by Ajai Shukla
Response to posts: 16th Feb 2007
Wow! There’s actually a good discussion going. There were lots of posts and many good points. Here's my immediate response on the issue of DRDO funding.
I submit though that there’s a radical flaw in most posters’ perception of what they think I’m saying. They think that because I’m saying the DRDO fails --- far too often --- to deliver usable conventional systems to the field forces, therefore I MUST be suggesting:
(a) Close down the DRDO.
(b) Don’t fund them in any way.
Actually, my position is far more nuanced. And it comes from:
(a) Having spent many years as a soldier, waiting in vain for DRDO-promised equipment to reach me.
(b) During that period, having tried and cleared alternative supplies from foreign vendors (Marconi for radio sets, French fire control systems, etc), we found that import blocked for years by the DRDO, saying that they were going to deliver it yesterday.
(c) Being pleasantly surprised, THE FEW TIMES THAT EQUIPMENT DID ACTUALLY GET TO ME, how much better it was in terms of availability, scaling and back-up support to have indigenous equipment.
So my position on DRDO is, I repeat, not to do away with R&D establishment. My position is:
(a) To be very clear what we need to develop indigenously and what is cheaper, better, faster and more reliable to import off the shelf.
(b) To give the DRDO clear-cut projects, with a clear-cut mandate and a clear-cut time-line, and to hold it accountable for delays.
(c) To re-evaluate the funding of DRDO from scratch. The calculation must not be done on the basis of “last year’s budget plus X per cent”, but rather by making allocations, project by project, for each of the projects that have been cleared for development (through the process at sub-paras a and b above).
If this process means that DRDO’s funding should be cut down, so be it. If, on the other hand it means an increase in DRDO’s allocations, so be it.
But what is essential is a result-orientated outlook where annual developmental targets are set down separately for each individual project and at the end of the year a hard-headed evaluation carried out by an expert body to decide on whether that project is worth continuing with. That annual review body must also decide the levels of funding for the next year, with projects that are doing well being rewarded with stepped up funding.
It is well understood that research often overshoots timelines. That must be taken into account by the review body. But it must equally be understood that research CANNOT be allowed to drift on without questions being asked and answers demanded.
Many who have posted here rightly point out the delays in projects overseas. But do remember that those delays are not endless… if a project looks like it’s going nowhere, MoDs like the Pentagon have been ruthless in ending them. If you like, I’ll be happy to produce and post a detailed study on foreign project management. Incidentally, a body along these lines has just been constituted in India. But eventually, what will count is how effectively this body functions. Let’s wait and see.
The question about sub-allocation of funds between projects: how much money is going into strategic projects and how much into other stuff like the production of Leh Berry Juice (a DRDO project, for those who didn’t know. And for my money, one of their few projects that have reached the user!). The DRDO keeps such details absolutely secret. If someone finds out, please do post it. In any case, it’s only a matter of time before someone from DRDO leaks the details.
Abhiman, the Tejas is nowhere near being accepted for introduction into service by the IAF. PLEASE, for God’s sake, don’t quote DRDO and HAL sources in this regard, because they are desperately trying to pretend that the Tejas project is going along fine. The Tejas will be accepted for introduction into service by the IAF and you should hear what they have to say about its state of readiness. No pilot I’ve spoken to, and I speak to dozens, believes the Tejas will ever enter service in its present form. This may break all your proud Indian hearts, but don’t be disheartened. India has a lot else to be proud of!!
You are absolutely correct, the DRDO will not be spending the 243,000 crores that Mr Natarajan envisions. Neither will HAL. That money will be spent by India, from the national defence budget, and provided by guess who: you and me.
Fortunately, since DRDO is as close to producing (in the next 15 years) what Mr Natarajan has rashly promised, none of that money will ever need to be spent. It’s all talk and the beauty is: since there is no accountability, the DRDO, the government, and practically everyone in India can just keep blabbering. Nobody will ever need to answer the question: why haven’t you delivered what you promised.
In 1983, then scientific advisor APJ Abdul Kalam promised a slew of air defence and anti-missile defence platforms within seven-ten years, including the Trishul missile. Sixteen years later, in 1999, when the Indian Navy was deployed for war against Pakistan, the naval chief had to write directly to the defence minister that the fleet was without the promised anti-missile defence. Eight years after that, the Trishul project has been discreetly buried. Today, 23 years of failure later, Kalam is President of India. Can accountability be more contemptuously tossed overboard?