(Published in Defence ProAc Biz News Jul-Aug 2013)
Navy’s Need for Quality Based Structural Change
With a small close knit group of about 150 Naval Armament Inspection (NAI) officers and about 800 odd civilian technical officers and staff, the Naval Armament Inspection Organisation is perhaps the least known specialisation of the Executive Branch of the Indian Navy. Even within Indian Navy; unlike the well known other specialisations of Aviation, Submarine, Gunnery, Anti Submarine warfare, Navigation, Communication etc.; the NAI has maintained a low profile and carried on with its task of ensuring availability of safe and serviceable armament to the warships, be it gunnery ammunition, rockets, torpedoes, mines, missiles or bombs, nothing embarks the warship without being ascertained about its fit status by the NAI. Therefore it may be worthwhile to cast a look back about the NAI organisation through which the Indian Navy assures its armament and thereafter discuss its unique structure in the Indian Navy.
The NAI organisation has been entrusted a very wide ranging role by the Navy, which includes participation in naval armament through design, development, production, induction and in-service surveillance (ISS) and certification for disposal. This ‘womb to tomb’ approach by Indian Navy on armament empowers DGNAI to embrace as applicable, aspects of inspection, quality control, quality assurance, audit and surveillance. The above implies that either NAI maintains its original christened nomenclature or go in for an all encompassing one, which does not have a practical appeal. Therefore, despite the exponentially expanded mandate, the Navy continues to use the traditional nomenclature of NAI. It would be worthwhile to look at the role of NAI, which provides it, its distinctive features as compared to other QA organisations.
In Service Inspection (ISS)
The primary role for which the NAI was created continues to be the ‘In Service Inspection’ (ISS) of Naval Armament. It is this feature which differentiates the NAI from the other QA agencies; whose role practically ends with successful supply of the armament (they do not participate in ISS); in that it ensures the serviceability of naval armament throughout its service life, which may extend for 2/3 decades if not more. The NAI has dedicated permanent trained service officers, civilian technical officers and technical staff for carrying out these tasks. This ensures that the NAI is held accountable for ensuring that OEM mandated maintenance routines, and repairs, upgrades etc. are properly carried out during the entire duration of the life of a naval armament store. It has to be appreciated that the maintenance agencies for such stores namely the Naval Armament Depots and the naval establishments have on their part, carried out their tasks in an admirable fashion, leading to no embarrassing situations at sea till date.
The factor of permanency of the officers and civilian cadre has ensured that they can be surgically trained for specific tasks and also cross trained at depots in three commands during their service. The NAI officers, today are direct entry engineers. On joining they undergo an armament QA specialist course with a large number of them doing in service MTech from IITs/BARC, in subjects like reliability, electronics and nuclear science and technology. The civilian cadre has an enviable training plan covering their initial, mid course and senior level with courses at reputed institutes like the DIAT, Universities, Dockyard training centres and such other as decided by the Navy.
This has led to development of an experienced workforce adapt at being multi tasked to meet naval armament contingencies. In addition the NAI has over the decades developed a formidable data bank of test results, protocols, exercise firing details, failure investigation results, and proof data etc. which arm it with a resource which is unparalleled. This enables it to forecast with great confidence, tests/requirements regarding the life assessment of explosives, armament and guided weapons. In addition, the exposure to naval armament from various sources (east, west and indigenous) has enabled the NAI to develop and promulgate its own comprehensive inspection procedure documentation for use at floor level.
Navy has created state of the art test facilities (manned by trained NAI personnel) for meeting its in-service surveillance requirements to ensure that serviceable armament is available to the warships at the shortest notice, this has not only cut out large delays but has also led to savings in vital FFE for the nation. The NAI has its own NABL accredited test equipment calibration labs for calibration of sophisticated workshop test equipment.
The breakup of the erstwhile Soviet Union led to virtual stoppage of spares and equipment and forced the Navy to task the NAI for undertaking life assessment (LA) programme for life expired missiles and torpedoes. The NAI, drawing upon its decades of experience, data banks and self generated documentation came up with a calibrated approach, which today has fructified in to complete indigenous development of explosive components as well as helped tide over a complex operational availability problem for the Indian Navy. The Army and the Air force have also benefitted from the naval approach.
Stringent Procedures. NAI is known for being a stickler to the written word and for being very strict as far as inspection procedures and adherence to production drawings is concerned. This is a fact and this approach has paid rich dividends to the Navy in reducing the number of serious naval armament failures at sea. The sea environment is equally vicious and corrosive to the explosives, rubbers, metals and electronics, and unlike the land based services there is no alternative for the warship; in case of an armament malfunction/failure; but to return to harbour in peace time or face fatal consequences in war. There are enough examples of the NAI providing constructive and innovative solutions to technical issues which have saved both time and money for the production agencies and resulted in indigenisation of successful complex systems.
Required Structural Changes
Currently DGNAI functions directly under the administrative and technical control of the Vice Chief of Naval Staff (VCNS), an arrangement which has not only withstood the test of time, but demonstrated adequate capability to adapt to requirements arising from the breakup of the Soviet Union and advent of modern day guided weapons. The structure has faultlessly served the QA/QC/ISS requirements of the Indian Navy to its full satisfaction, so much so that the sister services have always aspired for a similar structure to take care of the quality of their armament. The structure provides for quick redressal of service needs and ensures proactive constructive approach in resolving technical issues, aimed at providing the Navy with safe, secure and reliable armament. The requirements of the DGNAI too are understood by the Navy and attended too, leading to setting up of sophisticated laboratories by the Navy or taking up of urgent manpower issues with the GOI. The structure has provided for generation of unprecedented synergies between Navy, OFB, DRDO, PSUs and Private Industry which have led to considerable progress in indigenisation of armament subassemblies and components. The existing structure has thus resulted in a composite which is beneficial not only to the service, but also to the designer/developer/manufacturer of naval armaments.
However it is true that the NAI has not exhibited growth commensurate with the requirements of the navy in manpower terms but that is mostly due to the restrictions on manpower by the GOI. On the infrastructure side, Navy has always ensured that adequate funds are available to meet the NAI requirements. Time and again there have been talks of reorganisation of QA agencies including the DGNAI, be it within the NHQ, or outside, but both the DGNAI and the Navy have resisted any such move which may have adverse impact upon the operational availability of naval armament to the warships.
As far as Indian Navy is concerned, there is a need to consolidate its quality effort at various levels and substructures to ensure that uniform level policy directives can be implemented across all service providers, maintenance and production related agencies. Quality has to be omnipresent and all pervading in its implementation, in that respect gaps are apparent in the Indian Navy. For e.g. quality circles are vibrant in the dockyards but not so popular among other agencies. The ships do not have a quality department under the commanding officer for quality issues; neither does it exist at the Fleet commander’s level. At command headquarter’s level apart from the controller of naval armament inspection, there is a dependence upon DGQA agencies for warship equipment, and there is a lack of specified quality standards for normal logistic requirements of victuals, rations, fuel amongst others.
The overall quality structure should embrace within itself not only armaments and dockyards, but also onboard maintenance, education, training, logistic services (admin and material sourcing), medical facilities and infrastructure. The apex of this structure has to be the VCNS. He has to spearhead quality empowerment in the navy and he can be ably assisted in this task of formulating quality policies and efficient monitoring by four comptrollers(initially these can be double hat appointments) namely, comptroller quality materiel, comptroller quality logistic and services, comptroller quality training (onboard and ashore) and comptroller quality armament. Once this structure is in place there is no stopping the Indian Navy from ‘tacking to excellence’. Core competence of NAI can be utilised to provide the initial impetus if required.
Taking a holistic view and the fact that the quality of armament and weapons directly impinges upon the national security of our country, the MOD could have a Secretary QA (Armament), with Additional Secretary equivalent QA (Armament) rep each from the three services, DP&S, and DRDO. The MOD can thereafter link up with the national QA policy levels.
In conclusion, it can be seen that the NAI has been building its core competencies over the years and has become a potent exponent of armament quality. It has been able to meet the stringent naval operational requirements and has ensured safe and serviceable armaments for the warships. However structural changes are needed at Naval Headquarters level for implementation of all pervasive quality in the system. If the Navy wants sail to shores of excellence it would better rig up its quality main mast soon!