Home Are We Staffing Our Defence Acquisition Organisation Right?

Are We Staffing Our Defence Acquisition Organisation Right?

Abstract: Staffing of organisations and structures dealing with defence acquisition with specialists, trained manpower and ensuring continuity to the job is a key issue. Unfortunately the matter is not given the seriousness it needs.  Correct staffing can by itself speed up delivery and also be a cost effective method of improving the defence acquisition process.

Each country procuring defence equipment will have an organisation, a set of policies, processes and regulations that guide the organization and the staff who make up the organization; three key elements. In some countries these organisations are centralized (like UK) and some de-centralised (like India). In the Indian capital acquisition system there are many agencies at work, under the Ministry of Defence, organized under the Department Of Defence (DOD), Department of Defence Production (DODP) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), each of these departments with its own secretary. The DOD has the HQ IDS and the three service HQs, MoD Acquisition Wing and the Ministry of Defence (Finance), while the DODP has the Ordnance Factory Board, the Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSUs) and the DGQA. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has a very centralized organization - the Defence Equipment and Support  (DE&S) whose mission is simple - “To equip and support our Armed Forces for operations now and in the future”. In the US system, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, USD (AT&L), is the nodal agency and the predominant authority in the centre of many organisations which make up their defence acquisition process.

However, while organisations and processes may be different from country to country, staff or workforce that constitute the acquisition organization of countries with demonstrated better performance, tend to be specialists; those that are trained to work and impart continuity and excellence to the complex realm of defence acquisition.

The US defence acquisition workforce is responsible for more than 650 acquisition programmes that are new and ongoing around the world with 44000 civilians and miiitary professionals that make up the US army acquisition workforce alone.[i]  The professionalization of the US DoD was cemented with the enactment of the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) in 1990. The aim of the act was to improve the effectiveness of the workforce managing and executing defence acquisition programs. One of the key elements considered while formulating the act was “ the people within the organization that make the system work”, the other two being the processes and the organisation. The act also brought about the Acquisition Corps which includes senior civilian and military acquisition workforce personnel. [ii] The DAWIA lists the following fields where the workforce is employed - program management; program management oversight; communications- computer systems; contracting (to include contracting for construction); purchasing (to include procurement assistant); industrial property management; business, cost estimating & financial management; auditing; quality assurance; manufacturing & production; acquisition logistics; systems planning, research, development & engineering; test & evaluation engineering; education, training & career development.  A report “Promotion Rate for Officers in An Acquisition Corps - Report to the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate and the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives” of January 1999 reveals that the military component of the US Army’s Acquisition Corps is made up of officers from the basic branches of the Army who transfer to the Acquisition Corps mostly as a captain.  This happens between the 7th year and 12th year of service. They then continue to serve as Army Acquisition officers not returning to their parent branch or corps.[iii]  These officers along with trained and specialist civilians  staff the various organisations handling defence acquisition.  Similar is the experience in the US Navy and Air Force.  One look at the profile of Frank Kendall’s profile, USD (AT&L) is a testimony to the rich experience he has in matters defence and defence acquisition that now has him perching at the helm of the US defence supply chain.[iv] 

Mr Bruce Marshall, Head of Commercial Strategy, DE&S visited the CLAWS in March 2015 along with a couple of other officers of the UK Army and briefed an audience on how the DE&S functioned.  He himself is a British civil service officer, a one star equivalent, and has spent much of his professional life with the DE&S or with earlier avatars of the organisation in work related to defence acquisition before the DE&S was created in 2007. The DE&S is headed by the Chief of Defence Material.  The DE&S is organized into a few verticals that carry out the work of defence acquisition. One of them is the Chief of Material (Land) a three star general. A glance at the organization of this land vertical will reveal that it is staffed with around 75 senior and middle level officers, 31 of them military. The other verticals are similarly staffed.  One of the recommendations of “Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State for Defence” carried out by in 2009 by Bernard Gray the Chief of Defence Material, reads-  “iii. No person, civil or military, to be appointed to a post of 1* or above without extensive programme management experience.” There are other such recommendations in the report, all aimed at developing better skills of the acquisition workforce.[v]  Bernard Gray himself has a 20-year association with defence issues and was appointed head of DE&S in 2011. 

Contrast this with the Indian system. The post of DG Acquisition, an Addl Secretary Equivalent, who heads and directly oversees the execution of defence acquisition in India, can be roughly said to be the counterpart of the DE&S in India. The current DG Acquisition, while being highly qualified, open source information indicates no experience in any office dealing with defence acquisition before 25 November 2011[vi].  The current Secretary Defence Production, took over his first assignment involving defence as Secretary DP on 01 September 2014.[vii]  The Defence Secretary’s profile indicates that he has been dealing with defence matters since 01 September 2008.[viii]  The Acquistion wing of MoD is still a work in progress. It is still evolving and attempts at inclusiveness. While comparisons may not portray the right picture, given that organization structures are different, there are fewer than 20 military persons in the entire MoD’s DG Acquisition. Matters in the army itself are by no way better. The system does not give assurance of posting qualified workforce and surely no continuity. There is no specialist training and policy aimed at a creating a strong and qualified workforce for acquisition. Tokenism, incrementalism and matters such as ‘probity’ seem to guide policy towards the important subject of staffing of departments dealing with defence acquisition.

Arguably, a trained acquisition force can speed up acquisition processes and effect savings in costs upto 15%.[ix]  The takeaways are clear– defence acquisition is a complex domain calling for various kinds of specialists to be part of the system. Therefore, policies or regulations that govern the staffing should aim at posting staff who have the required specialization, create avenues for training in various required fields, guarantee continuity to the system, execute cross-postings within structures handling acquisition, if the system has to deliver. Organisations, you may have, processes you may have, but, like they say – it’s the man behind the machine.  

The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.


[i]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyT3FE58fR44.

[ii]  http://www.ippa.org/IPPC4/Proceedings/03DefenseProcurement/Paper3-5.pdf

[iii]  From http://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/docs/promo99.pdf accessed 20 March 2015

[iv]  From http://www.acq.osd.mil/bio_kendall.html accessed on 20 March 2015

[v]  Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State for Defence, An independent report by Bernard Gray, October 2009. pp 12, accessed from http://webarchive. nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120913104443/http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/78821960-14A0-429E-A90A-A2A8C292C84/0/ReviewAcquisitionGrayreport. Pdf

[vi]  http://persmin.nic.in/ersheet/MultipleERS.asp?HiddenStr=01HP009400 accessed on 21 March 2015.

[vii]  http://persmin.nic.in/ersheet/MultipleERS.asp?HiddenStr=01OR019400ibid accessed on 21 March 2015.

[viii]  http://persmin.nic.in/ersheet/MultipleERS.asp?HiddenStr=01MT006000 accessed on 21 March 2015.

[ix] Defence Acquisition: Indian Army’s Perspective,Viney Handa. From DEFENCE ACQUISITION : International Best Practices Edited by Laxman Kumar Behera Group Captain (Retd) Vinay Kaushal, IDSA and Pentagon Press, New Delhi. Pp  83.

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Ganapathy Vanchinathan
Senior Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]
Brig JDSuri(Retd)
The Army lacks an understanding of the intricacies of procurement processes per say, it firmly believes that generalists can do any type of acquisition . It does not have any systematic capability building for acquisition related skills and has only on the job learning as a practise. A complete re-think is required both at the Army level and at the MOD level, what is the use of allocating Capital budget when all the hierarchy achieves is delay and more delay.
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