Tuesday 20 April 2021, 03:13 PM
In season of blame, a defence
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 5/27/2013 12:00:00 AM

 V. S. Arunachalam

This, I fear, is the season of bashing the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), because it’s a time when our defence services project their wishlists for the latest in weapon systems and arms merchants from all over the globe flock to Delhi peddling their wares. Some of their products may still be on the drawing board and some may have grown old awaiting a buyer, readying for a graceful retirement.

No matter, blame the DRDO for delays, poor performance in trials and lack of manufacturing base and opt for imports.
From 2005 to 2013, the total value of items approved for induction by the Defence Acquisition Council is Rs.1,16,293 crore. These were products, systems and equipment based on technologies developed by the DRDO. Add to this another Rs.40,939 crore — the value of items for which orders have been placed by the services in these eight years — and the total comes to Rs.1,57,232.crore.

In a recent Edit page piece in The Asian Age, Bharat Karnad gave a “zero” to the DRDO (Zero for DRDO, April 26). However, if we go by the statistics, the grand total works out to 10 zeroes preceded by 150! Zero is too basic an Indian construct to be so casually used.

How good are our systems? One has only to talk to our Air Force pilots to assess the performance of Tejas. They are enthusiastic about its handling qualities and the glass cockpit that is yet to appear in any other operational fighter. Many years ago, Mr Karnad wrote a piece along with Stephen Cohen — not a friend of Indian R&D — in the Illustrated Weekly of India, mocking our indigenous aircraft programme, calling it “unsafe at any speed”. They should be relieved to know that Tejas has done over 2,000 flights without any incident and flies like a gazelle even at supersonic speed! I can cite similar stories on other systems — Brahmos, radars, and armour — that have all become technical successes. These successes have also led to two challenges. From the West it is difficult to acquire the know-how for strategic and other state-of-the-art systems. Sometimes we get a black box with no options to study their designs, and often not even that. We have to develop these indigenously, and this takes time, often beyond initial projections. This is true not only of DRDO but other scientific organisations in India and abroad. Inspite of these difficulties we have to persevere. India’s security is not only dependent on military but also on our proven capabilities in science and technology. Often our leaders return from foreign trips pleased by the recognition India gets for its scientific progress. The late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao told me with pride that some foreign leaders were more conscious of our growing prowess in science and technology than the size of our military hardware.

It’s often forgotten that the DRDO is just one component of a large supply chain extending from design to large manufacturing. Reported failure in manufacturing — to meet the numbers and/or quality — can often be attributed to many weak links in the supply chain. For instance, we have not invested in building a large manufacturing base either in the public or the private sector. Our manufacturing base is built for the Seventies when there were a few large R&D projects or indigenous designs to produce, and not for the present decade when there are so many missiles, radar and battle tanks competing for production.

Another component that’s missing in this supply chain is a translator. Manufacturers do not speak R&D language, and this leads to difficulty in transforming research designs into manufacturing protocols. The Russians overcome this problem by setting up design bureaus in manufacturing centres, while Americans have dynamic pilot production facilities before embarking on large-scale production. They also nurture large number of small boutique facilities manufacturing components and systems. India should adopt a similar interface and avoid tasking R&D straight into production. This will reduce the delay one experiences when a design goes for manufacturing.

Also the nation’s economy has grown to a level that we should not distinguish between private and public sectors. All this will, of course, depend on our services opting for more indigenous systems and doing away with our self-inflicted ban on exports. If properly planned and structured, defence manufacturing along with infrastructure building can become the driver for India’s next Industrial Revolution. McKinsey estimates that even one per cent increase in GDP from these sectors can generate over three million new jobs and create unprecedented demands for better education and job-relevant training.

Whenever there is a review of DRDO, there is a temptation to recommend splitting the job of scientific adviser to the defence minister from the secretary of the department of defence research and development (DR&D) and separating director-general research and development (DGR&D) from the other two. We should resist this. The scientific adviser is the only person with access to higher echelons in the political structure and is thus able to brief them on the challenges and opportunities in the field of science. I can cite a list of strategic projects that came into being because of the access and recognition that the scientific adviser enjoys in the government.
(The writer is a former head of DRDO and also scientific adviser to the defence minister.)


In season of blame, a defence


भारत डिफेंस कवच की नई हिन्दी पत्रिका ‘डिफेंस मॉनिटर’ का ताजा अंक ऊपर दर्शाया गया है। इसके पहले दस पन्ने आप मुफ्त देख सकते हैं। पूरी पत्रिका पढ़ने के लिए कुछ राशि का भुगतान करना होता है। पुराने अंक आप पूरी तरह फ्री पढ़ सकते हैं। पत्रिका के अंकों पर क्लिक करें और देखें। -संपादक

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