New amendments to DPP assign a position of pre-eminence to DRDO. It will exercise total control over sub-categorisation of development cases and decide as to what all projects it should undertake. In other words, it will have the first right of refusal. Other options like ‘Buy & Make with ToT’ and ‘Buy (Global)’ can be explored only after DRDO declines to undertake a project.
…new amendments to DPP assign a position of pre-eminence to DRDO. It will exercise total control over sub-categorisation of development cases and decide as to what all projects it should undertake.
The month of April 2013 saw two developments of far-reaching consequences. One, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved amendments to be incorporated in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), with the primary objective of strengthening the indigenous defence manufacturing base and reducing dependence on imports. Two, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) expressed demand for an increase in the allocation of funds to be able to deliver the systems demanded by the armed forces.
The most important change in DPP pertains to the prioritisation of the routes to be adopted for procurements. The specified order of preference is ‘Buy (Indian)’, ‘Buy & Make (Indian)’, ‘Make’, ‘Buy & Make with ToT’ and ‘Buy (Global)’. Any proposal to select a particular category must now state reasons for excluding the higher preferred category/categories. Although indigenous production/procurement has always been the first choice, it has now been made a part of DPP. It is claimed that such a mandate will ensure that all other options are exhausted before resorting to imports.
In order to give adequate time and opportunities to the indigenous industry to respond, DAC has directed release of a public version of its 15-year Long Term Perspective Plan, outlining the ‘Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap’ to provide guidance to the Indian defence industry for building necessary technological and infrastructural capabilities. Further, the Service Head Quarters (SHQ) have been instructed to carry out consultations well in advance to facilitate translation of capital acquisition plans into national defence R&D and production plans.
Pre-eminent Role of DRDO in the New Procedure
The order of preference contained in DPP-2013 implies that every procurement proposal has to be first appraised for ‘Buy (Indian)’. In case considered infeasible and unviable, reasons for the same have to be noted down and the next option i.e. ‘Buy & Make (Indian)’ explored. This process of elimination has to be followed till a suitable categorisation is discovered and assigned.
A closer look at the categorisation process will be highly revealing and instructive. ‘Buy (Indian)’ category covers two types of proposals. One, outright purchases from Indian vendors with minimum 30 percent indigenous content and, two, all ‘Make (Low-tech)’ cases. DPP mandates that all ‘Make (Low-tech)’ cases be treated as ‘Buy (Indian)’ with minimum 50 percent local content.
During its history of over five decades, DRDO has not developed single equipment in the promised time-frame and conforming to the accepted parameters.
As the current capability of the Indian defence industry is limited to the production of some run-of-the-mill equipment and low-tech subassemblies/components, no major procurements can be affected though this route. Thus this route will continue to be of academic value till the Indian defence industry comes of age.
The second route in the order of priority is ‘Buy & Make (Indian)’. Indian vendors who are known to have requisite technical and financial capabilities are invited to submit their proposals to develop and productionise equipment through their own or foreign effort. As the vendors have no ready equipment to offer, the procedure is structurally flawed. It has been a total failure. Although four years have elapsed since its introduction in 2009, not a single proposal has been successfully progressed through this route.
In view of the above, the third option of ‘Make’ is really the only viable alternative available for key procurements. Subsequent to the recommendations of the Kelkar Committee, indigenous development i.e. ‘Make’ procedure was split into three sub-categories in 2006, as shown in the Illustration.
It is for DRDO to determine as to what can be developed and produced within the country in the required time frame. It undertakes proposals for ‘strategic, complex and security sensitive systems’ as per the D RDO procedure and funding policy. It also identifies high-tech complex systems that are based on proven/matured technologies and do not entail fundamental research. These projects are categorised as ‘Make’ and offered to Indian industry (both in public and private sectors) on a level playing field.
Thus new amendments to DPP assign a position of pre-eminence to DRDO. It will exercise total control over sub-categorisation of development cases and decide as to what all projects it should undertake. In other words, it will have the first right of refusal. Other options like ‘Buy & Make with ToT’ and ‘Buy (Global)’ can be explored only after DRDO declines to undertake a project.
Publication of glossy brochures notwithstanding, the only success it has to its credit relates to the replication of some imported products (commonly called ‘reverse engineering’ and ‘indigenisation’).
Uninspiring Track Record of DRDO
Raised in 1958 by the amalgamation of the then existing establishments, it has grown into a giant with a network of more than 50 laboratories and over 5000 scientists and about 25,000 technical/support personnel. Although raised exclusively to develop defence systems for the Indian armed forces, it has assumed the self-assigned responsibility to ‘make India prosperous by establishing world class science and technology base’. Further, its mission statement includes ‘development of infrastructure and committed quality manpower and building of strong indigenous technology base’. Resultantly, over the years, DRDO has lost its focus and diluted its commitment to the services.
During its history of over five decades, DRDO has not developed single equipment in the promised time-frame and conforming to the accepted parameters. There are three primary reasons that have led to this sad state – lack of accountability, lack of focus and failure to develop scientific disposition.
Publication of glossy brochures notwithstanding, the only success it has to its credit relates to the replication of some imported products (commonly called ‘reverse engineering’ and ‘indigenisation’). Though it has been subjected to a lot of censure, no attempt has been made to initiate radical reforms to make DRDO deliver.
To deflect mounting criticism for its failure to develop high tech systems, DRDO has resorted to delving in totally unrelated and infructuous areas. Some of such activities are as follows:-
DRDO’s inability to deliver is not because of shortage of time. It is because of its sheer incompetence.
- The Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research (DIBER), Haldwani is spending money and time in the development of stress tolerant vegetable varieties/hybrids, herbal products and Angora rabbit. Among its achievement are development of hybrid varieties of capsicum, cucumber, tomato and garlic. It is also working to improve the quality of mushrooms and earthworms for vermi-composting.
- The work of Defence Institute of High Altitude Research, Leh includes basic research for productivity enhancement in vegetable cultivation; exploitation of high altitude plant wealth for herbal products; and conservation and upgradation of local unproductive animal population.
- The thrust areas of Defence Research Laboratory, Tezpur include integrated control measures for weeds and pests; utilization of bio-diversity of the area for vector borne diseases and other ailments; mushroom production, vermin-compost and organic farming for health and hygiene; and bio-diesel from micro-algae. The laboratory prides itself for having identified the sharpest chilli in the world.
- Defence Food Research Laboratory, Mysore carries out studies in the development of convenience foods, preservation of foods, food safety, food packaging, and studies in the spoilage of foods and safety of processed foods. It claims production of ready to eat foods like frozen chicken shreds, stuffed mutton rolls, frozen peas, besan-burfi, stabilised chikki and canned upma.
- Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences at Delhi has developed customised yoga packages for army, navy and air force.
It hurts to learn that scarce defence funds are being squandered away on projects that have little direct relevance. For example, a huge variety of packed/pre-cooked food is available in the market. Where is the need for DRDO to fritter away its time, effort and resources trying to develop besan-barfi and upma? Similarly, is it for DRDO to evolve yoga regimen for soldiers? There are numerous yoga centres of excellence to which the task can be outsourced, if required. Such extraneous activities dilute DRDO’s focus.
DRDO excels in empire building and has spawned numerous laboratories engaged in similar and overlapping activities, thereby indulging in wasteful duplication of facilities. For example, a number of laboratories are engaged in the field of electronics and could expediently be merged into one entity to save resources. The Institute of Technology Management (ITM) at Mussoorie offers training in the areas of technology management, project management and R&D management for DRDO scientists and other government functionaries. ITM can be conveniently closed down and the same courses can be run at the Defence Institute of Armament Technology, at Pune which is a deemed university.
…by the time equipment is developed and delivered, it becomes obsolete. Thus, the services are forced to live with outdated and useless equipment.
A visit to the web sites of the much acclaimed research establishments of DRDO can be revealing. Their much trumpeted achievements are so mediocre that one starts wondering whether their existence is justified at all. Instead of developing cutting-edge technologies, they produce many commonplace items and assign high-sounding nomenclature to them.
New DPP and DRDO’s Wish List
In a recent press interaction, DRDO chief VK Saraswat put across the following suggestions:-
- Instead of the current allocation of 5.2 percent, DRDO should be allocated 7 to 8 percent of the defence budget to enable it to deliver the systems that the armed forces need. He cautioned that the current gap of 2 percent would have a serious impact and force DRDO to prioritise projects.
- The armed forces must plan ahead to allow enough time to DRDO to develop the needed equipment.
- The armed forces must accept the concepts of ‘spiral development’, wherein capabilities are imparted to the armed forces in increments with inbuilt provisions for future enhancements.
- An investment fund should be created for MoD to fund selected technology projects by private sector companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
- Defence Equipment Manufacturing Zones (DEMZ) should be set up on the lines of Special Economic Zones to help defence industries.
DRDO is a member of all decision making bodies in MoD and carries immense clout. Therefore, the suggestions made by the head of DRDO merit serious consideration.
MoD has been highly indulgent towards DRDO by granting it frequent extensions. Relevance of any technology is an incontrovertible function of the time period in which it is made available.
Establishment of DEMZ will certainly help build clusters of defence industries with common and interrelated infrastructural facilities. As regards setting up of an investment fund, it is a well accepted requirement. Taking cue from the Kelkar Committee Report, the Defence Production Policy of 2011 had also promised setting up of such a fund. No progress has been made towards that end so far. It is reported that DPP-2013 also contains a similar provision with SIDBI promising loans and venture capital.
Spiral development is defined as an iterative process for developing a defined set of capabilities within one increment. In this process, the requirements are refined through experimentation and risk management. There is continuous feedback and the user is provided the best possible capability within the increment. Each increment may include a number of spirals. India is already using spiral development through procurement of Mark 1, Mark 2 and so on versions. Arjun MBT and Tejas fighters are being inducted accordingly. For that matter, induction of a number of radars has followed the same path. However, the services cannot be expected to accept a Mark 1 version which is outdated and of little operational value.
Coming to the point of advance planning, DRDO has always been given unduly long time. It is not justified in putting the blame on the services. Even after decades, DRDO has not been able to produce MBT, fighters, training aircraft and infantry combat vehicles. The list is endless. MoD has been highly indulgent towards DRDO by granting it frequent extensions. Relevance of any technology is an incontrovertible function of the time period in which it is made available. Services should not be offered a technology which has already become obsolete due to delays in its development.
DRDO’s inability to deliver is not because of shortage of time. It is because of its sheer incompetence. Even if DRDO is able to make some progress in a few cases, it is always done with major compromises with respect to the stated qualitative requirements. The services are forced to accept sub-optimal equipment with the promise that subsequent deliveries would conform to the parameters, which never materialise. In any case, by the time equipment is developed and delivered, it becomes obsolete. Thus, the services are forced to live with outdated and useless equipment.
India went into the Kargil conflict without WLR and suffered considerable casualties. Incidentally, DRDO has not been able to produce WLR to date and India had to buy WLR from the same previously selected producer in 2003.
Coming to the crunch issue of additional funds, it is a totally wanton demand. On the contrary, a detailed audit is required to ascertain justification of the funds being expended at present. DRDO cannot ask for additional funds for empire-building. Every DRDO establishment boasts of world-class auditoriums, convention centres, conference halls and hostels. A major part of its budget is spent on activities unrelated to real research work. Mediocrity thrives due to propensity for non-scientific activities.
DRDO has let the nation and the armed forces down. It has failed to justify its existence. Demand for extra funds should be considered only after DRDO proves that the allotted funds are being judiciously utilised. It must concentrate on ‘strategic, complex and security sensitive systems’ only. Ruthless surgery is needed to cut flab to make it lean, focused and mission oriented. All laboratories engaged in unrelated activities must be closed down to save vast resources. Considerable funds can be saved by amalgamating many analogous laboratories.
DRDO is always wary of conceding its inability to develop a system in the given time frame as it reflects adversely on its competence. More importantly, every import means loss of an opportunity to expand its own domain with associated budget. On numerous occasions, the services have been denied urgently required equipment because of DRDO’s false claims of indigenous development.
The case of weapon locating radars is symptomatic of the unreliability of DRDO’s claims. In 1997, India was on the verge of signing a contract for the import of Weapon Locating Radars (WLR) when DRDO intervened to stall it with claims that they were on the threshold of producing indigenous WLR. India went into the Kargil conflict without WLR and suffered considerable casualties. Incidentally, DRDO has not been able to produce WLR to date and India had to buy WLR from the same previously selected producer in 2003. There are numerous such cases.
DRDO has let the nation and the armed forces down. It has failed to justify its existence.
Internally, DRDO suffers from a crisis of identity as regards its mission and role. It has forgotten its basic raison d’être and lost focus. Externally, it suffers from a lack of credibility. The services who are the primary customers have no confidence in its competence. It is quite understandable as DRDO’s past track-record is dismal. Most consider DRDO to be a white elephant which consumes considerable resources and produces little. DRDO must appreciate that credibility has to be earned through producing results and not glossy brochures.
Demand for additional funds sounds hollow when one sees wastage of current allotments. DRDO has to carry out a detailed and honest introspection to identify reasons for its failure to deliver and for the current state of total despair. Lost prestige can be redeemed only after all infirmities are objectively analysed and radical corrective measures initiated.
Finally, it needs to be recalled here that during the 1990s, no equipment could be imported unless DRDO gave green signal. Resultantly, modernisation of the armed forces suffered immeasurably as DRDO failed to fulfil tall promises that it made. If India fought the Kargil War with grave deficiencies of equipment, DRDO’s sub-optimal performance and failure to deliver are to blame. India should not fall into the same abyss again.
Whereas it is right to give priority to indigenous procurements, the policy cannot be carried to unreasonable limits. Claims made by DRDO should be taken with a pinch of salt. More importantly, DRDO must be made accountable for the promises it makes. It should not be allowed to hold the modernisation of the armed forces to ransom.