DRDO muddles through 439 projects
Rajat Pandit, TNN Aug 16, 2006, 03.01am IST
NEW DELHI: From missiles, radars and electronic warfare programmes to even juices, mosquito repellents and titanium dental implants, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) does it all. And, by and large, flounders in them all, with technical glitches, time and cost overruns.
Amid growing demand by armed forces and experts that DRDO “concentrate” only on “a few core and critical areas” to bolster the country’s defence preparedness, latest statistics show the organisation has as many as 439 ongoing projects at a total cost of a whopping Rs 16,925 crore. “DRDO, with around 29,000 personnel in 50 laboratories and establishments under its umbrella, certainly needs to get its act together. Not even 10% of its total budget (DRDO got Rs 5,454 crore in 2006-07) is spent on fundamental research,” says a senior defence official.
Adds an Army officer, “What is the use of having such a huge defence R&D set-up if it cannot even come up with basics like good bullet-proof jackets, webbing and light-weight ballistic helmets. Even the systems they manage to deliver to us suffer from operational problems.”
The long-standing aim to take the country towards self-reliance in military capabilities, of course, remains a mere pipedream. If in 1991-92, 25% of India’s total defence expenditure was spent on imports, the case remains the same even now.
DRDO, of course, has to contend with inadequate funds, with its allocation hovering just around 6% of the total defence budget. Moreover, it’s not able to attract top scientific talent in the absence of good career prospects and other incentives.
But even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently told DRDO he was “concerned by the problems of cost and time-overruns, which have plagued our defence industry for decades now”.
Consequently, it’s no wonder that the armed forces prefer the import route because of DRDO’s long track-record of delivering too-little, too-late. Of the 439 projects, for instance, the really big ones number around 20. But the progress in them, more or less, has been shoddy.
The Arjun main-battle tank project, for one, was sanctioned way back in 1974. After spending a huge amount of money, the first five Arjun tanks are still being tested for battle-worthiness, with the Army not too keen to induct them.
Similar is the story with Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, sanctioned in 1983 to replace the country’s ageing MiG fleet. Though its prototypes have completed over 530 flights, IAF is not fully convinced yet whether it will induct them by even 2012. This when government has already sanctioned Rs 5489.78 crore for Tejas till now.
The country’s integrated guided missile development programme, which kicked off in 1983, has only now shown some progress, with a few Prithvi and Agni missile variants being inducted into the armed forces.