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that our Ministry of Commerce and Industry website states 50 per cent defence equipment currently held by our military is obsolete, production of state-of-theart equipment needs to grow from 15 per cent to 30 per cent, and current cycle including acquisitions under the Long Term Integrated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.