The defence research organisation's tardy delivery
of weaponry to the armed forces has a direct, negative impact on national
COST: Rs 80 crore
Delay: seven years
Pinaka, state-of-the-art weapon vital for destroying or neutralising
enemy troop concentration areas, air terminal complexes, gun locations
and communication centres. Seven years after it was to be used in
action, several qualitative requirements-including fire power and
loading time of salvo-have yet to be satisfactory.
In some ways, the
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has come a long way
since it was created in 1958. Its budget has grown from a few hundred
crores to Rs 3,500 crore. Six thousand of a staff of 30,000 scientists
work round the clock in 51 laboratories across the country. And their
aim remains to arm the defence services with world- class equipment and
make the country self-reliant in everything from the socks and gloves
soldiers in Siachen wear to the sophisticated missiles and armaments they
use to destroy enemy targets.
In the wake of the arms-deal scandal, it's not
just the import of defence systems that have come under a cloud. Questions
are also being raised about DRDO's ability to deliver critical equipment
that affects the country's defence preparedness. Worse, the charges levelled
are of their tall promises having a direct, negative impact on national
security, for neither the army, the air force or the navy can import weaponry
unless the DRDO says that it is not in a position to produce it at home.
Investigations into allegations made against the DRDO show that the charges
are not baseless. V.K. Aatre, DRDO chief and scientific adviser to the
defence minister, admitted as much to India Today, saying, "We are
not running as fast as we should. Perhaps we are ageing."
"We are not
running as fast as we should. Perhaps we are ageing."
It is not just a case of projects having been
delayed by a few months or even a year or two. Take the example of the
Battle Field Surveillance Radar (BFSR). Talk about its purchase first
started in 1975. A young colonel posted as a military attache in the Indian
embassy in Paris saw the BFSR at the Satory Armament Exhibition. Then,
it could detect a tank as far away as 20 km and a man crawling on the
ground at a distance of 1.5 km. The colonel immediately wrote to the then
director, military operations, Major-General A.S. Vaidya and to Major-General
K. Sundarji, about what he believed to be a valuable piece of equipment.
Vaidya wrote back to him pointing out that the DRDO was in the process
of developing a similar BFSR and that it would be offered for trials very
Facts uncovered later showed that at this point,
the DRDO had not begun working on the BFSR. Finally developed in the early
1990s, it was abandoned because the army was unhappy with its trial run.
It is only this year that the army will finally have access to BFSRs-imported
from Israel at a cost of Rs 80 crore.
The BFSR is only one example of the kind of
promises the DRDO seems to be in the habit of making. The Multi Barrel
Rocket Launcher (MBRL), or Pinaka, is a state-of-the-art weapon, vital
for destroying or neutralising enemy troop concentration areas, air terminal
complexes, gun locations and communication centres. The Pinaka was supposed
to have been inducted into army regiments by 1994. Seven years later,
even though the army agreed to DRDO's request for a reduction in range,
the weapon is yet to make its presence felt. Which, as it later surfaced,
was only one of the problems. Other qualitative requirements still have
to be satisfied. Fire power, loading time of salvo and deployment time,
for example, are crucial for the Pinaka and the DRDO still has to reach
the desired level of performance on these fronts.
Matters came to a head in 1999, when the comptroller
and auditor-General (CAG) rapped the DRDO for the delay saying, "Far
from reaching the production stage, the DRDO is yet to develop various
critical components of the system despite an expenditure of Rs 42.45 crore."
The DRDO had been sanctioned Rs 26.47 crore
for the exercise. The CAG report also noted that the system would be vulnerable
because "targets in depth are likely to be beyond reach". CAG
pointed to another promise made by the DRDO-that of delivering the system
by 2000 at an estimated cost of Rs 80 crore. In 2001, Aatre says, "we
should have some good news soon".
For the armed forces this is simply another
case of bad news prolonged to make it worse. Says Lt-General Vinay Shankar,
who retired in January this year as the director-general, artillery: "Weapon
systems quickly become obsolete. By the time DRDO is ready with a product,
it is of little use, for our requirements have either changed or a more
sophisticated version is available in the foreign market." Shankar's
exasperation is substantiated by the BFSR catastrophe. By the late 1970s,
France had updated its radar to detect a tank at 60 km from its original
20 km. Today, the DRDO is still working on a medium-range radar.