India has asked its Defence Research and Development Organisation, or DRDO, to focus on developing and building futuristic technologies in missiles, unmanned aircraft and submarines, and deliver products on time to the country’s armed forces.
The government’s directive came on the back of recommendations by an expert panel that submitted its report in March.
Implementing the committee’s suggestions cannot be termed as an “overhaul (of DRDO),” Union minister of state for defence M.M. Pallam Raju told Mint in an interview. “It would mean tweaking processes to make them work better.”
Union minister of state for defence M.M. Pallam Raju says the services want the latest technology on time from DRDO (Photo by: Reuters)
The agency has faced flak in recent times for delays in projects such as the Arjun battle tank, Tejas light combat aircraft, the shelved Trishul missile project, and delivering products that were a generation behind of what the armed forces wanted.
The committee, headed by P. Rama Rao, India’s former science and technology secretary, also suggested involving the armed forces while conceiving projects, using the private industry to build systems, and looking at collaboration with foreign vendors to acquire knowledge on technologies that could not be built in the short-term.
The panel has advised setting up a defence technology commission to evolve strategy and work on futuristic defence technologies. “It is now up to DRDO to absorb them (the recommendations) as quickly as it can,” the minister said.
The five-decade old DRDO, with more than 50 laboratories under it, has built armaments such as bombs, lasers, missiles, radars and tanks. It has also conducted medical research on soldiers’ health, developed pre-cooked food for soldiers in high altitudes, aptitude tests for pilots and infantry personnel, and devices to protect against chemical and nuclear warfare.
“What the services want is the latest technology—for example, tanks—in time. If you gave them tanks in six years instead of four, it is of no use for them because the technology has changed,” Raju said.
“The road map is being prepared how to implement them,” said a DRDO scientist, who did not want to be named, citing confidentiality of the report. “It will take a year before some results emerge”.
A retired director general of DRDO said he did not see the need of any radical changes at his former employer. “DRDO has been behind schedule in some projects. Whatever they could do to hasten (this) is welcome,” said V.K. Aatre.
On Saturday, defence minister A.K. Antony, at a DRDO event in Bangalore, warned the agency and the armed forces against dependence on foreign nations and suppliers for “cutting-edge technologies”.
“Such a tendency may land the country and the armed forces in deep trouble in crucial times in the form of import restrictions, technology denial or even undue and unjustified delay in the delivery of already contracted systems or components,” he said.
India’s imports of military hardware and software could touch $30 billion (Rs1.29 trillion) by 2012 as the armed forces buy multi-role fighter jets, artillery guns, a variety of helicopters and long-range maritime spy aircraft, according to a study by industry body Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
The involvement of large corporate houses such as the Tata group, Larsen and Toubro Ltd and Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, which are working with DRDO and the armed forces, could spur faster development and delivery of defence products.
“We have to nurture DRDO, to accelerate the delivery programme… How do you do that? (It is) by increasing the private sector participation,” Raju said.
He said though the private sector was always part of developing defence products through public sector undertakings, the sector was dominated by firms that did not have the benefits of scale. “There is also scope of larger enterprises to come in,” he said.