The Akash production line at Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bangalore. The DRDO wants to choose the production agency for the weapons platforms that it builds
Business Standard, 22nd Mar 12
Besides asking for more funds for research and development (R&D), the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has pleaded not to let its successful indigenous weapon programmes be scuttled by substandard manufacture in defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and in production units of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
There is a serious concern within the DRDO after the Arjun tank, which outperformed the Russian T-90 tank in army trials last year, disappointed the frontline combat units for whom it was bulk-produced by the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi (HVF). The apparent reason: poor manufacture and ineffective quality control.
DRDO chief V K Saraswat, during the organisation’s 36th Laboratory Directors’ Conference that concluded here, on Wednesday, demanded that DRDO have a say in choosing the factory that manufactures its systems.
Seeking intervention of the defence minister, Saraswat stated: “DRDO is mandated to develop prototypes and then hand over to production agencies for large-scale manufacture. But we have realised that a substantial amount of handholding is required in the post-development phase. DRDO would like to play a lead role in (the) selection of production partners and the lead integrator for production of DRDO-developed products, so as to ensure seamless transfer of technology, productionisation and product support."
DRDO seeks to pre-empt potential production glitches in the 248 Arjun Mark II tanks that HVF Avadi will build. Another concern is the Tejas light combat aircraft. While the DRDO-headed Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has developed the Tejas, it will be mass-produced by public sector giant, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which is apparently insufficiently prepared for the job. Saraswat also drew attention to the need for “hand-holding” by DRDO in producing the Akash missile system, being built by two DPSUs — Bharat Electronics Ltd and Bharat Dynamics Ltd.
Top DRDO sources tell Business Standard that identifying a production partner at the start of a project, and involving that partner through the development process, is essential for successfully delivering a high-tech product to the military. Instead of the current practice of the MoD arbitrarily nominating a DPSU or OFB factory to build the product, usually when development is almost completed, the DRDO would select a capable partner company from the outset, from the private sector if necessary.
But the MoD quickly made it clear that DRDO would not be given discretionary powers. Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma agreed it was crucial to involve a production partner from the beginning of a project, but arbitrary selection was not an option. “For selection of a production partner at the development stage itself, a fair and transparent methodology is much (sic) essential. Also, preferably, there should be multiple development of production partners instead of a single production partner,” said Sharma.
Defence Minister A K Antony also implicitly opposed Saraswat’s proposal, suggesting DRDO discretion might contravene the requirement for transparency. “You must develop this collaboration in a transparent manner. Otherwise, midway, you will land in trouble. We will not tolerate any malpractices… otherwise, ultimately, we will have to cancel the collaboration. At every stage, you must see that we are proceeding as per correct procedure.”
“The problem is that nominating a DPSU like BEL, or an ordnance factory, for mass producing an equipment is considered transparent. But choosing a private sector company, even on logical grounds, risks being viewed as a malpractice,” says the CEO of a private sector company pursuing opportunities in defence production.
Almost Rs 1,50,000 crore worth of DRDO-developed military equipment has already been introduced into service with the military. The bulk of this has been produced by the public sector, although private sector manufacturers are now beginning to get a small share of the production.