The Times of India reports on the bizarre story of a confidential file found on the street:
Even as the race for the “mother of all defence deals” enters the last lap, two IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers of the defence ministry are now under the scanner for the mysterious way in which a “secret” file connected to the $10.4 billion project to acquire 126 new fighters went missing and was then found by a roadside.
There is an intense battle currently in progress to win the $10 billion deal for 126 combat aircraft (MMRCA – medium multi-role combat aircraft) where the final decision is expected to be taken by March. As I have posted earlier, the technical and flight evaluations on the 6 contenders were conducted by the Indian Air Force and their highly confidential and secret report was submitted to the Ministry of Defence by early November 2010. Many rumours circulated at the time and the word on the street was that the Eurofighter Typhoon had won the technical evaluation. However this evaluation is merely one (but important) stage in the decision making process. The strategic and financial evaluations are under way and political lobbying is building up. Some of this lobbying is at the highest levels of government and no doubt the recent visits to India by Obama and Medvedev and Sarkozy were utilised fully.
For all the contenders the technical evaluation is what determines what is left to be done to win the contract. The details in the technical evaluation report are most important for a contender to know how to compensate for any perceived failings. I am quite sure that every contender has managed by now to obtain a copy of the technical evaluation report. (To obtain copies of confidential reports from Indian bureaucrats is not in the realm of the impossible. In my experience obtaining reports and confidential documents from clerks in government service is much more effective than any Freedom of Information application and are not subject to any redactions.) I am equally sure that all the six aircraft manufacturers would have by now developed their sales strategies and lobbying plans based on the their weaknesses as recorded in the report. But what may have been missed by some is that unofficial dissemination of the “confidential” report is an expected event. It may even have been a deliberate leakage of the report as part of the Government of India’s buying strategy.
The six are:
- Dassault, Rafale, France
- Eurofighter, Typhoon, UK, Italy, Germany and Spain
- Lockheed Martin, F-16IN Super Viper, US
- Boeing, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, US
- Saab, JAS 39 Gripen, Sweden
- Mikoyan, MiG-35, Russia
Even though there are only 6 contenders, the number of lobbyists, sub-contractors and foreign embassy officials involved would have led to at least 100 copies of the report having been “sold” by various bureaucrats with access to the file. So I do not find it very surprising that one of the many “unsold” copies was abandoned somewhere. The value of such reports goes down sharply with time. It must have been at its most expensive immediately after it was submitted to government and before the many visits by various heads of state to Delhi. Again from my past experience of such things I would expect that the report probably had an initial “price” of around Rs 10 lakhs (about $20,000) but now some 2 months later, can probably be purchased for less than 1 lakh ($2,000).
Nobody is probably very bothered by this episode since the leakage of the report to the contenders is part of the game and already taken into consideration by the Government. In fact leakage of “perceived weaknesses” to a supplier is one of the best buying strategies to extract improvements in the supplier’s offer. The most senior bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence are probably congratulating themselves for having managed to disseminate so many copies of the report before this particular slip-up.
But for now all the right noises will be made for public consumption. As the ToI reports:
Ordering an inquiry into the episode, defence minister A K Antony on Monday said he was “very clear that every officer has to be very careful at every stage” while dealing with the huge MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project. “We have viewed the incident seriously…the inquiry is in progress,” he said. It was last week that the “secret” file, which was earlier submitted to the MoD by IAF, went missing and was then found later in the day near Khelgaon Marg in South Delhi.
MoD was tight-lipped about the incident but sources said the file was apparently lost by the bureaucrats, one an additional secretary-rank officer and the other a director, while being taken to the Bharat Electronics Limited guest-house on Khelgaon Marg. The file was found by a security guard who then got in touch with the authorities concerned.