Friday, February 02, 2007

In defence of DRDO

Remember the Indian Express' very harsh spotlight on the functioning and performance of DRDO, the Defence Research and Development Organization? You may also recall a partial response by the DRDO chief, Dr. M. Natarajan.

Now, R. Ramachandran, one of the best science reporters in India, pitches in with his perspective in an op-ed in the Hindu. But it is strange that Ramachandran's defence of DRDO starts with this:

Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that the money spent on the DRDO is a total waste. How is a mere one-twentieth of defence expenditure responsible for the apparent vulnerability of the armed forces to perceived threats? Or more precisely, compared to Rs.500-1000 crore of annual defence procurement based on DRDO technologies, imports have been around Rs.10,000-12,000 crore. (The current annual budget for capital acquisitions for defence is about Rs.35,000 crore.) Surely, the nation's defence ill-preparedness cannot be attributed to the "wasted" 2-3 per cent of annual procurement. Why is there no political or media focus on the 90-95 per cent of the annual defence expenditure and the manner in which it is being spent?

Ramachandran goes on to discuss some of the financial and operational constraints faced by DRDO. However, two things don't gell with each other. The value of defence goods coming out of DRDO's work is less than a 1000 crore per year over the last 20 years or so (Rs.14,800 crore for the period 1985-2005). Compare this to the actual DRDO budget for the last year: my figure is about 3000 crores, and Ramachandran seems to indicate that it is about 5000 crores. This is a pretty big gap.

While I was appalled that some in the defence services were willing to accuse DRDO of 'destroying' our defence-preparedness, it is equally appalling to see the DRDO side responding with insinuations that our defence people (who make purchase decisions) are motivated by things other than the best interests of the nation. Here's a quote from Ramachandran's piece:

... Any demand placed on the national defence R&D system should reflect such an assessment. Unfortunately, many of the Services' demands would seem to be derived from foreign vendors' sales pitches — what have come to be termed BBC (Best of Brochure Claims) in DRDO circles — and their lobbying network of arms dealers, agents (very often ex-service personnel), and middlemen operating in the country. As a result, system specifications (which constantly keep changing) placed on defence R&D would seem to mirror not the actual dynamics of the security environment of the country but the dynamics of technological evolution of the global defence industry, which the DRDO is expected to realise fully.

Clearly, the two arms of the same establishment -- the services and R&D -- must first stop sniping at each other in public. This sort of nasty insinuations -- veiled questioning of the other party's patriotism -- can do a lot of damage. They must sit together and sort things out.


  1. Anonymous said...

    we have the same problem in medical field also !!!!

    When product specifications are based more the the specifications of a particular product available in market rather than what is needed at ground level