Express Investigation: Delayed Research; Delayed Organisation – Part – One
6,000 cr wasted, 10-yr delay & they want 150,000 cr more
Posted: Sun Nov 12 2006, 00:00 hrs
New Delhi, November 11:
Make India prosperous by establishing a world-class science and technology base…provide our Defence Services the decisive edge by equipping them with internationally competitive systems and solutions… design, develop and lead to production state-of-the-art weapons systems…
That’s the “vision” and the “mission” the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has proudly spelt out for itself.
An investigation by The Sunday Express into official records that include detailed testimonies by the Ministry of Defence to a Parliamentary Standing Committee — its report is yet to be tabled in Parliament — shows that if there’s one thing this behemoth of 50 laboratories with a staff of about 33,000 has developed to almost perfection, it’s this: wrapping itself around the flag to hide a record of delay and non-delivery in virtually all major weapons programmes.
At a time when China is rapidly modernising its armed forces through international collaboration and acquiring advanced technology from abroad, the DRDO has become a prisoner of its own misleading slogan on self-reliance. In preventing the armed forces from buying urgently needed weapons with brave talk, “we can make it here”, and failing to deliver, the DRDO has introduced uncertainty into the government’s defence planning.
According to latest official records, obtained by this newspaper, in 12 of its showpiece projects, none of which is anywhere near completion, the DRDO has overshot sanctioned estimates by Rs 6,013.43 crore in just the last 10 years. The projects include the crucial guided missile programme, the Arjun tank, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Tejas), the Samyukta communication system and Kaveri jet engine.
To put this in perspective, this cost overrun is larger than DRDO’s budget of Rs 5,356 crore for the current year. And this is reflective of just 12 projects. It speaks nothing of 427 others, all in varying states of drift. And yet DRDO claims, “Global level R&D and any world-class defence product can be brought out in competitive time and cost.”
These were the words used in a September 22 presentation to the Standing Committee especially in the year of the organisation’s biggest symbolic failure, the Agni-III strategic missile.
But if cost overruns were not enough, consider this: Records show that for all major projects, DRDO’s average time overrun is 10.11 years (see chart). For example, a 16-year delay for the Arjun tank and 12 years for just Phase I of the LCA Tejas.
Responding to a written questionnaire from The Sunday Express, DRDO chief M Natarajan, who has also been involved with one of DRDO’s biggest failures, the Arjun tank, says: “This is a complaint which I hear very often. But one should understand these are all R&D projects. All advanced countries face similar situations. If you say that we are always late, then it would not be fair to us. We generally deliver the goods on time.”
If that were true, Natarajan must have had a trying time explaining that on October 29 at the very first DRDO presentation to new Defence Minister A K Antony. Drawing comparisons with the China-Russia relationship, Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt reportedly wanted to know why there were such “massive delays” in DRDO projects and persistent technological gaps.
Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy was more direct. Called in a year after he retired to give testimony, he told the Parliamentary panel: “For improvement in DRDO’s working, it is essential to make fundamental changes in organization and structure with accountability to the user and to do work in time.”
Krishnaswamy couldn’t have been more spot on. For, although DRDO defended its performance by blaming the three services — they change their requirements while development is in progress, they spend too much time on trials — here’s just how bad the current situation is: In the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Plans, with DRDO’s failures a compelling factor, according to the Defence Ministry, the country has spent an average of 24.25% of the Defence budget on imported systems to fill in holes caused by DRDO’s non-delivery. That translates into roughly Rs 42,376 crore since 1991-92.
Even the “self-reliance” index, the one plank the entire DRDO justifies itself on, has remained static for the last 15 years. Ironically, in 1991, it was President A P J Abdul Kalam, then DRDO chief, who charted out a plan to push self-reliance up to 70% by 2005. Today’s self-reliance index, according to the Ministry’s own estimate: 30 per cent.
Kalam, in fact, started the Self-Reliance Implementation Council (SRIC) in 1992 and monitored it to check for slippages and gaps. But that was more an academic exercise than anything else. For five years now, the council hasn’t met once.
Papers are only “activated” when Parliamentary questions are asked. In what has the armed forces on tenterhooks now, on October 29, the DRDO recommended to Antony that a “certain percentage of defence acquisitions be earmarked exclusively for DRDO and indigenously developed products.”
The total cost of 439 projects currently in progress with DRDO adds up to Rs 16,925 crore, with just 17 of those adding up to Rs 13,560 crore, most of them on time and cost extensions. In September, DRDO asked, in its testimony to the
Parliamentary committee, for an assured allocation of Rs 1,50,000 crore at the rate of Rs 10,000 crore per year for the next 15 years starting 2010.
It’s time Antony asked the DRDO a few questions, beginning with the Integrated Guided Missile Development programme. There is no indigenous weapons project as prestigious as this, neither is there one that matches its record of repeated and expensive failures.
Every project has to fructify within a given timeframe, otherwise it will just begin to drift and lose focus
Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy
DRDO needs greater accountability. We have not been able to get the maximum out of DRDO, even though self-reliance should be our core
Gen V P Malik