video, and can be linked to data from UAVs, an Army official said.
Last year, the Defence Ministry shortlisted two domestic competitors, including the consortium made up of private sector defense majors Larsen & Toubro, Tata Power SED and HCL, which will compete against state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd.
The Defence Ministry sent Staff Qualitative Requirements to the two competitors last month asking them to give a detailed project report by January. Thereafter, each of the two competitors will have to build two prototypes of the TCS at a cost of about $50 million, which will then be put to trials.
Under the Make India category, the government will contribute nearly 80 percent toward the cost of the prototypes and the remainder will be borne by the competitor.
The prototypes will undergo user trials by the Indian Army. After the trials, the selected competitor would produce the entire Tactical Communication System.
Analysts are critical of the Make India procedures, noting such a big-ticket project has never been built under this category.
“The root of the problem is with the Make procedure itself,” defense analyst K.V. Kuber said. “The formulation is so complicated and some specific points have a potential bias for certain sections of the industry. The procedure is not inclusive, and the Ministry of Defence may find itself tied up in knots during the implementation of such a complicated procedure.”
An Army official said the service has been demanding TCS since 1996, but expressed doubt it would ever be successfully built under the Make India category.
An executive of Tata Power SED refused to comment on when the project will be built but said the firm has the capability to develop TCS.