Buy Indian: DRDO chief to military - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 26 May 2010

Buy Indian: DRDO chief to military

DRDO missile scientist, Sudhir Mishra, being awarded by the PM. DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat (left) revealed that the military bought Rs 68,000 crores worth of DRDO equipment this decade

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th May 10

The Defence R&D Organisation is delivering, and it must be supported by the military: that was the message from DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat, to a high-powered audience in Delhi today, which included Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister AK Antony, the National Security Advisor and the three service chiefs.

Dr Saraswat, a blunt-talking missile expert who earned a name while successfully steering a raft of missile projects, was speaking at a ceremony to award DRDO achievers. Seizing the moment, he drew the PM’s and Antony’s attention to the military’s preference for foreign weaponry, and the reluctance of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to lay down the line on indigenization.

The DRDO chief stated, “The Services also must understand that while the temptation may be overwhelming, to field proven, state-of-art imported systems, they too have a role to play in the economic and industrial growth of the country. No foreign system can be customized to completely address our long-term requirement.”

Dr Saraswat pointed out, “(The) DRDO has long been held responsible for the level of self reliance in defence systems, but the responsibility for self reliance should be shared by all stake-holders of MoD and cannot be placed on DRDO alone, which neither has the power to impose its products on its customer (the military) nor the mandate or capacity to produce the developed systems all by themselves.”

Quantifying, for the first time, the DRDO’s contribution to India’s defence, Dr Saraswat revealed that the DRDO’s research budget of Rs 3000 crores a year had given the military Rs 68,000 crores worth of DRDO-developed systems over the last decade. And recent breakthroughs in multiple DRDO systems --- including the nuclear submarine, INS Arihant; the nuclear capable Agni-III missile; an anti ballistic missile defence system; the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA); the Arjun tank; and many others --- meant that India’s “self-reliance index” would be greatly enhanced.

The DRDO chief also revealed, without divulging details, that “a major R&D programme on NBC [Nuclear, Biological and Chemical] defence has been recently sanctioned by the Cabinet Committee on Security.”

Dr Saraswat also detailed a major shift in the DRDO’s outlook, which has focused in the past on developing weapon systems that were also available in the global market. Henceforth, the focus would be on futuristic, guarded technologies that money cannot buy, including, “Space security, cyber security, hypersonic vehicles, directed energy weapons and technology development efforts in smart materials, composites and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical) based sensors.”

For the first time, the DRDO announced a focus on the paramilitary forces that are combating insurgency, terrorism and Naxalism, and the need to familiarize them with products and technologies that they could use. The DRDO also plans new initiatives in surveillance, early detection and warning systems to equip the paramilitary forces for sub-conventional warfare.

The DRDO chief also became the first MoD insider to publicly urge a clear direction to the defence offset policy, which currently makes no distinction between an R&D collaboration and a low-tech manufacturing project. Dr Saraswat suggested that the offset policy “should be utilized to bring in high end technology and quality manufacturing processes into the country and must guard against the pressures of high volume low end build-to-print modules."

Dr Saraswat also announced that the DRDO, in partnership with FICCI, had initiated a “Technology Assessment & Commercialisation (ATAC)” program for transferring to industry certain civilian-use technologies developed by the DRDO. In the first phase of ATAC, 200 technologies from 26 DRDO labs are being considered. MoUs have been signed for 8 specific technologies in the first phase, while Expressions of Interest have been received from major industrial players for several other technologies.


  1. Buy Indian even if it doesnt work? Like the phantom Trishul SAM, P 16a went to sea with. Product design is a function of market requirements. Govt labs that are not part of the industry have no understanding of market dynamics and should stay clear of product development. Sadly DRDO having denied the industry any incentive or even permission to develop defense tech now finds the industry not ...

  2. ...ready. This while tiny states like Singapore are selling us guns. How come their industry is ready? Nothing will change unless the govt starts sponsering R&D projects in the industry, be it PSUs like HAL instead of squandering on DRDO where success or failure is inconsequental as failures are simply renegated to successful 'technology demonstrators'.

  3. @ajai sir

    while its true that DRDO has has let down the armed forces several times but as a matter of fact the armed forces are also equally responsible.

    The armed forces keep changing requirements continuously, most of the time it happens just when the DRDO sometimes sarcastically called 'Delayed Research Derailed Organization' is ready with the solution.

    Case in point, sometime back a DRDO lab was almost ready to deliver a new type of artillery fuse (possibly for indigenous artillery for Bofors guns)as per the requirement of armed forces.

    But suddenly they refused to take it and instead went for a imported fuse. May be they did this as doing this allowed them to earn kickbacks (no pun intended) from foreign companies. Most of the times this is the case.

    I remember in the 90s there were reports of a scandal, where a 'Flange' (I DONT REMEMBER THE NAME OF INSTRUMENT CORRECTLY BUT POSSIBLY IT WAS)for Indian Navy ships built by Indian cos costing Rs 3.50 were rejected and even the best once available from South African priced at Rs 35.+ or Korean one priced at around Rs 125 were rejected and the army instead
    went for the same one from Bulgaria/Poland for Rs 1.06 lakh plus. A clear case of corruption.

    If this is the case then why blame the DRDO for the delays. It may be known that DRDO came out with Arjun, Tank Ex, a 22+ tone tank, missles (Agni, Prithvi, Nag, Akash, PAD/AAD, Astra), INS Arihant as and when needed.

    That is why VK Saraswat blurted out his frustration

    come on, lets give the DRDO their due recognition and help them deliver better systems by accepting the systems developed by them.

    After all the DRDO developed several of these systems despite being denied by US, and other major companies from developed countries who conspicuously turned a blind eye when countries like Pakistan, North Korea, China formed a axis for sharing defense tech between them showing these very countries/companies the middle finger.

    Once again lets salute our DRDO boys and promote indigenous weapons to the maximum. Case in point Arjun tank (more then 50% components are of foreign origin).

    Lets keep our finger crossed and hope that better sense prevails in the armed forces and DOD and DRDO.

  4. Sachin Khandelwal26 May 2010 at 22:28

    DRDO is a reflection of Indian talent which is a mix of those working for national honour or because it did not get a job elsewhere. A huge chunk of the brightest migrates abroad. Why? Because the DRDO salaries and perks pale as compared to oppurtunities available even in the Indian private sector. Is the govt not aware of this? Of course it is. Cannot this be corrected? Easily. When the PM in the name of "strategic interests" can procur billions of dollars to the US for systems, why cant he give due allowance to retain at least the semi-brightest in DRDO? This will give DRDO much needed quality and also continuum of services on a project. Also the renumeration package of Armed forces should be improved and a dedicated bunch attached to each strategic project to have the customer buy-in. All this states is simple common sense stuff. Our politicians are only interested in vote bank politics. They seem to think that mere bhashan will inspire armed forces to lay down their lives. This stupid approach is alone responsible for the poor indeginsation.

  5. The DRDO bashers repeatedly harp on the Trishul, by the same standards then should we Indians harp on the stellar leadership shown by the IA brass in 1962, when India was handed its worst military defeat? The services seem to think they can curse DRDO in public non stop, with the servant DRDO supposed to accept it, but if the latter says a word forthrightly, oh my...

  6. Those who blame the armed forces of changing requirements midway must understand that requirements always change with time. Market requirements define what features a product should have at a given time. companys often spend 5 years developing a product they know will have a shelf life of just 6 months. If they fail to hit the market in that window nobody would buy their product.

  7. Govt should boost pvt firms for major participation in R & D field,Monopolyism should be changed .

  8. Anyone who has worked on any engineering project will know that the customers change their requirements every other day. No point crying hoarse over it.

    However, the customer has to pay the extra price for every change that they make. In India's case military is not involved in the continuous design and integration effort. Nothing goes from their pockets or budget. They just sit on the armchairs and expect the weapons to fall from the sky. Also, there is definitely an angle of corruption for every foreign arms deal. It is much better for the babus, netas and generals to import the stuff that can be made in India. They will make a hue and cry for everything that DRDO fails in but keep mum on useless duds that we buy from foreign suppliers.

  9. An aspect rarely understood is the underlining human psychology is such disputes. Humans are broadly classified into 16 psychology types based on 4 different parameters. Since the Army doesnt want its soldiers to be absent minded their selection process makes sure that they are Sensors 'S' who have little imagination. 'S' types see the world as it is and are very alert. They will not except a new idea unless they see it work.
    Scientist on the other hand are always 'N' or imaginative intutive types. They tend to loose contact with the present reality and live in the world of future possibilities. Another common distinction among soilders and scientist is of Judgment 'J' and Perception 'P'. 'J' types are fast decision makers who follow laid rules and want closure quickly. 'P' types on the other hand enjoy the process of thinking and avoid closure. They will dwell on an idea over and over again, refining the idea in the process but never reach an end(they keep all possibilities open). They have no sense of deadline which must be inforced on them them by 'J' managers. All famous scientist including Newton and Einstein were 'P' types.
    There is no type which is better than another. Rather they are all interdependent. furthermore modern psychology accepts that these distinctions among humans are hardwired at birth and cannot be changed. Their understanding is the key to resolving disputes among different professionals.

  10. Vivek Narendran27 May 2010 at 14:17

    Changing requirements when done logically is one thing, but changing requirements on a whim is what the services do. It is a delaying tactic practised to perfection by the services, which ends up in the product going through endless trials and costing the nation a pretty packet. The humiliation is borne by the DRDO out of whose budget the product is usually funded, and which gets the bad rep as being the developer of another delayed project.
    When the LCA specs were drawn, the IAF did not even inform DRDO it wanted the R-73E missile and kept silent while full scale engineering development proceeded with the R-60 missile. Once the design was done, they came up with R-73E, which missile had been inducted in the service a decade back. If the DRDO had designed the wing for the same on its own, with associated weight penalty, the IAF would have been amongst the first to cut them to size. Such examples are legion. Furthermore, what I have seen with total disgust, is the manner in which service officers run down DRDO people,even in public, just to prove a point and often out of spite. The DRDO people in contrast keep silent and are not even permitted to issue rebuttals by paranoid directors who are afraid of offending their "valued customers" in the services. Here is a note to the Indian Army, AF and Navy. A civilians patriotism for the country which they inhabit is NOT any less than yours. They respect your service, but dont insult them, mock civilians for virtue of being in the military! The Services cant hit back at the IAS etc who they feel discriminate against them, that loathing is taken out on the hapless DRDO. Which then, like the punkahwallah who would flap the fan for his colonial masters, is supposed to take the occasional kick from his betters to make his sahib return to a fair mood. You think this is excessive? Clearly, you have not observed how some service officers treat DRDO scientists. I have several times seen senior Army officials mock and disparage DRDO scientist to their face. Anyone in the private sector would have shown the middle finger to these pompous characters and walked off. The DRDO guys stick on in such an abusive enviroment and continue to try and develop their products. When the services kick the dog that is loyal to them, and run behind foreigners for weapons that never work - Gorshkov, Op Vijay procurement, Krasnopol shells, the list is endless, what does that tell us about the mentality of our brass?

    In bravery, the Indian Army is second to none. But they are still colonized and retain the patronizing attitude the British inculcated in the Indian military deliberately, as a matter of policy to keep them aloof from the potentially disloyal civilians. That attitude has meant the services behave in an extremely parochial manner and with absolute crass attitude towards those whom they regard as their social and intellectual inferiors in the DRDO.

    This sort of shameful behaviour just has to go.

    I applaud Shri Saraswat for speaking his mind.

    This is after years and years of the services and countless officials attacking the DRDO in the most brazen manner, often for fiscal gain by supporting competing products, in media and public affairs.

    And see the absolute insecurity of the services to freedom of expression, when a mere couple of lines from Saraswat has made them outraged. They can call his organization whatever they want, no matter what he has made and delivered, but the reverse simply is unacceptable.

    For shame, gentlemen

  11. Indigenization and free market both should move together hands in hands. Indigenization should be given preference but not over the national defense and free global market shall thrive but not at the cost of national interests.

  12. What % of LCH/LCA is really Indian? What does "Buy Indian" really mean?

  13. To Vivek Narandran: LCA was specified to carry R-60 when IAF didnt had R-73. LCA was supposed to join the IAF in the early 90s then. Because of the way DRDO was running the show IAF decided to keep its distance from the project. By the time IAF started taking interest again....cont

  14. Cont... a decade had gone by, IAF was retiring R-60 and ADA was still working in their hollow universe. IAF had to wake them up 'guys, what are you doing?'. Requirements and specs are defined for a specific period. This is why it is important to adhere to deadlines. DRDO cant expect Forces to stick to original specs if they dont stick to the original schedule.

  15. Vivek Narendran you have written a superb post.

    It's time we started shedding the demi-god status accorded to the armed forces, and start pulling them up their collars for their obvious shortcomings.

  16. Vivek Narendran29 May 2010 at 07:18

    Dear anon,

    Your post typifies the problem with the IAF and IA. They did not involve themselves in anything critical, sad from the sidelines and sniped. "Because of the way the DRDO was running the show" - then why didnt they get involved and run part of the show themselves? Like the Navy does with some of its projects. The Navy makes its design even for ships and has many contributions to own acquisition.

    The answer is simple, the IAF was not interested in the LCA. They would rather it failed, got the scientist egg on their face (so they would know their place and not attempt something so "foolish" again) and they could get "proven" imports. This is the issue which does not gets picked up. Even AM Rajkumar mentions how the IAF Chief was instructed by his coterie of advisors not to express open support for the LCA. This is the level of understanding and support for a so called national project!

    Even today, when parliamentary committee reccommended that following international standards, the services put part of the budget up for such programs, including a tiny 10%, with some 20-30% coming from production partner and rest from DRDO, navy was ok, but Army and AF made objection. It was not about the limited budget, India surrenders crores annually as unspent, but the issue that why should they get "hands dirty" by working with these programs! Much easier to sit at sidelines and comment. Compare and contrast to the way folks work in Israel where Army chief personally gave focus to the development of Merkava tank.

    Second, about your claims of the R-60, kindly educate yourself about my point. The point was the IAF setting guidelines and not even bothering about keeping them upto requirements in a timely manner. Did anyone stop the IAF from informing ADA about this in the 1990's when they had ample stocks of R-73E already and it was now the standard AAM. The IAF did not even bother! But when the basic LCA was developed with great effort, the IAF goes to the developer with a laundry list of changes, and again watches from the sidelines! This is called development creep and well understood and guarded against by developers in most nations which make items for the military. The Arjun also is case in point, where officers who would visit prototype in tests would come up with ingenious things to be added at last moment, and sometimes for no logical reason.

    If the user stands far away from all local programs with a disinterested look on the face, and only contribution is to do an occasional visit and then claim things need to be changed, this is the end result. The cost burden and development delay is then ingeniously assigned only to the developer.

    In US, the developers hire huge numbers of rtd military people to give their input. In India, the DRDO does the same, interesting part is Army even calls these people names because by joining the DRDO or pointing out the unrealistic requirements they are seen as disloyal to parent organization. End result is asking for the moon in Mark 1 itself, and DRDO told if it does not meet this, then imports will be done. Never mind, the requirements will end up resulting in delays and problems and are often unecessary.

    Like it or not, there is a huge problem with service attitude towards civilian establishments and also the service disinterest towards Indian programs.

    There is an amazing amount of contempt also for civilian "babus" who are supposed to be the reason for all the service ills, and which these civilian organizations get the flak for. The end result is the Army et al continue to blunder around and do not even rectify their own shortcomings while loudly attacking everyone else.

  17. @ Vivek "Anyone in the private sector would have shown the middle finger to these pompous characters and walked off. The DRDO guys stick on in such an abusive enviroment and continue to try and develop their products."

    Yes, because the private sector has products to sell. DRDO has none that work as advertised, so they have to 'stick on' to renew project funding for another year.

  18. DRDO - precious little R&D being done in the organization, I'm afraid. Take any project, the director wants 'co-develop' the desired subsystem at the drop of a hat with a foreign vendor - such codevelopment being limited to - 'you give us the system, we give you the money'. Saraswat, on taking over, has made two long trips to Israel and Russia in search of technologies to hook on to. Come on guys, if your own boss is desperately looking for solutions from abroad, might as well wind up the shop.

  19. @ Narendran - I totally take your point about a civilian;s patriotism being no less than an armed forces personnel. The issue, however, I have with DRDO is its management structure. There is absolute lack of accountability, and the relatively easy promotion structure means everyone who is halfway competent is sitting as a Scientist G with 18 years of service, leading to an inverted pyramid with everybody playing politics for Directorships. There are outstanding people in DRDO, you need to overhaul the process to make sure that the best get to positions where they can effectively run things, and the rest get weeded out. Accountability and responsibility should be the order of the day.

  20. To Vivek Narendran:
    The answer is simple, the IAF was not interested in the LCA.
    Then why was LCA being developed? This is typical of DRDO doing what they want and not what the customer requires.

    Did anyone stop the IAF from informing ADA about this in the 1990's when they had ample stocks of R-73E already and it was now the standard AAM

    Why is IAF required to do that? As i have said before product design is a function of market requirements. Industries involved in development keep constant track of market changes and even future trends. This is an example of blind functioning of DRDO.

  21. Here is another view of the issue:

  22. anon@ 21:28 Well written blog, and highlighted the key issues. I particularly liked the bit about
    "buy our products although they're crap, because by doing so you will support my ability to provide 10 rupee rasam rice in my canteens"

    Okay, probably I paraphrased a bit, and in hindsight that was a bit unfair, but the point is that the services put their lives on the line day in and day out, and it is our duty as a nation to provide them the best kit there is, period! Social justice a.k.a. PSU raj should not be allowed to compromise security, EVER !

  23. The DRDO should be closed down immediately. If they feel their "Knowledge" will be lost, all DRDO employees should be absorbed by large Indian firms liek Tatas, L&T etc. The DRDO budget should then be given to these companies.
    Once their asses are kicked by the private sector boot, the product performance and efficiency will automatically go up.
    Does Mr.Saraswat think that only DRDO guys are patriotic?
    Every Indian company working for the defence is patriotic. Is it wrong to ask for money to deliver a product that actually works? DRDO products are always concepts and technology demonstrators.
    The budget is spent in buying PCs and colour laserprinters for every "Scientist".
    Cartoons can't take decisions for months together and blame the forces for changing requirements.
    The salary being paid to these jokers from our tax money is a national waste.

  24. 'Buy PSU' is a more accurate message from Mr. Saraswat.

    Thanks to you and others, Col. Shukla, I have been educated about the level of nepotism, chamchagiri and bribery that goes on between our Defense PSUs and the Ministry of Defence. All these are of course, par the course for our Secularist(snicker) Congress government.

    So long as such people rule our defence establishment and hold power over our defence personnel in deciding their needs the situation will not change.

    The scum shall inherit the Earth...


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