Achalta hai attitude won’t do anymore. This was what Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that has taken ages to conclude various weapon projects. Many of the projects that the DRDO has taken up over the years are 30 years old or even more. Akash, the medium-range surface-to-air missile, took about three decades. The same is true for Nag. The light combat aircraft, of which Tejas is part, is ready for use but hasn’t received operational clearance yet. As a result, the technology platforms that the DRDO had been using are becoming outdated and are being overtaken by more sophisticated technologies. In addition, this opens the way for further imports, putting a spoke in the wheel of indigenisation and creating fears of a stoppage in supplies by foreign sellers.
Mr Modi also talked about having an interface between scientists working in the 52 laboratories of the DRDO and the defence forces. This is essential because often it is the military’s objections that tilt the opinion of the Defence Acquisition Council in favour of importing. This is despite the fact that the previous PM, Manmohan Singh, had told the defence forces that the 15% hike in the procurement budget every year could not be forever assured. In view of this, it is all the more necessary that defence planning is streamlined. After taking charge as DRDO chief last year, Avinash Chander had said an expenditure model for R&D had not been developed. He talked about identifying a few focus areas such as the advanced medium combat aircraft and gun designing for the artillery. India spends about 5% of its defence budget on research and development, whereas the figure for China is 15%.
The DRDO in the meantime underwent restructuring last year. Seven top scientists, who were earlier chief controllers, were appointed director generals of various clusters. So they have now moved from an advisory role to that of a position where they would be in charge of execution. This has made it easier for the DRDO to be in a deal with Swedish company Saab to develop Tejas Mark II, which is expected to join the IAF by 2019. The new defence dispensation needs to review various pending proposals to see whether or not they are feasible. It also needs to smooth over some of the turf wars among the key ministries involved in research and development of new military technologies. But one thing is clear, the sort of inertia that had come to characterise the DRDO will have to change given the PM’s push to show results in this field.