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The Situation Report

17th January 1999

Body Armour: heads clash

By Iqbal Athas

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On more occasions than less, Body Armour or Bullet Proof Jackets, is a divide between life and death for soldiers in the frontlines.

As they operate out of their bunkers, in offensive operations, in enemy territory or mine clearing tasks, where they become vulnerable to enemy small arms fire, Body Armour is also considered a great morale booster.

That was why field commanders deployed in aborted "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Victory Assured), wanted to ensure every soldier wore Body Armour as they fought their way through. The demand became heavy. By mid 1997, according to military assessments, the Sri Lanka Army required 3,000 pieces of Body Armour which was to cost well over a million US dollars or more than Rs 67 million.

World-wide tenders were called. They were opened on October 3, 1997. Twelve bidders participated actively. There were five from United Kingdom, two from Australia, two from Israel and one each from USA, India and Canada.

The Ministry of Defence appointed a three member Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) to examine the offers. It was headed by Major General Jaliya Nammuni, who was Operations Commander, Colombo, until his retirement late last year.

There were two military and two civilian officials — Colonel C.J. Kottachi, Lt. Cmdr. K.A.D. Kulatunga, H. Nawarathna and U.L. Lokuhetty.

A TEC is normally the body which lays down the specifications for proposed equipment purchase prior to calling of tenders. This same body is also the board that compares the tenderer's bid specifications against the called for specifications to ensure that tenders are within the military requirements.

This TEC does not generally concern itself with the financial aspects of the tender as that is the function of the Tender Board itself. The responsibility of the TEC is to keep the Tender Board informed of the technical suitability or otherwise of the tendered equipment and, if requested, to enumerate them in accordance with their degree of suitability.

Hence, equipment which is either rejected or marginalised by the TEC is generally not regarded as being suitable for consideration by the Tender Board. It should be borne in mind that the TEC consists of specialised officers both with the technical knowledge of the equipment and operational applications. The TEC studied the "specifications for light weight Body Armour" where the "Ballistic Capability" was required to meet "National Institute of Justice (NIJ)" USA standard. It observed that none of the certificate issuing agencies is classified under the Jane's International Defence Directory 1996 and pointed out that the "tenderers cannot be accepted" in terms of criteria laid down by the Ministry of Defence.

The TEC sent its report to the Ministry of Defence through the then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte. This is what the TEC went on to say:

"A study of the NIJ certificates submitted, revealed that only 03 tenderers have offered signed original laboratory test certificates or covering letters not having reference numbers.

"Under these circumstances the TEC recommended by letter ……dated 09 December , 1997, to either do a practical field testing of the samples in place of NIJ certificate or the acceptance of NIJ certificates as they have been submitted. By MOD (Ministry of Defence) letter…… dated 07 Jan 1998 directions were received for practical field testing of the samples in place of NIJ certificates.

"Since there were no guidelines available in Sri Lanka on the field testing of Body Armour, the TEC sought the assistance of Lt. Col. D. Rajasinghe (Retd.) of Sri Lanka Army and presently the coach of the National Olympic shooting committee who has an excellent knowledge of the subject matter to draw up a testing procedure to be adopted in the field testing of Body Armour….The TEC had a discussion on this document …..and decided to accept it as the standard testing procedure.

"The practical field testing was conducted on 24 April, 1998 at the Panaluwa Army small arms range."

Eleven tenderers who submitted samples were invited for the field testing.

The TEC said: "Before the commencement of the firing all the representatives were briefed on the preparations that were made ….. Order of testing was on lots drawn. When Lot 01 was tested representatives for lot 02 were allowed as observers and this procedure was adhered to till last when lot 01 was the observer. At the end of each testing the authorised representative was shown the live firing results sheet and their observations and signatures were obtained…."

An Australian supplier and a UK supplier (not the final awardee) were short listed for final selection. Later the TEC held that the Australian offer conformed to specifications (sans protection from sides) and listed the UK supplier as "marginally acceptable."

The agents for another British supplier wrote a letter of protest to Brigadier S. R. Balasuriya, Director of Operations at Army Headquarters, against the TEC recommendation to award it to and Australian supplier.

This is a strange course of action by the rejected supplier. His representative was present at the time of the field testing of these jackets and should there have been any complaint, one assumes that it should have been made immediately to the Chairman of the TEC. On the other hand, even if the tenderer was to make a complaint, the logical source to which it should have been addressed should have been the Ministry of Defence, the Army Commander, Chairman of the Tender Board, Chairman of the Technical Evaluation Committee, Master General Ordnance or Director, Logistics.

It is indeed unusual that the tenderer should have addressed his complaint to Brigadier Balasuriya, Director, Operations at Army Headquarters. This unusual procedure becomes curioser and curioser when that letter is also endorsed by the unsuccessful supplier as being for the attention of Brigadier Balasuriya, who was then Director Operations. He is now attached to the Joint Operations Bureau (JOB) as Director, Operations.

The logical course of action on the receipt of that letter by Brigadier Balasuriya, military officials conversant with procurements say, should have been the reference to the source concerned with procurements – Master General Ordnance or Director Logistics. Instead, Brigadier Balasuriya made his own observation on this letter and forwarded it to then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte.

What is significant here is that it was at this point that a whole new process of re-evaluating this non-technical piece of protective wear took a new turn. It took another six months. Not only did that extend the lead time for procurement of essentially needed equipment when Operation Jaya Sikurui was halted south of Mankulam to regain its momentum. The decisions to re-evaluate this equipment also impacted on the decisions of the TEC headed by Major General Nammuni.

Angered by this, Maj. Gen. Nammuni, addressing the then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte, (through the Director General – General Staff, DGGS) had this to say:

"TEC made representations to the Secretary Defence through the Commander of the Army to disregard the NIJ certificates submitted by the supplier. The reasons were given in detail. This was accepted by the Commander of the Army. Dte of Ops (Directorate of Operations) is also well aware of this. Secretary Defence accepted the proposal to carry out field testing in preference to the NIJ certificates. The TEC did not make any wrong representations as implied by the D Ops…..

"It is a glaring lapse on the part of Dte of Ops not to have read and studied the entirety of the TEC report. The best BFS (Back Fire Signature) was not only the factor at the initial stages. The criteria was the conformation to the specs. Thus the prices offered by all suppliers are not given.

"It is a glaring lapse on part of Dte of Ops not to have read and studied the entirety of the TEC report. The best BFS was not the only factor to be considered……

"Going through the minute addressed to the Commander by the D Ops I am inclined to believe that D Ops is casting aspersions that the TEC has failed in its duty and has been biased. If this is the thinking, I am bold to say that none in the TEC were biased towards any and the conduct of the TEC was above question. If an alternative Bd (board) is appointed in deference to the opinion of the D Ops, it amounts to an act of no confidence and implies biased opinion by the TEC. This probably could lead to the deserved being ultimately selected."

Some of the points made by Brigadier Balasuriya and Major General Nammuni's response are as follows:

Brigadier Balasuriya: Price of all suppliers have not been mentioned in the TEC report.

Major Gen. Nammuni: The methodology adopted by the TEC is clearly stated in Para 10 of the TEC report. The quotation of the (agent for the UK supplier who raised objections) has been rejected in stage one due to the following defects: No quick release. Fastening of jackets is with buckles. No protection Top/over the shoulder.

Brig. Balasuriya comments on the release mechanism in the Body Armour.

Major General Nammuni: The SPECS are very specific that there should be quick release mechanism on one shoulder. The sample provided has not got the facility.

The fastening is with buckles. This is not conducive to field usage and might pose a hindrance in case of an emergency. This is totally unacceptable to TEC.

Brig. Balasuriya: Comments on protection from sides:

Maj. Gen. Nammuni: Availability of protection from sides was provided only by (names the agent of the Australian supplier) and others did not provide side protection. Brigadier Balasuriya says the supplier recommended by the TEC does not have side protection in their Body Armour.

Maj. Gen. Nammuni: It is correct that the recommended sample (from the Australian supplier) does not provide body side protection as aganist another supplier (name given). The reco-mmendation was based on other parameters.... The fact that there is no side protection on sample provided by the recommended is given…

This has not been overlooked. There were few more details raised by Brigadier Balasuriya and answered by Maj. Gen. Nammuni.

Evidently Maj. Gen. Nammuni's rejoinder did not end the matter there. Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte appointed an eight-member Committee to evaluate the offers since he "wanted the opinion of the Field Commanders before arriving at a final decision."

The team was headed by the present Army Commander, Lt.Gen. Srilal Weerasuriya. That was in his capacity as a Major General who was Overall Operations Commander (OOC). Other members were:

Maj. Gen. P.A. Karunatilleke, Maj. Gen. G.S.C. Fonseka, Brigadier M.D.S. Chandrapala, Brig. D.S.K. Wijesooriya, Brig. G. Hettiaratchchi, Col. P. Chandrawansa and Col. K.A.N.S. Fernando.

The Evaluation Committee report signed by Gen. Weerasooriya said:

"Samples of Body Armour to be evaluated was brought to Vavuniya by D Ops AHQ (Brig Balasuriya). All the identification marks had been removed from the samples prior to bringing them to VNA. Each sample had been given a number by D Ops and the Board of officers who evaluated the Body Armour identified these samples only by these given numbers.

"There were twelve samples. It was informed that the TEC has conducted a firing test with the assistance of Lt. Col. Daya Rajasinghe, and the results of this test were forwarded by D Ops. When contacted Lt. Col. Daya Rajasinghe, he informed me that any sample having a BFS higher than 35 should not be considered as it is fatal…..

"It was observed that three of the samples (numbers are listed) have failed firing tests. As this is the most important feature of a Body Armour, the Board decided not to consider these samples any further…

Pointing out that the Evaluation team made soldiers wear the samples, the report lists the various observations made. It thereafter observed that only four supliers "meet the field requirement."

The Evaluation Committee report says "the board then rechecked the results of the firing test of the three samples.. …" It was found that two of them were too close to fatal level and only one "appears to be the best."

The report adds: "On July 13, 1998, Lt. Col. Daya Rajasinghe, was consulted regarding the results of the firing test conducted by him. He confirmed that the results are accurate and informed that according to the firing test results the following samples are recommended…." (Four samples are listed)

The report also refers to other observations made by Lt. Col. Rajasinghe and adds that he physically checked the samples and picked the one that was best — the one that has been picked and recommended by the Evaluation team.

The Evaluation team's report which recommended the supplier, who is from UK, also said the following conditions should be placed when the order is made:

a) Supplier should agree to replace the plastic release buckles on the side of the jacket with welcro fastening without additional cost.

b) Shoulder flaps to overlap in order to provide more protection without any additional cost.

c) Pre shipment sample to be provided with above alterations prior to any payment be made.

The report concluded: "When the Body Armour is purchased and arrives in Sri Lanka, four units of Body Armour should be selected at random and tested as per the firing test carried out at the evaluation stage to determine the correct levels of the Body Armour purchased. This clause has to be incorporated."

On July 22, 1998, then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte, wrote to the Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva. He said:

"A Technical Evaluation Committee was appointed by the MOD to evaluate the tender for procurement of 3,000 Nos of body armour for Sri Lanka Army. Careful perusal of Technical Evaluation Committee report raised certain observations and further, results of field firing test and recommendation of the committee was contradictory. Hence, a board comprising senior officers serving in the field headed by the Chief of Staff & GOC was appointed to conduct a detailed evaluation on the samples submitted by the suppliers and results field firing test in order to select the best offer to suit our requirement.

"Having carried out a detailed evaluation by the field commanders, the board has recommended sample No 4 which (the supplier is named) has been offered as the most suitable body armour for purchase by the Sri Lanka Army.

"The Technical Evaluation Committee report and the report submitted by the other board are forwarded herewith for your consideration. I suggest that the tender board should call the president of the Technical Evaluation Committee and Chief of Staff & OOC, who headed the other board and clarify matters before taking a final decision".

The matter ended early this month with the Ministry of Defence awarding the tender. Letters of Credit have been opened. The recipient, it turns out, is the one who objected to the findings of the Technical Evaluation Committee. But they succeeded in taking up the issue over the TEC findings. They have offered to sell Body Armour at US $ 368 a piece.

The sequence of events of this procurement reflects not only the procedural confusion of the procurement process in the Army but also clouds its transparency.

What is equally surprising is that in addition to the many committees and boards that seem to have examined or evaluated this procurement, an ad hoc committee of eight senior officers were also interposed to re-value this procurement.

It was headed by none other than Major General Srilal Weerasooriya, who has now taken over as Army Commander. It also consisted of two other Majors General, two Brigadiers and two Colonels. A very high powered board indeed to re-evaluate an ordinary but essential non-technical piece of military wear. In saying this, it is not meant to cast any aspersions on the members of this ad hoc Committee. Its significance lies in the fact as to why such a knowledgeable and senior grouping of officers should have been diverted from their normal military responsibilities to fine comb the suitability of body armour for the second time around.

As one senior military wag remarked, if so many senior officers were required to evaluate a bullet proof vest, little wonder that Operation Jaya Sikurui did not go beyond Mankulam.

In the face of this unusual procedure, perhaps the Ministry of Defence should carefully re-examine the whole process all over again, particularly in the interests of the much voiced principle of transparency.

JOB out of key defence talks: Confusion continues

Even after an auspicious start at 8.20 am on January 6, the Joint Operations Bureau (JOB) seems to have run into inauspicious problems.

Its workings in the very first week of its existence has laid bare the duality of command as it seems now to exist.

The JOB and its Chairman, retired Army Commander, Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte, have been conspicuous by their absence from practically all security related events where they should have been associated last week.

As has been declared formally, the Chairman of the JOB has been made answerable directly to the President and the National Security Council (NSC). But a day after assuming office, the National Security Council met (on January 7), but the Chairman of JOB or any other representative were conspicuous by their absence.

According to authoritative sources, top JOB officials were ready with maps and other details to make a presentation to the NSC. Were they not invited or did they not attend? The next event was last Monday (January 11) when Gen. Daluwatte, in shirt and tie, had a meeting at the JOB headquarters with the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The meeting is learnt to have focused on procedural arrangements — a weekly calendar on when the Chairman would meet service chiefs and the days on which he would attend to his other designated chores.

That same evening, Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, chaired a meeting with the service chiefs and the IGP. It was held just a few blocks away from the JOB headquarters, at the Ministry of Defence. Gen. Daluwatte was conspicuous by his absence. Among other matters, Minister Ratwatte, is learnt to have discussed matters pertaining to the war effort.

On Wednesday, Minister Ratwatte presided over at a conference, also at the Defence Ministry, where service chiefs and senior officials of the three services took part. The meeting reviewed recent military procurements.

Since becoming an officer cadet on August 14, 1961, Gen. Daluwatte, has donned Army uniform until December 16, 1998, a period of over 37 years. However, as Chairman of the JOB, from January 6, he is debarred from wearing uniform. Hence, a shirt and tie to office.

In marked contrast, last Thursday (January 14), Minister Ratwatte, donned the uniform of a four-star General of the Army and flew to the Security Forces Headquarters in Vavuniya.

He flew in an Mi 17 helicopter with Air Force Commander, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkoddy. Following in a Bell helicopter were Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, Navy Commander, Rear Admiral Cecil Tissera, DIG (Operations), Lionel Karunasena, who has regularly deputised for the Inspector General of Police and other officials. Gen. Daluwatte was conspicuous by his absence.

The two choppers seemed the answer after the Oddusuddan ordeal in December, last year, where Minister Ratwatte and the service chiefs narrowly escaped death.

At the Security Forces Headquarters for Wanni located at Vavuniya, Minister Ratwatte and his team were received by Major General Lionel Balagalle, SF Commander.

Minister Ratwatte who took part in a breakfast for all ranks (a cross section of them had been picked from the Wanni sector), later a made a speech.

He asked officers and men whether they thought there would be a response if a further amnesty was announced for soldiers who had deserted their positions.

There was no answer.

He then announced there would soon be an incentive scheme where every officer or soldier who brought in a recruit would be rewarded. He said more Women's Battalions were to be raised and called upon those present to ensure women whom they knew were persuaded to join.

Minister Ratwatte said that whilst prosecuting a war, the Government also had to conduct an election in Wayamba. Like the war, the Government expected to win the polls. He appealed to the soldiers to help in the recruitment drive.

From Vavuniya, Minister Ratwatte and his entourage flew to Trincomalee to be received by the General Officer Commanding the Army's Division 3, Major General Sarath Fonseka. There he spoke to men at the 22 Brigade Headquarters and was entertained to lunch.

It is ironic that in the duality of command, as it appears to be, there also appears to be a diversity in dress codes.

One, a non mobilised volunteer "General" in uniform with all regalia and the other, a retired regular General in civvies sans fatigues, trappings of badges, pips and medals.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Commander-in-Chief, is yet to clarify issues relating to some grey areas in the functioning of the JOB.

This is not likely till after the Wayamba PC polls since she is personally spearheading the campaign.

Taraki's Column

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