Three years after Modi rattled DRDO, little has changed - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 26 March 2017

Three years after Modi rattled DRDO, little has changed

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th March 17

In 2014, when Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi attended the annual awards ceremony of the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), he jolted the self-congratulatory annual function by insisting on timely delivery and innovation.

Criticising what he termed the DRDO’s “chalta hai” (lackadaisical) attitude, Modi placed it under a scanner that led in early 2015 to the exit of Avinash Chander, then the DRDO’s well-respected chief.

Two and a half years later, that reformist impulse has vanished, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) no longer demanding performance from a DRDO that functions much as it did in 2014. On Friday, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, distributing annual awards to a DRDO, expressed happiness that “the DRDO is becoming an important instrument in the effort for self-reliance.”

This effusive praise came even though none of the three “indigenous products” handed over to the navy on Friday were path-breaking developments. The USHUS-2 submarine sonar system was only an improvement on the USHUS-1 that was fitted a decade ago in the navy’s Kilo-class submarines. Similarly, the “ring laser gyroscope” based navigation system has also been around for years.

Given this modest delivery, it appears incongruous that Jaitley awarded fifteen DRDO scientists with the “Scientist of the Year” award.

“The DRDO cannot treat incremental improvements to its own systems as breakthrough triumphs. Continuous improvement should be a matter of routine for DRDO systems”, says a serving navy admiral.

Nor is the navy impressed by Myanmar’s order for $37.9 million worth of the DRDO’s advanced lightweight torpedoes (TAL). It is hardly a secret the TAL is modelled on the A244S lightweight torpedo that Italian company, WASS, supplied the Indian Navy.

In 2014, Modi had tellingly criticised the communication gap between scientists who remained ensconced in their laboratories, and the soldiers on the borders. The PM wondered why the DRDO could not deliver simple but crucial items in a soldier’s personal gear, bringing down the weight of a water bottle from 300 grams to 150 grams, or developing lighter boots to reduce fatigue.

Yet, today, with the soldier’s personal gear as cumbersome and poorly designed as ever, Jaitley lauded “The role of those [scientists] who remain faceless and work in some important field.”

In 2014, Modi had suggested the DRDO empower younger scientists, starting with manning five of its 52 laboratories exclusively with scientists under 35 years of age. Yet, only lip service is paid to empowering younger scientists.

The PM had also criticised the DRDO’s endemic time delays in delivering equipment. He directed that, instead of re-inventing the wheel by designing indigenous versions of equipment already in service in advanced militaries, the DRDO should develop futuristic equipment before advanced countries did so.

Yet, the bulk of what DRDO works on --- such as the Tejas fighter, unmanned aerial vehicles, warship systems, artillery guns, the Arjun tank, etc --- all constitute equipment that has been in service worldwide for decades.

DRDO chief, S Christopher, claimed that the defence ministry had cleared orders of DRDO equipment worth 2.56 lakh crore rupees; with one lakh crore worth of orders cleared in the last two years alone. In fact, “clearing” a procurement is a preliminary step of the acquisition process, with the majority of clearances never actually resulting in an order being contracted. 


  1. DRDO s performance is dismal. With 30000 employees out of which 5000 scientists it has bery few achievements to its credit.The Government must involve Universities in Research and development and private companies.

  2. your analysis is one sided. there are several projects which are successful and not listed, see below some of them:
    - LCA Tejas
    - Brahmos
    - Akash SAM
    - LR SAM
    - WLR's/LLTR's etc
    - Agni series
    - BMD
    - AEW&C
    I could add some more and we must not forget that this govt fired the previous chairman for misconduct

  3. I don't think the Government has kept quite. If you look at artillery , the success has come through collaboration with private sector.
    That is the way forward.
    DRDO culture will take a long time to change, if at all.
    We have had bosses there who like hog headlines rather than work silently. This hype also means real achievements look bad !

  4. We need to understand DRDO operates in india under GOI rules
    I think some statements in this are called for like saying "tejas , arjun etc are not work beaters" or something like this.

    Let us get this straight , given our industrial infrastructure stuff like torpedos, nuke submarine, pinakas , tejas , arjun, Druv are great products.
    We also need to have universities researching in relevant advanced technology + factories that manufacture all the products efficiently with quality. Then the armed forces to continuously upgrade specifications of products in use, not have knee jerk reaction and make RFI.
    Case point of bad planning the basic infantry assault rifle.
    Compare this to US. They have continuously upgraded what they manufacture like F-18, simultaneously making break through prouducts like armed unmanned flyng platforms.

  5. DRDO is flop to say the least,Please disband the DRDO and privatise defence production and manufacturing.


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