Sacking of DRDO chief – Is it a sign?

Sacking of DRDO chief may just be a warn­ing to oth­ers and stop the at­ti­tude but what is needed is a com­plete re­vamp


Sacking of Av­inash Chan­der, the De­fence Re­search and Devel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) chief, 16 months prior to com­ple­tion of his ten­ure has made head­lines. Is it a warn­ing shot for the or­gan­i­sa­tion to get the ball rolling and usher in some ac­count­abil­ity? Most coun­tries do not have the type of DRDO com­plex: over 50 lab­o­ra­to­ries, 9 DPSUs and 42 ord­nance fac­to­ries – over­all man­power of I,80,044 em­ploy­ees. Now a Cabi­net Com­mi­tee on Se­cu­rity (CCS) note re­quests to take con­trol of com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of de­fence equip­ment.

The 1995 Re­view Com­mit­tee un­der Dr A.P.J. Ab­dul Kalam (later Pres­i­dent of In­dia) set the tar­get of 70 per cent in de­fence equip­ment by 2014 but no progress has been made af­ter 19 years. So where is the ac­count­abil­ity? Isn’t it shock­ing that our Min­istry of Com­merce and In­dus­try web­site states 50 per cent de­fence equip­ment cur­rently held by our mil­i­tary is ob­so­lete, pro­duc­tion of state-of-theart equip­ment needs to grow from 15 per cent to 30 per cent, and cur­rent cy­cle in­clud­ing ac­qui­si­tions un­der the Long Term In­te­grated Per­spec­tive Plan (LTIPP) would re­quire pro­cure­ments worth $100 bil­lion by 2022. Go­ing by last few Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia re­ports, DRDO has been de­vel­op­ing sub­stan­dard equip­ment or with ex­tended dead­lines and ad­di­tional bud­gets; many projects are with­out the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) ap­proval in­clud­ing just 10 per cent by one re­port; cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism ex­ists in the up­per ech­e­lons. In 2010, a mod­u­lar bridge be­ing de­vel­oped for army was shelved af­ter 8 years and spend­ing ` 21.46 crore but just six months later an­other ` 13.25 crore was sanc­tioned for an­other mod­u­lar bridge project; in 2011-12, crores have been spent on ran­dom re­search and of 55 high pri­or­ity projects based on user-re­quire­ments, only 13 had gone into pro­duc­tion; and the ini­tia­tive to pro­duce next-gen­er­a­tion laser weapons was shut down within a month af­ter equip­ment for re­search was pro­cured. Th­ese are but few ex­am­ples.

The Con­troller Gen­eral of De­fence Ac­counts (CGDA) au­dit has been equally re­veal­ing: DRDO has been buy­ing equip­ment from other com­pa­nies ‘af­ter’ spend­ing crores on R&D. For ex­am­ple, af­ter spend­ing five years and ` 129.96 crore to de­velop satel­lite sig­nal mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment, DRDO ul­ti­mately bought the same from a PSU on sin­gle ten­der ba­sis for ` 724.50 crore in April 2011; when com­mer­cial off-the-shelf (COTS) equip­ment is avail­able.

DRDO still spends crores of ru­pees for rein­vent­ing the wheel. For ex­am­ple, DRDO spent ` 6.85 crore to de­velop ex­plo­sive de­tec­tors, which were then of­fered to the army for ` 30 lakh per piece while COTS ver­sions were avail­able at ` 9.8 lakh apiece and that too with re­pair and main­te­nance. Through JVs with for­eign firms, older tech­nol­ogy is be­ing im­ported with­out manda­tory trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT) agree­ment. The re­port sub­mit­ted by the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence to the Par­lia­ment on De­cem­ber 22, 2014, has brought out that the DRDO, tasked with de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy for the mil­i­tary, has failed since 1982 to pro­duce an ac­cept­able IN­SAS ri­fle, the stan­dard weapon of the army.

What may not be known that the DRDO had been pro­vided 17 x 5.56 top as­sault ri­fles of 11 coun­tries in 1982 to de­velop the IN­SAS and yet the IN­SAS is nowhere close to the top ten in its cat­e­gory de­spite 15 years of devel­op­ment. De­spite im­port­ing all infrared tubes, In­dige­nous night vi­sion equip­ment con­tin­ues to be heavy and bulky. The Te­jas Mk I is com­ing 30 years af­ter the LCA project was sanc­tioned. Why we should have con­tin­u­ous ammunition short­ages is an­other story.

In his first ad­dress to the DRDO, Prime Min­is­ter Modi had stressed the need for sci­en­tists to com­plete work in time, and stay ahead of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions. But if we have ma­jor voids in mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and mod­erni­sa­tion of our armed forces, the rea­sons are: DRDO em­pha­sis is less on R&D and more on com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion to earn profit; glar­ing voids in ac­count­abil­ity, fo­cused road map and pe­ri­odic re­views, and; re­sis­tance to users (mil­i­tary) be­ing posted at de­sign, plan­ning and de­ci­sion mak­ing lev­els be­cause of ram­pant cor­rup­tion. Sacking of DRDO chief may just be a warn­ing to oth­ers and stop the ‘chalta hai’ at­ti­tude but what is needed is a com­plete re­vamp: re­name DRDO as ‘Avishkar Udyog’ and charge it ex­clu­sively for R&D, not com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. Com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of de­fence equip­ment should be pur­sued through mil­i­tarycivil-industrial zones, with DRDO af­fil­i­ated to it. Users (mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion­als) be posted at de­sign, plan­ning and de­ci­sion mak­ing lev­els pan the de­fence-industrial com­plex.

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