Millennium Post

General lowered bar, Tatra competing hard

General lowered bar,  Tatra competing hard
More than a month after former Army chief V K Singh retired from the forces, the CBI is still investigating the Tatra case and is mum on its findings so far in the Tatra-BEML truck deal. It has neither shot down the retired general’s accusations nor come clean on the truth of the claims he made just months before leaving office. But, in the mean time, the army has gone ahead and decided to include Tatra trucks in its ongoing trials, even though Singh's accusations threw open the competition.

Before he retired, the general had gotten his way by creating a ruckus in the media, thus ensuring that he threw the competition wide open for field trials currently underway for several other truck manufacturers, both Indian and foreign, though whether or not they are qualified is another question.

This process he started soon upon entering office, by getting the General Staff Quality Requirements (GSQR) changed through the defence ministry. Earlier, the GSQR framed in 1986 were more stringent, enabling only companies like Tatra to qualify for the specification-heavy trials. This has grave consequences for the army’s battle-preparedness, as it might compromise with the safety and performance of the trucks under adverse conditions. Why he compromised with these  specifications is a loaded question.

For example, the payload for different variants of trucks has now been decreased from 14,300 kilogrammes to 12,000 kilogrammes on highway, including the weight of crane, for the ongoing trials. The operating conditions for the trucks have been relaxed from a stringent low of –40 degrees centigrade and a high of +55 degrees centigrade to an easily manageable –10 degrees to +45 degree threshold.

This is even though in north India, various regions often suffer temperatures as low as –40 degrees centigrade or higher than 50 degrees centigrade. Similarly, slope and gradability requirements have been lowered drastically, and critical criteria such as ability to cross wide trenches or ability to climb vertical steps or steep slopes have either been watered down significantly or left out altogether. Where ground clearance needed earlier was 490/395 mm, it is now just 350 mm, so that uneven ground movement will become difficult and angle of departure has been reduced to 30 degrees from 41/38 degrees, so the trucks cannot manoeuvre through deep ditches, etc.

While the off-road trailer requirement was earlier 16,000 kilogrammes, there are no specifications laid out in the new trials. Similarly, earlier standards for fording with preparation and winch recovery have been done away with.

According to a Ministry of Defence official, 'Procurement of Tatra trucks were made on certain General Service Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) prescribed by the forces and no other Indian company was making a truck which satisfied these GSQR. The government procures as per requirement of the army, and the government does not impose anything. The army headquarters wanted to change the GSQR and conveyed to the government that the present GSQR was prepared way back in 1986. So on 26 September 2008, at the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) meeting that was attended by all three chiefs, it was decided to change the GSQRs. We have not procured a single truck from Tatra since the new GSQR. Recently, the GSQR for these trucks have been modified to enable competitive bidding, and now it is done on open competitive bidding.’

But, even after 26 years, why do we have to water down the specifications for other manufacturers to enable them to compete, when the best technology is available to all and should ensure a level-playing field?

On the number of these trucks being used by the Indian Army, he said, 'There are 7,000 Tatra trucks with the Army since 1986. None of the three services has complained against the Czech-origin trucks and these are all-weather trucks with swinging half axles, which are one of its kind. There are certain after sales service issues which keep coming up as they were procured over a period of 10 to 12 years. Some of them are quite old and need servicing and repairs. Whenever they get a request for replacement of parts, BEML has been doing it.'

The critical question then needs to be asked is if Tatra is blacklisted, as urged by Gen. V K Singh, what would be the fate of these 7,000 trucks, which, if not maintained by the vendor, will paralyse the operations of the Indian army, as it would take years to replace the Tatra presence in the Army.

Perhaps, this is why, notwithstanding the controversy, Tatra trucks produced by the state-owned BEML are taking part in the summer trials conducted by the Army for procuring trucks as High Mobility Vehicle ferry missile and artillery systems. The summer trials are being held in desert and hot and dusty conditions at different locations across the country, while the winter trials were held last year, according to Army sources. The Army is presently carrying out trials of six-wheeled trucks and Tatra is one of the six companies, including Tata and Ashok Leyland, which have taken part in the trials. However, even with the lower specifications, informed sources says, Tatra is outperforming its competitors.

The source added, ‘So on 26 September 2008, at the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) meeting that was attended by all three chiefs, it was decided to change the GSQRs. We have not procured a single truck from Tatra since the new GSQR. Recently, the GSQR for these trucks have been modified to enable competitive bidding, and now it is done on open competitive bidding.’
Moutussi Acharyya

Moutussi Acharyya

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