Tejas LCA is among the list of India’s delayed defence programmes.
Amid India’s recent positive news of indigenous defence technology, such as the additional order for Arjun tanks, the Ministry of Defence and the country’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) exchanged blows in a general dispute on delays in procurement programmes. After the DRDO has been criticised for various delays in defence projects, the organisation’s chief, V K Saraswat, defended the DRDO’s performance and pointed out to alternative reasons.
In presence of India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the head of the DRDO recently made a strong statement, calling for responsibility to be shared by all involved parties, the DRDO, the Armed Forces and private industry partners. He accused, in particular, the Armed Forces of preferring the procurement of existing, foreign solutions over indigenously developed and manufactured defence systems. “The services also must understand that while the temptation may be overwhelming, to field proven, state-of-art imported systems, they (domestic industry) too have a role to play in the economic and industrial growth of the country. No foreign system can be customised to completely address our long term requirement,” he said, according to DD India.
Echoes from the other side of the divide
So far, the official echo to this accusation has been rather low-key. Among the few reactions is a statement by a serving Lt.Gen., cited by 8ak, saying: “There may be merit in what the DRDO chief is saying in terms of dependence on weapons imports, but then it is because of the incompetence of Indian Defence PSUs [Public Sector Undertakings – Ed.] like DRDO, HAL etc. that the Armed Forces are forced to import military hardware to keep its inventory in shape.” The unnamed officer underlined his criticism by opening old wounds: “Had we not taken three decades to develop the Arjuns, there would have been no place for the Russian T-90s in the Army, as by now even the improved Mark-II version would have been developed. But for the DRDO to say that we should not import and wait for them to deliver is ridiculous because if the security of the nation is threatened.”
Referring to the DRDO chief’s statement, another unnamed IAF officer told the Indian news service: “The belief that Armed Forces import because of the kickbacks involved has tarnished the forces reputation among the public. As a matter of fact, we import only because DRDO takes unacceptable time to develop military hardware. Therefore, by the time equipment is inducted into the forces, the GSQRs [General Staff Qualitative Requirement – Ed.] on which the product is developed become irrelevant and the product obsolete as other nations develop more advanced technology.”
Instead of adding to the recriminations, government officials have mostly identified a general requirement to speed up development and called upon the scientists and those in charge of research and development to improve their efforts and performance, in particular, in terms of time. The Prime Minister said during the National Technology Day on which DRDO’s Saraswat made his statement: “In many areas, we have moved fast, but our competitors have often moved faster. It is a fact our current level of self-reliance in defence R&D (research and development) is less than our capabilities and it needs to be stepped up significantly.” Urging the DRDO to work closely with the Armed Forces and industry, Manmohan Singh added: “We should be able to acknowledge and learn from our setbacks.”
The Prime Minister’s statement is in line with an earlier speech of the Indian Defence Minister, Shri AK Antony, at the 34th DRDO Directors’ Conference in February, which addresses and challenges the DRDO in a more direct way: „DRDO must not fritter away [government] resources and needs to do some ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. On its part, DRDO will have to ensure that it retains its relevance in the face of an increased role for the private sector and fast-paced technological changes.” The defence minister added that the organisation “must also realise that it is not doing business in an age of monopoly and thus, needs to be open, receptive and to innovate in the changed times and circumstances.”
In a written statement to members of the Parliament of India early this month, the Defence Minister laid out the delays and increases of costs of prominent defence programmes. These include the Tejas light combat aircraft (4 years delay), the development of a naval light combat aircraft (more than 4 years delay), the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (more than 15 years delay) as well as the engine for the light combat aircraft (14 years delay). According to the Minister, “the reasons for delay in completion of the above projects and their cost escalation are due to technical / technological complexities; sanctions imposed by technologically advanced countries and various control regimes; increase in scope of work in terms of creation of more infrastructure, test facilities and their maintenance; change/enhancement in user requirements during development; deviations/failures during testing; extended and long-drawn user trials; etc.”
DRDO in Transformation
A solution to the obvious structural problems in Indian defence procurement seems difficult to identify and to implement. Being convinced that the DRDO has no choice but to be globally competitive, the Defence Minister announced in mid-May a restructuring plan to transform the DRDO “in form and substance” in an effort to create a greater Armed Forces-DRDO-industry interface.
The Defence Ministry’s statement explains: “The key measures include the establishment of a Defence Technology Commission with the Defence Minister as its Chairman, de-centralisation of DRDO management, making DRDO a leaner organisation by merging some of the DRDO laboratories with other public funded institutions with similar discipline, interest and administrative system, engagement of an eminent Human Resource (HR) expert as consultant to revamp the entire HR structure of DRDO and establishment of a commercial arm of DRDO.”