26 Jan 2015

DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) : Backbone of Indian Defence !

Defence is one of the most important functions of nation-state. It has remained so for countries since time immortal though the challenges before the army, their technology, forms of war and forms of government have been changing continuously. In today’s environment security related challenges before nation-states are becoming complex due to external (foreign nation), internal (like Naxals in India), environmental (like floods in Himalaya and other places) and other factors.
DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation)
Pic courtesy : drdo.gov.in
Technological edge has become too crucial in coping with these challenges. So in India DRDO comes in the forefront of its development. The DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) is responsible for developing key defence technologies for armed forces. (Head quartered at New Delhi, established in 1958 and is under administrative control of the Ministry of Defence, Government of India)

DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation)
DRDO Office ( Pic courtesy : dailymail.co.uk )
The manufacturing is done by nine defence PSUs (public sector undertakings) and the Ordnance Factory Board, which runs 41 ordnance factories around the country.

Ordnance Factory Board, DRDO
Pic courtesy : ofdr.gov.in
State Police are also getting benefitted by using DRDO developed systems/technologies. Some of them are Less Lethal Plastic Bullets, Grenades, Riot Control Vehicle, Light weight Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for surveillance purpose etc.

Many of the soldier support systems have found civil applications. These are Bio-toilets, variety of packaged ready to eat food, agro-animal technologies for high altitudes and explosive detection kit etc.

DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation)
Pic courtesy : elections.in 
Few days ago DRDO was in news due to controversy when its Chief Avinash Chandar was removed from his post by the Govt. He was holding the post of Secretary, Defence Research and Development-cum-Director General of DRDO and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, GOI.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told to media that (After removal, Jan 2015)

        · He (Defence Minister) had given recommendation to Appointment Committee of the Cabinet for removal but was not aware of removal.  
        ·  He did not want a senior position to be held by a person on contract.  
      · Services of the DRDO chief were being abruptly terminated since the government wanted to induct someone younger from within the organisation “with an urge for development.”
       ·  More power will be given to the cluster heads of DRDO. This will give them higher flexibility in financial matters and also enable better synergy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Before removal, Aug 2014)

        · Criticised DRDO's focus on high-tech equipment while jawans hankered for better personal kit, including lighter boots and water bottles.  
        · Made a strong pitch for promoting young talent in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), asking it to earmark five laboratories for scientists “below 35 years”.
         · Asked the DRDO, which is often criticised for time and cost overruns to “develop before time”.

Ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2012 said (Before appointment)

·   Indigenous content in defence procurement was “low” and asked DRDO to focus on areas where it has the capacity to deliver within reasonable time.(The remarks came at the time when several of the key DRDO projects including the development of the Light Combat Aircraft and Kaveri engine for it had been delayed resulting in cost and time overruns.)

·   In the longer term, the country will have to build domestic defence industry including both the public and private sectors which can compete with global players in developing state-of-the-art technologies and on commercial parameters and customer satisfaction.

From the comments of these leaders we can identify few problems as well as solutions for strengthening DRDO. We will look in to this issue in greater detail but we should first understand the present controversy.

Avinash Chander,DRDO
Avinash Chander, Ex DRDO Chief (Pic courtesy : indianexpress.com)
Avinash Chander was appointed as DRDO chief in June 2013. He was due to retire on 30.11.2014. But as per the original contract, Chander’s appointment was for three years and appointment beyond his date of retirement would be on contract basis. Modi govt. extended his service as per contract in Nov 2014 but terminated him without even informing him in Jan 2015.
Chander is a highly respected for his contribution in Agni Missiles because he developed key technologies which were denied to India after it tested its nuclear capability in 1974. His track record in his personal capability is impeccable. ( http://www.drdo.gov.in/drdo/English/index.jsp?pg=scientificadvisior.jsp )  
There are many problems with DRDO which needs to be rectified but his removal in such a haphazard manner may impact morale of senior scientists working at DRDO. Hope govt. will take steps to minimize its negative impact and coordinate in a better way to boost the scientific environment.

Let us discuss challenges and solution.

1. Talent Acquisition:  There is difficulty in attracting and retaining high-quality scientific manpower and retaining them for long. There are many reasons like better opportunities in foreign universities, better pay in corporate management etc. It is the biggest stumbling block in the development of high-technology sector. Better HR Practices, transparency in promotion etc. may be helpful.

2. Bureaucratic Interference: Current bureaucratic system of administering scientific and technical departments particularly are not providing good atmosphere for scientific work. It is also one of the key reasons why many young brilliant scientists do not want to work in India. It is difficult to change, however govt need to focus on this.

3. Prioritisation of Development of Technology: There is minimal interaction between user (armed forces) and (Developers) DRDO. That is why there is mismatch between need and supply of technology. PM Modi too had raised this issue.  So a mechanism for such interaction should be developed so as to prioritise the technology development process well and utilize country’s resources effectively. 

4. Delay: There have been delays in some of the DRDO projects due to some genuine difficulties like

        a)   Technical complexities: - There are few uncertainties inherently associated with the development of any new technology. Better talent acquisitions at younger level, lateral entries for experts and bringing together few technological institutions like IITs, IISC and others may help.

       b)  Technological embargo/sanctions: - Many components are imported to India. Since defence grade components (they have properties different from the Civilian components.) like communication chips for Missiles etc. are protected by national govts. So, they require clearances from the country from which we are buying. It is time consuming and sometimes, as in case of sanctions against India after it tested nuclear power in 1998, these may even be denied. It is difficult to control because many factors decides these but better diplomacy may reduce vulnerabilities.

       c)  Non-availability of infrastructure within the country: Strong industrial base helps in development as well as demonstration of technology. Our industries in public as well as private sector have not been able to venture into critical technologies significantly. So, we are dependent too much on foreign technology for defence sector. L&T, Tatas etc are trying to make their presence felt slowly but lot needs to be done.  Govt needs to facilitate.

        d)  Extended and long lasting user trials, revision of systems specification during development phase, Lack of coordination among defence PSUs and ordinance factories and DRDO, among different departments of DRDO and among different units of DRDO etc. are other reasons. Better management practices may help improve coordination and efficiency.

        e)  Bureaucratic Control: discussed above (point 2).

      Both (1 & 2) of the above points add to the complaints that Junior DRDO scientists are denied growth opportunities. There is also argument that junior-and-mid-level DRDO scientists look to quit the organisation because promotion avenues are blocked by service extensions routinely granted to top officials.

     Manmohan Singh Government had set up a committee on February 08, 2007, chaired by Former Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Dr. P Rama Rao to review and suggest measures to improve the functioning of DRDO. The Committee submitted its report to the Government on February 07, 2008. Govt. had taken following steps.

        The following recommendations of the Committee have been implemented: 

    (i) Nomination of nodal officers for structured interaction between DRDO and Services. 

      (ii) Integrated Financial Advice Scheme for financial decentralization. 

     (iii) Appointment of a dedicated Chief Controller for Human Resources (HR).

Cabinet Note had been initiated for:

(i) Creation of Defence Technology Commission (DTC)- It will be vested with the powers to issue orders to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to make available technologies for military use within time-frames and costs, and to fix the responsibility if such decisions were not complied with. 

(ii) Creation of a Commercial Arm of DRDO. 

(iii) Renaming DG, DRDO as Chairman, DRDO. 

The following recommendations are in various stages of implementation:

(i) Decentralisation of DRDO Management: Creation of technology domain based 7 clusters and appointments of Director Generals (DGs). Directors of the laboratories will be empowered and a mechanism will be in place to ensure the accountability of the laboratory Directors. 
(ii) Appointment of an HR Consultant and review of HR policies. 
(iii) Increase of budget for Extramural Research to 5% of DRDO Budget in a period of 3 years. 
(iv) Restructuring of DRDO Headquarters, Creation of System Analysis Centre (SAC), and Directorate of Quality, Reliability and Safety (QR & S).

A, B and C was reported in media in April 2013.

Naresh Chandra Committee was set up in 2011 to review the National Security System and suggest measures to improve National security apparatus. It also suggested for revamping DRDO.

Vijay Kelkar Committee 2005 report on defence production batted for greater involvement of Private Sector to bring synergy in defence production. 

The present government is considering the possibility of bifurcating the portfolio of DRDO chief as well as Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, which at present rests with a single person. 

Thus we can see that lot of work is already available. Defence Minister should take initiatives to implement them in the greater interest of national security. Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister should ensure greater coordination among their domain of work. Reforms should not be brought in haste without full proof plans and background work.

PM Modi’s child project “Make in India”
Pic courtesy : reuters.com
We need experiences of older scientists to guide younger scientists. Engineering is not only a matter of brain but of experiences too. Diamond shines only after getting polished. Old scientists are like diamond. They should be used to generate more technological wealth.

What is your opinion regarding Indian manufacturing sector? How much important to produce high tech equipment to become self-reliant? How it can be done? 

How PM Modi’s child project “Make in India” can do wonders for making India a global leader in manufacturing? 

Are our government companies like DRDO etc are equipped enough to produce world class high tech products? Is there any big/small room for improvement? What improvements are needed on ground to high level?

(Written by Sujit Bharti, an alumnus of IIT Bhubaneshwar)



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