The Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) missile technology that was successfully tested last month by the DRDO (India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation), was a giant step forward for India’s scientific reputation. And though India has a lot to catch up with in comparison to the US and Russia, and even China, this achievement has put India in an elite club of four countries, and also given the DRDO some respite from the criticism that it faces for its inability to meet the demands of India’s armed forces. But that is only half the story, since the DRDO’s focus appears to be to design and develop security sensitive systems that are complex and have strategic value.
So, while DRDO continues to face flak for delays and cost overruns, with projects like the Arjun main-battle tank, and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas; to be fair, the DRDO, has also developed a number of military systems and technologies, which have been put into production, and their value to armed forces stands at over Rs. 1,90,000 crore. These include a wide range of military technologies like anti-tank missiles; multi-barrel rocket launcher and torpedoes; unmanned aerial vehicles; radars and sensors; cyber and electronic warfare systems; etc. It is another matter that this message doesn’t get out effectively into the public domain, and the DRDO has itself to blame for its poor image.
Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues the DRDO—like most PSU—is the lack of accountability and a time bound target centric approach. A former DGQA, Lt Gen. VK Bhat (Retd), has stated that “There is a very apparent problem of quality and lack of accountability. No doubt that there have been glimpses of excellence within the DRDO but that system needs an overhauling.” But one cannot put all the blame on the DRDO, says Dr Saraswat, until recently the head of DRDO, claiming that: “If you actually look at any of DRDO’s programs, you will see that they have delivered every time a project has been on mission mode, and given priority. If you are giving some seed money and asking people to develop aircraft, you are fooling yourselves”.
That perhaps is the central problem that plagues India’s defence indigenisation; a clear lack of urgency to make India largely self sufficient for its defence needs. Thus, our armed forces have only been dependent on big-ticket purchases from the western countries and there are strong lobbies within and outside India, that want India to keep up its buying spree. It can thus be argued that it is for that reason alone that our defence modernisation hasn’t lived up to expectations. And as the defence procurement process (DPP) being slow and time consuming as anyone familiar with the DPP will know, the earliest one can hope for a particular equipment to arrive on our shores would take five years or more if all goes as per the book. Normally it takes 10 years or more! That gives enough time and room for several people in the chain to benefit from the handouts that arms merchants are only too willing to give, to get their equipment bought.
Unlike India, China, as per the think-tank SIPRI, is today not just the world’s 6th largest arms importer but also today the 5th largest arms exporter, having spent 2 percent of its GDP on R&D for several years, whereas our establishment is still holding the moral high ground against export of defence technologies, which will not only generate revenue, but allow Indian companies the expertise in hi- end defence manufacturing. Stalling the entry of the private sector into the area of manufacturing defence platforms, is being done on the grounds that there are sensitive military requirements that cannot be disclosed to them but only to governmental PSUs. This is contestable, since virtually all the top end equipment that we buy for our armed forces, are made by private enterprises abroad, that aren’t bound by the restrictions India places on its companies, at home.
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