Re­struc­tured lead­er­ship of DRDO

Lead­er­ship changes in DRDO sig­nal the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment to pro­pel the or­gan­i­sa­tion to at­tain sig­nif­i­cantly higher lev­els of in­di­geni­sa­tion in de­fence hard­ware with en­hanced lev­els of ac­count­abil­ity


Ever since the NDA Gov­ern­ment came into power on May 26 last year, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi had been send­ing clear sig­nals of his in­tent to bring about rad­i­cal re­forms in the In­dian De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO). This task fig­ures high on his agenda es­pe­cially in view of his ‘Make in In­dia’ phi­los­o­phy that would pos­i­tively need to be sup­ported by a strong de­fence in­dus­trial base in the coun­try. One of the fist things he did was to warn the or­gan­i­sa­tion to shed its lais­sez faire at­ti­tude.

Over the years, in­stead of grow­ing as a sci­en­tific or­gan­i­sa­tion en­gaged in re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D), the DRDO has pro­gres­sively de­gen­er­ated into a top-heavy bu­reau­cratic en­tity and to­day it func­tions with the same de­gree of ef­fi­ciency as most other de­part­ments of the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment. The DRDO has 52 lab­o­ra­to­ries spread across the coun­try, around con­sumes seven per cent of the de­fence bud­get and yet the In­dian armed forces con­tinue to im­port around 70 per cent of their re­quire­ment of mil­i­tary hard­ware and soft­ware.

With to­tal job se­cu­rity for the sci­en­tists, work­ing con­di­tions that is to­tally de­void of stress as there is prac­ti­cally no ac­count­abil­ity, the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity at the DRDO has been wal­low­ing in a state of com­pla­cency, has achieved lit­tle to ful­fil the re­quire­ments of the In­dian armed forces, de­spite the mas­sive in­vest­ments the na­tion has made. Projects as­signed to the DRDO are char­ac­terised more by time and cost over­runs and it does not need a great deal of wis­dom to re­alise that in its present dis­po­si­tion as well as the track record so far, the or­gan­i­sa­tion is un­likely to do any bet­ter. The In­dian armed forces there­fore will have no op­tion but to con­tinue to de­pend on for­eign sources to meet with even some of their ba­sic needs in re­spect of mil­i­tary hard­ware. It is in­deed a sorry state of af­fairs.

While the malaise has been af­flict­ing the DRDO prac­ti­cally since its in­cep­tion, it was for the first time in Fe­bru­ary 2008 that a com­mit­tee headed by Dr P. Rama Rao, a for­mer Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy, to look into the var­i­ous as­pects, rec­om­mended changes in in­sti­tu­tional, man­age­rial, ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial struc­tures for im­prov­ing the func­tion­ing of the DRDO. In­stead of im­ple­ment­ing even some if not all the changes rec­om­mended by the com­mit­tee, the gov­ern­ment of the day, con­sti­tuted another com­mit­tee in June 2009 un­der the then De­fence Sec­re­tary to come up with a set of ac­cept­able rec­om­men­da­tions. A con­ve­nient route to pro­cras­ti­na­tion!

Un­der the ex­ist­ing sys­tem, the of­fi­cer head­ing the DRDO holds three ap­point­ments si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Apart from func­tion­ing as the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral (DG) of DRDO, he is also the Sec­re­tary Depart­ment of De­fence R&D as well as the Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sor to the Min­is­ter of De­fence.

The process of restruc­tur­ing of the DRDO was ini­ti­ated by the NDA Gov­ern­ment in the be­gin­ning of the year with the some­what abrupt ter­mi­na­tion of the ser­vices of the DG Av­inash Chan­der. The DG had al­ready crossed 60, the age of su­per­an­nu­a­tion and was serv­ing on con­tract with a two-year ex­ten­sion. It has been a prac­tice at the DRDO to re­tain sci­en­tists on re­new­able con­tracts af­ter su­per­an­nu­a­tion thus de­priv­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion of sci­en­tists to play mean­ing­ful role. The some­what sud­den de­ci­sion to show the serv­ing DG the door was driven by Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s thrust on in­duct­ing of­fi­cers of lower age pro­file in key ap­point­ments. The other as­pect of the planned restruc­tur­ing that the gov­ern­ment has em­barked upon was to sep­a­rate the posts of DG, DRDO and the Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sor to the Min­is­ter of De­fence, a step to en­sure that the De­fence Min­is­ter has the ben­e­fit of ob­jec­tive and in­de­pen­dent feed­back on the per­for­mance of DRDO.

The split in re­spon­si­bil­ity of the lead­er­ship was achieved with the ap­point­ment in May this year of the 59-year-old Dr S. Christo­pher who was head­ing the Cen­tre for Air­borne Sys­tems, as the DG, DRDO. The post of Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sor to the Min­is­ter of De­fence was taken away from the do­main of the DG, DRDO and was handed over to a 51-year-old sci­en­tist G. Satheesh Reddy. The DG, DRDO will, how­ever, con­tinue to func­tion as the Sec­re­tary Depart­ment of De­fence R&D, though ideally, even this re­spon­si­bil­ity ought to have been weaned away.

The re­cently ef­fected changes in the lead­er­ship would have in all like­li­hood set off tremors in the or­gan­i­sa­tion. How­ever, these moves sig­nal the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment to reen­er­gise and mo­ti­vate the DRDO to at­tain sig­nif­i­cantly higher lev­els of in­di­geni­sa­tion in de­fence hard­ware with en­hanced lev­els of ac­count­abil­ity. Whether the DRDO will be able to match up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of the gov­ern­ment and the In­dian armed forces, only time will tell.


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