An Astra air-to-air missile being test-fired from a ground launcher
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Apr 13
With Defence Minister AK Antony demanding that less weaponry be imported and a greater percentage of India’s military requirements be developed and built in the country, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) wants a significantly higher budget and has spelt out a three-fold roadmap for indigenization.
In an exclusive interview to Business Standard, DRDO chief Dr VK Saraswat, who is also Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri, has said that DRDO’s funding must be raised from the current 5.2 per cent of defence expenditure to at least 7-8% of the defence budget.
“We need a minimum of 7-8% of the defence budget to successfully deliver the systems that the armed forces need. The current gap of 2% of defence budget will have a serious impact, forcing us to prioritize between our development projects,” says Saraswat.
The DRDO’s allocation of Rs 10,610 crore for 2013-14, would have been higher by Rs 3,650 crore if it had been allocated 7 per cent of the defence budget. The DRDO’s highest funding levels were in 2007, when it received 6.2 per cent of the defence budget.
Pointing out that China was spending some 20 per cent, and the US 16 per cent of their defence budgets on R&D, Saraswat said, “Developing world-class military technologies would require an R&D allocation of minimum 10% of the defence budget.”
Besides enhanced funding, Saraswat outlined three important steps that the defence ministry (MoD) and the military needed to implement. Firstly, the military must plan ahead in order to allow the DRDO enough time to develop the equipment that soldiers need.
“The military cannot raise a new requirement and say that it must be imported immediately unless the DRDO delivers it in 18-24 months. Most complex defence systems take 7-8 years to develop and we must be allowed that time. Besides, we have seen that the time needed for importing a defence system is between 4-6 years. So the army must plan ahead,” says Saraswat.
As Business Standard has reported (Apr 13, 2013, “Ministry’s initiative to push indigenous development”) the forthcoming Defence Procurement Procedure of 2013 is likely to address this demand. DPP-2013 will require the military to provide the DRDO and Indian defence companies with adequate time to develop the equipment that it requires.
The second major change that the DRDO chief wants is for the armed forces to accept the concepts of “spiral development” and “capability based deployment” of equipment being developed.
“Spiral development” rests on the fact that that military equipment capabilities gradually improve as design and development continues. Saraswat explains that if the military wants a radar system that can detect enemy fighter aircraft 500 kilometres away, and the DRDO develops one that can see 300 kilometres, the military should accept and deploy that radar. While soldiers develop expertise in operating the radar and provide valuable feedback, the scientists would enhance the capability to 500 kilometres. “Capability based deployment” means bringing into operational use a “Mark I” radar, while a “Mark II” version, with better performance is developed.
The DRDO chief’s third recommendation for boosting indigenization is an investment fund through which the MoD can fund selected technology projects by private sector companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
“The fact is that private sector defence R&D is close to non-existent. We need a venture capital investment system, which will fund and promote research and promote an R&D culture in these companies. We have to cover their risk,” says Saraswat.
There are several government models for funding private sector defence R&D, most notably in Israel, and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) model in the US, in which the Pentagon chooses from amongst futuristic projects that private sector players propose, and funds them even when there is no certainty of success.
A similar thought process is evident in the Kelkar Committee, which has recommended setting up a Defence Technology Development Fund, with a corpus of Rs 100 crore. So far the MoD has not taken any concrete steps to implement this.
Finally, the DRDO chief would like the setting up of Defence Equipment Manufacturing Zones, on the lines of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), where defence industries benefit from quality infrastructure, funding and locational synergy. In Pune, a group of electronics companies have set up the Defence Electronics Manufacturers’ Association (DEMA).
“Defence electronics is an advanced field which requires special qualification and certification. DEMA is a successful experiment that has led to about 25-30 good defence industries coming up around Pune itself,” says Saraswat.