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Introduction

 There has been a widespread debate recently on the performance of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The chief grouse against DRDO is that it spends an enormous amount of public money, year after year, and delivers practically nothing in return. A careful scrutiny however indicates that these charges are inaccurate1. DRDO spends less than comparable defence R&D establishments elsewhere in the world, even after we factor in the large cost over-runs. DRDO’s technology delivery record too is sufficiently impressive, although it has almost always been guilty of big delivery delays.

 In this note we will first articulate the major concerns relating to DRDO’s performance and technologies, and then offer possible prescriptions to address these concerns. Our analysis suggests that DRDO is indeed trapped in an abyss. We must rescue it before it is too late.

 The concerns

 Before we start this discussion it is useful to keep in mind that DRDO is an integral part of the government edifice. It is constrained – in fact, severely crippled ­ – by all the rules, procedures and mindsets that plague publicly-funded establishments. DRDO is also required to mostly interact with other government establishments who face very similar constraints. So while DRDO probably has the talent, infrastructure and the capability, it isn’t blessed with the freedom, flair and the flexibility that is needed alongside.

 The lost focus

 Till 1980 or thereabouts, DRDO was largely a conglomerate of defence R&D labs with small ambitions and simple goals2. The big change came after the launch of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and the light combat aircraft (LCA) project in the early 1980’s. The tremendous national euphoria that accompanied the Agni success in 1989 further fuelled this transition.

 The technology compulsions of these big programmes were daunting. In particular, these programmes required massive infrastructure development and significantly enhanced manufacturing capability. DRDO therefore sought to forge a grand national alliance encompassing both R&D and production. The idea of such an alliance was excellent, but it should have been created, as far as possible, outside the DRDO umbrella3. In most cases, however, DRDO chose to bolster this alliance by creating new, large and unmanageable entities within4. This was a costly mistake; it left DRDO with too many babies to care for.

 DRDO is now beginning to regret this move. It is stuck with too many projects, commitments and milestones, but without appropriate enabling machinery.  Dr. V. K. Aatre, who headed DRDO during the period 2000-2004, recently remarked5 that “DRDO should stop saying it can do everything under the sun”.  Mr. M. Natarajan, the present Scientific Adviser to the Raksha Mantri (SA to RM), also told The Hindu6: “DRDO is not a manufacturer. Its primary job is to create capacity”.

 The trust deficit

 DRDO’s principal mandate is to support the R&D requirements of the armed forces. This mandate entails a continuous and amicable dialogue between DRDO on the one hand, and the Indian Army (IA), Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN) on the other. It also pre-supposes a reasonable element of trust between the two parties. While DRDO’s ties with the IN are sufficiently cordial7, its relationship with IA and IAF has often been extremely tenuous.

 A major point of conflict relates to the technology specifications listed, e.g., in IAF’s air staff requirements (ASR) or IA’s general staff qualitative requirements (GSQR), and the promised delivery schedules. DRDO argues that IA and IAF frequently change specifications, sometimes even after the product prototype trials start, and this adds to the delivery delays8. The armed forces respond by saying that they can’t defend the country with obsolete or unreliable equipment, nor can they wait indefinitely for an indigenous main battle tank, missile or combat aircraft.

 The acrimony is worsened by the insidious presence of the foreign vendor and his many marketing agents, often senior retired officers from the IA or IAF. DRDO scientists frequently whisper that they are unfairly counted out because of excessive favours granted to the foreign vendor9.

 The “impossible” deadlines

 DRDO is often vilified, and with good reason, for its failure to keep deadlines. In particular, much is made of the fact that the light combat aircraft (LCA) was “supposed to fly” in 1993. One can only respond to that deadline with an incredulous: “oh really?!” It was abundantly clear to anyone following the LCA’s progress that these deadlines were out of the question.

 Why then did DRDO make these unattainable commitments?  The first reason is probably just innocent naiveté. For example, when the LCA project was launched in 1983, India had been out of the fighter aircraft design and development business for almost two decades. A whole generation of Indian designers and engineers had completely missed the bus even as technology had leapfrogged elsewhere. The comeback certainly wasn’t going to be easy. The 1993 deadline was therefore completely out-of-sync – especially when you consider the fact that technology secrets are never shared in strategic defence product development.

 The second reason is less innocent; it relates to our archaic funding mechanism. There are “Plan periods”, and Plan and Non-Plan expenditures, which for some reason are greatly venerated. The dynamics of this process leads to situations where you have to promise the moon to get funding – even when you know that you can only climb 10,000 ft.

 Poor supporting industrial infrastructure

 DRDO projects were also delayed because of the absence of a worthwhile supporting industrial infrastructure in India. As a DRDO scientist remarked some years ago: “we don’t have to build just an aircraft, tank or missile; we also have to build every subsystem that goes into it, and often every nut and bolt of every dimension too!”.  This can be a severe handicap causing both time and cost over-runs; in more industrialized countries, the defence production agencies can draw on the considerable design and engineering skills available at the local marketplace10.

 Thankfully, the scenario seems to be finally changing: outsourcing of defence R&D to the private industrial sector appears much more feasible in 2007. But curiously enough – and this is rather interesting – it appears that foreign R&D agencies11 are more excited about outsourcing to India than India’s own DRDO, or indeed CSIR. It’s also easy to guess why this is so: outsourcing to a private agency is still anathema to the administrative machinery of most Indian R&D establishments.

 Administrative roadblocks

 Indeed the attitude of the “administration” 12, in DRDO and other national R&D labs, is a very serious concern. During the last decade DRDO’s budgets and projects have probably grown tenfold, but administrative procedures have failed to keep pace. To be sure, almost all labs are now networked and a swanky computer now adorns every administrative officer’s desk; but there’s no evidence that these computers are being used intelligently, or even effectively.

 For a long time R&D scientists have stoically accepted administrative inefficiency, but time is now running out! Many DRDO scientists will privately tell you that technological barriers are easier to surmount than administrative hurdles. This is a ridiculous, and completely unacceptable, situation.

 Mediocre technology management

 An R&D establishment like DRDO or CSIR must grapple with two technology challenges: first, demonstrate the feasibility of the technology in a laboratory,  pilot plant or by building a prototype; and, second, actually implement this technology successfully in its prescribed application terrain – and in large numbers with high reliability and success.

 Indian R&D has been reasonably successful in demonstrating technological capability; but it frequently fails when it’s time to take this technology to the war front or the marketplace. This is chiefly because these two challenges require very different sets of skills and most of DRDO’s scientists and engineers are picked for their strengths in technology demonstration, not technology implementation.  So while technology per se is rarely the problem, technology management and delivery is a very serious concern13.

 The paucity of talent

 1404 scientists have reportedly left DRDO in the last 10 years, and 1007 of these have left in the last 5 years14, 15. The attrition rate is now believed to be between 20-27%, even higher than the rate in the IT industry. These are alarming statistics, and, what’s worse, they still don’t tell the complete story.

 National R&D labs have long ceased to be the preferred destination for India’s best young scientists and engineers. Usually, only the “second-best” apply for positions; and only the “third-best” eventually join because it takes too long – typically 6-12 months – to actually complete the appointment process. Many of those who finally join enter with the selfish motive of staying for 2-3 years to acquire hands-on experience on the expensive R&D infrastructure available in DRDO labs. They then move on to greener pastures elsewhere.

 At the other end, most DRDO labs face a serious leadership crisis. There is no conscious effort to identify or groom future leaders, and seniority is often the sole consideration in choosing directors or department heads. We are increasingly seeing individuals bereft of ideas, commitment and charisma assuming leadership roles. This is not a good augury.

 The missing scientific temper

 Technology development requires a happy confluence of basic and applied research, design, feasibility studies, tooling and part fabrication, testing, integration, prototype development, field deployment, and optimization. While DRDO has considerable skills in fabrication, testing or integration, it has publicly acknowledged a severe shortage of capable designers16.

 The affliction probably runs even deeper. In fact one worries that DRDO’s R&D is just not sufficiently innovative. How much mathematical insight, for example, goes into a DRDO product or process? 17. What fraction of DRDO’s R&D effort can be called truly novel and creative?  Is DRDO seeking to pursue excellence, or does it just want to finish its projects any which way?

 The political hand

One of DRDO’s handicaps is that it is hardly its own master; it must continually adapt to the policies and slogans of the political party in power. The 1998 nuclear tests, for example, couldn’t have been worse timed for DRDO; one recalls how badly the LCA programme was affected by the embargo that followed these tests. DRDO’s slogan of “70% indigenization of defence inventory by 2005” also never appeared feasible, but everyone pretended to go along with it anyway18.

 The real concern is that such political adventures and slogans breed confusion and supersede the country’s long-term defence objectives. How important, for example, is “self-reliance” in 2007? Are we still as keen on “70% indigenization” as we were a decade ago?

 In fact a greater concern is whether India even has a well-documented defence R&D plan. Are we being pro-active – or reactive as always? China, for instance, has a very well-defined defence R&D roadmap and is seen as pursuing its goals with exemplary steadfastness19.

 The prescriptions

 It’s fashionable for everyone to say that DRDO must be “accountable” 20. The moot question, however, is how to make DRDO accountable.

 Bluntly put, there is very little hope that DRDO can ever be truly accountable given its current management structure and practices. DRDO must therefore radically metamorphose – and quickly!

 Change organization structure

 With over 50 R&D establishments, 5000 scientists, 25,000 supporting personnel and a wide spectrum of affiliated organizations and agencies, DRDO is incredibly big. Like all publicly-funded establishments, DRDO is also highly bureaucratic with a handful of senior officials effectively wielding most of the power and being responsible for most of the decision-making21.

 This bureaucratic edifice must be gradually disabled. DRDO must opt for decentralization with the onus being progressively transferred to individual project teams. The project teams must be focussed, more interactive and outward-looking, contain a wider variety of skills and enjoy significantly greater autonomy in buying, spending and recruitment. DRDO must also seriously consider the option of outsourcing project tasks to the private industry.

 Forge public-private partnerships

 Public-private partnerships are now being seen as the most effective vehicles for technology development. It is easy to see why. While R&D labs can create excellent technology demonstrators, the private industry is better geared to take these technologies to the market; while R&D labs have very good facilities and infrastructure, the private industry is better equipped to exploit this resource profitably.

 This is therefore a marriage that should work very well. But things are not yet hunky-dory; there are still serious issues to be resolved. These include the ownership of the intellectual property rights, sharing technology development costs, guarantees of a “minimum order”, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s licensing policy for the manufacture of spares and parts to private companies22.

 DRDO is however more open now to the idea of a public-private partnership23. The armed forces too appear more willing to embrace the private sector; Tata Motors is reportedly closing a deal to produce armoured vehicles for the Indian Army24. The Godrej Group too has now started seriously considering defence production ventures.

 DRDO’s proposed partnership with the private sector will have an impact on its long-standing relationship with Ordnance Factory Boards (OFB) and the defence public sector undertakings (DPSU).This may not be such a bad thing; the private industry is able to assimilate new technologies much faster, and the OFBs and DPSUs often lack the zest and agility required for time-bound projects25.

 Not surprisingly, foreign defence R&D establishments, especially from Israel, are already discovering the benefits of a partnership with India’s private industry. R&D work packages – that might one day become a part of a technology product sold at an exorbitant price back to India – are already being outsourced to India! It would be fair to predict that such an arrangement will proliferate even more as the years roll by26,27.

 Opt for international collaborations

 It is curious that while India has no qualms about making outright purchase of defence components and systems – 70% of our defence equipment is still imported – when it comes to defence R&D we suddenly want to do everything ourselves28. When a foreign R&D collaborator sends a quotation it is often dismissed as being horrendously expensive. But, given the delays and technology gaps in the “we’ll do-it-ourselves” option, we often end up spending even more29.

 Indeed, we may have already reached the stage where the only way to go forward in defence R&D is via international tie-ups30, preferably with established market leaders. Such collaborations yield better technologies, cut down development cost and time, open up more geographically diverse markets and allow better international brand building31. DRDO’s collaboration with Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia on the BrahMos cruise missile is working exceedingly well, with the missile taking just six years to travel “from the mind to the market” 32.

 Cleverly exploit offsets

 The Indian armed forces are expected to spend US$ 100 billion to purchase defence equipment in the next five years. Every foreign vendor executing a purchase order of more than Rs 300 crores will be required to commit 30% of the order value to either purchase Indian defence products or invest directly in the Indian defence infrastructure33. This adds up to a lot of money and offers a wonderful opportunity, especially to the Indian private sector, to create defence R&D capability and enter production. India must move aggressively to reap the benefits from this kill34.

 In fact, money supply is no longer a concern in defence R&D or production; the real worry is how to spend this money optimally. India also now allows 26% foreign direct investment to set up defence manufacturing facilities, and it’s likely that the percentage will be hiked further. So the conditions are indeed ripe for a quantum leap in the defence production industry. If the industry’s response still appears lukewarm it must be because defence orders are even now considered risky, intermittent or inadequate35. But one senses that the situation is poised to change very soon. With the gates opening up, the trickle could soon turn into an avalanche.

 Stick to the defence sector

 DRDO is dabbling in too many things; it has fingers in too many pies. There are defence labs for agricultural research, food research, terrain research, physiology and allied sciences and even psychological research! Such R&D endeavours can easily be pursued outside the DRDO umbrella.

 It is therefore time for DRDO to re-invent itself and resume its role of being the chief R&D facilitator for the armed forces. Instead of trying to do everything itself, DRDO must focus on getting the job done – preferably through the private industry – and delivering the desired capability or performance.

 There are also hundreds of R&D projects in DRDO labs that are either going nowhere or unlikely to yield anything worthwhile36. These projects must be immediately closed and the project teams must be encouraged to focus on new and innovative technologies in association with foreign partners. DRDO must be rejuvenated by giving it a grand international vision – and new and exciting goals.

 Invite service personnel to join design teams

 DRDO scientists and officers from the armed forces rarely interact with one another, and, when they do, they find themselves on very different wavelengths. This shortcoming has to be quickly remedied. One way to achieve this is to invite personnel from the armed forces to be a part of the product design team. Such an exercise has worked rather well in DRDO’s interactions with the Indian Navy on their many electronic warfare projects, but less so with the Indian Army and IAF37.

 Such interactions are especially important because one rarely gets the design right the first time. The whole process is long-drawn and painful. It is therefore essential that both the technology developer and the technology user work together and share both the highs and the lows. This will breed mutual respect which, in turn, will cement a more fruitful partnership.

 Need new technology management paradigms

 To create a successful technology product – such as a missile or a combat aircraft – a large number of individual technology components have to perform in unison, and at peak efficiency levels. While DRDO labs usually succeed in developing the individual technology building blocks, they find it a lot harder to harmoniously integrate these parts into the final product38. To give just one example, the design of the LCA composite wings had to be changed in 2004 – three years after the aircraft’s first flight – for better weapons integration. Why didn’t someone worry about weapon integration much earlier?

 This sort of thing happens all the time and is one of the chief reasons for project delays. It also leaves DRDO’s project leaders and scientists deeply frustrated; most eventually ruefully reconcile to this reality and lower their intensity levels by a few notches. And, of course, this delays the project even further.

 DRDO’s real problem is that it doesn’t have capable technology managers. And if a capable manager surfaces by accident he isn’t provided with the enabling technologies needed to make that crucial difference. DRDO must quickly create a cadre of professionally trained managers who can deal with both technology development and technology marketing.

 Offer more incentives to R&D scientists

 DRDO’s R&D scientists are very poorly paid. Their salaries are also not expected to go up by more than 25-50% as long as they remain paid employees of the Government. In such circumstances, and with pay packets continuing to surge in the private sector, DRDO’s long-term prognosis is deeply worrying.

 To understand how DRDO might retain its scientific pool, we must examine both the factors that make DRDO attractive and the factors contributing to DRDO’s brain drain. Scientists join DRDO because of its excellent infrastructure, its job security, the intellectual freedom it offers, the opportunity of working for prestigious national projects and interacting with eminent scientists, and for its relatively stress-free environment. Scientists leave DRDO because salaries are low, promotions are infrequent, there are fewer opportunities to go abroad and the climate for work is not sufficiently stimulating.

 The way out is for DRDO to offer incentives aligned to these factors. Since salaries cannot be raised beyond a point, allow scientists to augment incomes by consultancy; encourage sabbatical visits where scientists can work for the private industry while retaining their jobs; permit scientists to go abroad more often for conferences, teaching assignments or higher studies; create a strong enabling environment for work with good management information systems and Internet access at home; and, finally, offer a suite of facilities and services that increase the personal comfort levels of the scientists: cheap accommodation on the campus to reduce both house rent costs and travel time, schools for children, health centres, recreation clubs etc. At the end of the day, the scientist must feel that he is being cared for and is getting a good deal.

 Create knowledge repositories and marketing opportunities

 A significant fraction of DRDO’s R&D output can be converted into commercially successful, and socially beneficial, technology products. Regrettably, very few of these technologies actually reach the marketplace because they are poorly documented or packaged. This failing is largely because DRDO labs – in fact all national R&D labs – lack the culture to carefully document their work and invest the extra effort needed to make their output “market-ready”.

 DRDO must therefore create good documentation and marketing teams; and all this must eventually lead to secure and searchable archives of DRDO’s technology development and deployment. This exercise would be especially worthwhile as we enter a new era likely to be dominated by intellectual property rights and management.

 Tailpiece

 A maverick suggestion, especially popular with bloggers on defence affairs, is to close down DRDO and transfer its R&D teams to user departments. This is not a particularly good idea. We still need an entity like the DRDO to take a holistic view of India’s defence R&D – and also to avoid, what V Siddhartha39 calls, the triple trap that the country faces: “What is developed abroad will not suit our defence requirements; what is suitable will be denied; what is not denied will be unaffordable”.

 In the final count, DRDO simply has to learn how to play the game differently – and yet manage to win.

 — 

  1. R. Ramachandran’s article in The Hindu compares DRDO’s budgets with establishments elsewhere in the world, and gives cost break-ups. DRDO accounts for only 5-6% of India’s defence expenditure. The tangible value of DRDO’s deliveries during 1985-2005 is Rs 14,800 crores; the intangible benefits too are very considerable. See http://www.hindu.com/2007/02/02/stories/2007020203681000.htm
  2. R.Narasimha explains that it was a conscious national strategy to maintain a ‘low-slow-steady’ technology development threshold in the first few decades after Independence. See “The Strategic Value of Public-Private Partnership in Indian Aerospace” in Satish Kumar (ed.), India’s National Security Annual Review 2005 (New Delhi: Knowledge World, 2005), pp 248-262.
  3. Kota Harinarayana, who led the LCA programme with great distinction, was among the first to realize the need for such an alliance for high technology projects. A lot of LCA-related work was successfully outsourced – even to private vendors – ten years ago … at a time when India’s R&D community was extremely wary of outsourcing (it still is!).
  4. A plethora of new centres and facilities were created at DRDO during this high expansion phase; ostensibly to provide better R&D focus, but also to overwhelm competing teams outside DRDO and, occasionally, to enable a DRDO scientist to wear a more ornate crown.
  5. See http://www.indianexpress.com/sunday/story/16914.html. In this interview to Indian Express, Aatre also says: “DRDO should stop making exaggerated promises”. It would appear that Aatre is acknowledging that DRDO was indeed guilty of biting off more than it could chew.
  6. http://www.hindu.com/2006/11/15/stories/2006111500491700.htm
  7. DRDO’s relationship with the Indian Navy (IN) is sufficiently harmonious. This is because IN is more “R&D-friendly”, has a much better design capability than IA or IAF, and appears more capable – and willing – to walk the talk with DRDO. IN’s interactions with DRDO are therefore based on greater shared respect and a better understanding of the technological possibilities.
  8. Read Kaushik Kapisthalam’s defence of DRDO in http://in.rediff.com/news/2005/jan/17spec1.htm. He calls DRDO the media’s “whipping boy”.
  9. The Week reported that the 14th report of the Balasaheb Vikhe Patil-headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has criticised the services’ phoren craze: It says “…indigenously developed product is subjected to prolonged and exhaustive trial and evaluation”, and quotes a DRDO scientist as saying: “When it comes to imported systems, the services are willing to dilute their QR if the supplier can bring down the price. Why can’t they extend the same concession to systems developed by our own scientists?”. Retrieved from http://livefist.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2007-04-22T09%3A47%3A00%2B05%3A30
  10. Ramachandran points out how spending on non-defence industrial R&D in advanced countries is four times more than defence R&D, while the non-defence to defence ratio is about the same in India. http://www.hindu.com/2007/02/02/stories/2007020203681000.htm.
  11. Ajai Shukla has more to say about foreign R&D outsourcing to India in his articles in Business Standard. See, for example, http://www.business-standard.com/common/storypage_c.php?leftnm=10&autono=282757, where he writes about how a Hyderabad manufacturer will start producing high-tech radars for an Israeli defence agency.
  12. “Administration” encompasses the purchase, accounting, recruitment and project monitoring functions. We often fail to recognize how much poor administration cripples R&D performance. In a recent private conversation, an aircraft structures engineer who has done extraordinary work for the LCA, likened the administration to a “cancer that must be eliminated at all cost”.
  13. R. Narasimha observes that India is policy-limited, not technology-limited. Kota Harinarayana has frequently remarked how defence R&D needs enabling technologies to accompany its core technologies.
  14. http://www.indianexpress.com/story/16736.html
  15. http://www.hindustantimes.com/storypage/storypage.aspx?id=0f941209-ca0f-4e33-857c-0830f927e0ea&ParentID=fa8c1e18-db9b-4270-ae0b-21f03ca8a6cf&MatchID1=4467&TeamID1=2&TeamID2=4&MatchType1=1&SeriesID1=1110&PrimaryID=4467&Headline=1%2c007+scientists+have+quit+DRDO+in+past+five+years
  16. M. Natarajan, SA to RM, reportedly said that DRDO requires 100,000 design engineers, and he does not know where to find them! See http://forums.bharat-rakshak.com/viewtopic.php?t=2960&postdays=0&postorder=asc&&start=80&sid=a43a735ee731e0674605873ea458e858
  17. At a seminar on “Perspectives and future prospects in higher mathematics”, held at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in October 2006, a DRDO expert said that DRDO is “woefully short of mathematicians” and recommended the creation of a national centre on computational mathematics with a 50:50 engineer-mathematician composition. See http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/jan102007/13.pdf
  18. The 123-page fourteenth report of the Standing Committee on Defence on DRDO provides a very compelling commentary. See http://164.100.24.208/ls/CommitteeR/Defence/14threport.pdf.
  19. In an article published in Hindustan Times, Manoj Joshi explains how China is ruthlessly implementing its self-stated objective of military modernization even if it means drastically reducing the size and the clout of the PLA. See  http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=f06d1379-e7b0-4f69-9b54-ef45f206da1f&&Headline=Coat+of+arms
  20. After facing considerable flak in Parliament, the Government has now appointed a high-level committee, chaired by P. Rama Rao, to carry out “a thorough review of DRDO’s administrative, financial and personnel procedures and audits of scientific research work undertaken by the organisation’s laboratories”. Will this committee really get somewhere? Also read http://www.indianexpress.com/story/21257.html
  21. The Standing Committee on Defence expressed its “displeasure to note that Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri has been assigned multifarious responsibilities”. The SA to RM is also Director-General DRDO, Secretary (R&D) and Director-General, ADA. The Committee felt that “one person should not be entrusted with a number of responsibilities” as “it dilutes the benefit of collective wisdom”. http://164.100.24.208/ls/CommitteeR/Defence/14threport.pdf
  22. The response to the Ministry of Defence’s policy to outsource the manufacture of parts and spares to the private industry has been lackadaisical. Many smaller private industries failed to qualify because of the minimum capitalization requirement of Rs 1 billion. See http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/sep/27spec3.htm.
  23. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) made a very strong pitch to the Standing Committee on Defence to bring private players into defence R&D. The Committee was apparently suitably impressed. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) is also lobbying intensely for India’s private industry to get a larger share of the defence production pie.
  24. See http://www.india-defence.com/reports-3099.
  25. One is beginning to hear talk about HAL’s new recruitment and incentive strategies after obtaining the “Navratna” status. The Navratna status offers more operational and financial autonomy, and might help DPSU’s gain greater agility. See http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=154852
  26. Arrangements like this create a sense of outrage, especially when one realizes that all the intellectual property created by Indian minds in India will move away to the foreign outsourcing agency. But then nothing prevents DRDO from doing the same thing! If DRDO is smart, it will; but one fears that this won’t be the case.
  27. In fact, foreign technology majors are also looking at the option of outsourcing work to Indian national R&D labs. Many R&D labs, required to “earn” more money, bite the bait. But there are serious apprehensions that this is a ploy to distract or delay India’s more serious technology development plans.
  28. Although it doesn’t quite happen that way eventually. A sizeable fraction of the Tejas (LCA) aircraft is based on imported parts and systems, and a quack remarked that India’s main battle tank Arjun “is now hardly Indian!”.
  29. S. R. Valluri, who was NAL’s Director during 1965-1984, and the first Director-General of ADA, believes that India made a “big blunder” in the 1960’s by not accepting Bristol Siddley’s offer to develop a reheat version of the Orpheus 703 engine for India’s Marut (HF 24) aircraft. The project cost of about Rs 5 crores was considered unacceptably expensive. The Marut experience would have been invaluable in India’s future fighter aircraft development programmes. See http://csirwebistad.org/aesi/pages/srvint.htm.
  30. In a blunt editorial, the Indian Express observes: Given the scale and complexity of the technologies involved, India must now stop being coy about cooperating with America on missile defence. For India, missile defence is surely the way to go. The quickest way of getting there is through open international collaboration. See http://www.indianexpress.com/story/17489.html
  31. It is notable that R. Narasimha, as Director, NAL, considered a similar international partnership for NAL’s SARAS aircraft development with Russia’s Myasishchev Design Bureau (MDB) back in 1990! But the demise of the Soviet Union effectively ended that partnership.
  32. India’s Defence Minister A. K. Antony has publicly endorsed the BrahMos model. See http://www.hindu.com/2007/02/08/stories/2007020802531000.htm. A thousand BrahMos missiles might be sold in the next decade at the international marketplace.
  33. Retrieved from http://mod.nic.in/DOFA.htm.
  34. There is however a real danger that India will not be ready to exploit the full benefits accruing from these offsets unless the activation machinery is immediately triggered into action. Some activity in this direction has started; e.g., the Government has accorded the Raksha Udyog Ratna (RuR) status to a few private companies to facilitate their entry into defence production. But things are still not moving at the desired pace; even the Defence Minister expressed doubts about India’s ability to fully exploit the 30% offsets. See http://www.indianexpress.com/story/32901.html.
  35. In most countries, defence production facilities also service the civil sector. This ensures a steadier stream of orders and more innovative technology development.
  36. Sub-critical R&D projects abound in national R&D labs. With very small project teams and meagre resources these projects meander aimlessly. Everyone realizes that such projects must either funnel into a larger R&D programme or be closed – but no one wants to bell the cat!
  37. DRDO’s interactions with the IAF and the Indian Army have been much less successful. In his deposition to the Standing Committee on Defence, an Army spokesman remarked; “we have 200 officers deployed at DRDO … but the moment they are posted in DRDO they forget their uniform and their performance drops”. See http://164.100.24.208/ls/CommitteeR/Defence/14threport.pdf. DRDO and IAF have however interacted well in the LCA flight test programme.
  38. Kota Harinarayana talks of how Indian scientists know how to analyze, but not to synthesize.
  39. V. Siddhartha, “Technology in the Future Needs of Our Armed Forces”, in Satish Kumar, ed., India’s National Security Annual Review 2001, (New Delhi, Vikas Publishing House, 2002), pp. 232-

— This article appeared as a chapter in India’s National Security: Annual Review: 2008

One thought on “An appraisal of DRDO

  1. As written in todays The Hindu editorial(May 14 2013) by Manoj Joshi,Defence research must be taken over by the private sector. There are too much inefficiencies by these ‘scientists’ and ‘engineers’ to be taken seriously as our nations security keepers. It would be better if the organisation DRDO is shut down and a new organisation with new efficient people preferably under the private sector is opened. Just look at TATA power, who developed a new artillery on their own(with some outside help) in a short span of time. I feel These defence PSUs exist only to drain the public tax payers money and nothing else with out producing anything substantial. 30 years development time for Tejas and Arjun MBT are laughable. And 3 times cost and time overruns for the submarines show the rotten efficiency of these people. And sukhoi planes assembled in India costing more than the imported ones have become the butt of jokes. Hope DRDO is closed. They are a burden. Sometimes a new boat is better than plugging a leaking one.

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