In the midst of some important issues raised in your replies, the one jarringly irrelevant question was: why do you point the finger at DRDO alone. Why not blame the army (probably meaning all three services here) as well?
Someone queried: “by this same funda i can say that the armys budget needs to be similarly scrutinised. this is what is so funny about your prescriptions, they are quite simply, a power grab. if i were to say that drdo needs to have veto over the army budget u would cry bloody murder, but u have no problem saying the reverse.”
Let's all agree on one issue: the army, navy and air force need to be scrutinised at least as vigilantly as the DRDO and the DPSUs; perhaps more so because we are spending more money on them than on the DRDO. I have sharply criticised the army in other writing (for example, see my piece on Indian Army operations in J&K in the Indian Express, some time in early 2006) and I will continue to do so whenever needed. But it is completely diversionary to see my criticism of the DRDO as coming from an army apologist. Because I am not.
I believe there are lots of flaws in the way the military frames its requirements and changes them as time passes. We can and should discuss ways of changing that. But let’s be equally clear on one thing: while some of DRDO’s delays can be pinned onto the services, its major issues are internal to the organisation and must be tackled as such.
Nobody is suggesting that the military have veto over the DRDO’s budget. What we are suggesting is a clear and transparent system of accountability.
The next point raised is that of insufficient funding of the DRDO. Someone actually quoted Brahma Chellaney --- an individual who will himself freely admit to being anything but a defence expert --- on how India spends so much money on arms from abroad. Statistics, they say, can be made to say anything, especially statistics like: The Trishul project received just $390 million, less than the $400 million that Microsoft paid Sabeer Bhatia for Hotmail.
What’s the point there? What’s the relationship between DRDO’s budget and the hotmail deal? That’s an entirely artificial equivalence.
Instead, look at what DRDO chief, M Natarajan, says on the issue of funding at an open press conference at Aero India 2007 on 9th February 07, with me in the second row taking notes and my tape recorder rolling. He said, “DRDO is entirely satisfied with the level of funding from the government and the MoD has assured us that there will be no shortfall of funds for any project. The problem, therefore, is not the money. The problem is: where are the engineers? Where are the designers? I don’t see money as a major constraint. The bigger constraint is generating the human resources of adequate quality and design capability.”
In sum, while DRDO’s apologists are crying wolf on the issue of funding, the DRDO chief himself is blaming the quality of his designers.
Again, this is not a problem for which DRDO alone can be blamed. With all its laboratories co-located with India’s IT giants, many young scientists stay just long enough to peek into a lab, write a CV, and then take off to join Infosys Technologies or TCS. Why do they do that? Whether it’s lack of a stimulating work ethos or just the lure of better salaries, it needs to be fixed between DRDO and government. And until such time as it is fixed, we need to stop throwing money at the DRDO in the vain hope that if we just throw enough we’ll finally produce a great aircraft, tank, whatever.
That’s the reality that purely funding-based comparisons of the Brahma Chellaney don’t address.
Ram: You say Trishul has been completed, guidance problems solved! Where do you get your stuff? The problem with the arguments of so many DRDO apologists is that you so much want to believe in the success of its products (and wannabe products) that you are taking at face value --- and quoting back as authority --- statements from within the organisation itself. In deciding on the culpability of any corporation being probed, say Enron, are you going to quote Ken Lay’s statements as proof that the corporation is above board? How can you cite the statement of Dr. PS Subramanyam, Director of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Programme Director for LCA, as proof that the LCA programme is healthy and kicking?
The first thing one learns as a journalist is to evaluate statements in the light of where they are coming from.
So let’s see what the government itself had to say on the shelving of the Trishul programme.
28th July 05 : (This information was given by the Defence Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee in a written reply to Shri Brajesh Pathak in the Lok Sabha): The Trishul missile project has procured a ‘Search on Move Capability’ modification kit from M/s Thales of France. CONTRARY TO WHAT MANY WOULD LOVE TO BELIEVE, INDIA’S “INDIGENOUS” GUIDED MISSILE PROGRAMME HAS BOUGHT MANY COMPONENTS FROM FOREIGN VENDORS. You would be horrified if I were to tell you how much of Trishul is indigenous and how much is foreign.
2nd March 06: (This information was given by the Defence Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee in a written reply to Shri Brajesh Pathak in the Lok Sabha): Akash, Nag & Trishul missile systems have completed the development phase and are ready for User’s Trials.
16th Oct 06 : (written press release from the MoD): Trishul Missile System was taken back in the R&D mode during 2002 for addressing certain technical problems. Having overcome these problems , twenty flight tests were carried out between June 2003 and mid 2006; the last three trials being conducted in July 2006. With this TRISHUL’s development stands completed. Decision on its induction is yet to be taken.
23rd Nov 06: (This information was given by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Anandrao V Adsul and other in Lok Sabha): No decision has been taken by the Government to stop Research and Development work on the indigenous ship defence missile Trishul as reported in the section of the media. (THE 16TH OCT STATEMENT ABOVE SAID THEY HAVE COMPLETED DEVELOPMENT. HOW ARE THEY CONTINUING R&D NOW?)
29TH Nov 06: (This information was given by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri OT Lepcha and Shri Santosh Bagrodia in the Rajya Sabha): Initially, the Probable Date of Completion (PDC) was July 1995 which has been extended to Dec 07. Delay is mainly due to extra time required to develop and realize the state-of-the-art technologies required. (OKAY, SO NOW IT’S BEEN EXTENDED TO DEC 07)
29TH Nov 06: (This information was given by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Janardhana Poojary in Rajya Sabha): The development of Trishul Missile Project has been completed. Air Force configuration has met the user requirements during its various developmental flight trials DRDO is in dialogue with Air Force for possible induction after jointly developing the user trial criteria. So far, Rs. 275.39 crore have been spent on this project. (THE SAME DAY AS THEY SAY THE PDC WAS EXTENDED TO DEC 07, THEY ARE SAYING THE DEVELOPMENT HAS BEEN COMPLETED)
29TH Nov 06: (This information was given by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Dr Narayan Singh Manaklao in Rajya Sabha): The development of Trishul, Akash and Nag missiles are currently going under Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP). (THE SAME DAY AS THE ABOVE TWO STATEMENTS… CAN YOU GET MORE CONTRADICTORY THAN THAT?)
The basic point I make is that the DRDO believes that it can make any statement, couched in vague terms, and get away with it. But when you examine carefully what is being said, there are loopholes and ambiguities at every step.
It’s also important to understand who is saying what! When DRDO says that “development is complete”, or that “the missile has met user’s parameters”, this does not mean that the user (army, navy or air force) endorses the DRDO’s claims. Please note that the DRDO is not saying that the user trials have been done. The DRDO has been claiming for years that the development of the Arjun tank is complete and that it is ready for induction into service. But when it comes to user’s trials, it’s a very different story.
The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, remains the need for careful and continuous scrutiny of every DRDO project and the linking of budgets and funding to demonstrable success in the project. There must remain margin for some failure, but not sustained failure, year after year, on an open-ended basis. After all, there are forces in the field waiting for that particular equipment.
Alternatively, if a certain technology MUST be developed indigenously, keep funding research without targets. But don’t hold up supplies to the field forces on the grounds that the DRDO is “about to produce” something soon. Let the DRDO keep at it in its labs, while the forces are provided alternative equipment through across-the-shelf purchases until the DRDO delivers. That will prevent the kind of situations that exist today, e.g. the country’s Air Defence network having huge holes in it because the Akash has not been developed yet, 23 years after the project started.
And for God’s sake, don’t justify failure by pointing to the failure of others. In the case of foreign research, sure there are cost over-runs, sure there is project mismanagement; but if you compare their record of finally delivering products (despite delays and cost-overruns) with ours, we come off very, very badly.
Ultimately, our management of defence must be defined by our own standards.
JUST IN: As far as the report on the IJT and Sarang crash is concerned (about which I note that the one of the journalists who you keep castigating is being quoted as authority) there is not dichotomy at all between what I said and what my friend Ram writes below:
He says the following was told to him by an IAF chopper pilot: "The Dhruv crashed because of "control saturation". Apparently it is an issue with rigid blade rotors like the Dhruv and needs careful attention. However most often this situation doesnt arrive till the aircraft is operating at its limits. Unfortunately in the case of the Sarangs they do operate at the limits of the design envelope, and it was a simple misjudgement of not handling the control - "pilot error" is correct but it is an oversimplification of facts as the margin is so fine that even the best pilots make the mistake. The problem is that is in this situation, the Sarang was pointing nose-down at a very sharp angle. Normally when this problem occurs there is some altitude left to regain."
Here is what I wrote in my article:
“HAL-built Dhruv helicopters continues to grapple with tail rotor design problems, but they must be fielded because there is nothing else.”
That's exactly what caused the accident isn't it? In no other country would a helicopter that is still dealing with rotor blade problems be participating in an aerobatics display, where machines fly at the extremes of their capabilities. But in Aero India 2007, despite knowing about the rotor blade problem, the Sarang team was fielded. It had to be; there was so little else to show as a success. The result: one pilot dead and another seriously injured.
Think about it.