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Prabhjit Oberoi asked: How can coordination between DRDO and the Services be increased?

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  • Abhay Kumar Singh, D.P.K. Pillay and Kishore Kumar Khera reply: A robust indigenous defence industry is unarguably vital for India given its complex security environment and strategic challenges. Development of indigenous weapon systems primarily rests with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), as it is the only organisation mandated for weapons and systems with intellectual property (IP) rights, designs and know-how in defence technologies.

    Like most research organisations, DRDO, thus far, has had a chequered history in the development of indigenous weapon systems. There are several successful examples like the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), radars, electronic warfare systems, sonar and underwater systems, digital assistants to infantry soldiers, pilotless target aircraft which have been indigenously designed, developed and tested/inducted. However, three critical aspects the end user assesses finds DRDO fall short on are: quality, time and cost. Among the numerous causative factors - ranging from budgetary constraints to desire for futuristic capability to overambitious project timelines, and absence of a techno-industrial ecosystem to lack of strategic oversight - one of the key contributory impediments is lack of synergy between the Services and DRDO in reviewing projects in terms of their viability, monitoring of progress, and fixing accountability.

    Notwithstanding these systemic constraints, an analysis of successful developmental projects indicates a critical role of the Services beyond formulating qualitative requirement of the desired product. The end user needs to be a stakeholder in the complete developmental process that involves research design, simulations, prototype evaluation, industrial production and trials, and critical feedback and necessary course corrections throughout the project duration. This stakeholder approach by the Services in developmental projects by DRDO lies at the core of enhancing coordination between the two. And this can be achieved by promoting a greater degree of direct interaction between DRDO and the end users. Deputing service officers with relevant experience to various DRDO offices and labs as part of the project will enhance this interaction.

    On the part of DRDO, a clear strategic vision is mandatory, one that looks at only those projects that are within its technical and budgetary capabilities and have a high probability of meeting qualitative requirements and timelines. A focus on developing finite key capabilities and avoiding research and development (R&D) on commercially available technologies will allow for a more concentrated effort. This will gain significant traction from the end users. Additionally, deputing various developers from DRDO to combat units to imbibe and capture the essence of Service requirements will enhance their understanding and lead to a focussed approach on the developmental projects by virtue of immersive and interactive environment made available to them. This approach will help build greater synergy between the end user and the researchers.

    Institutionally, mechanisms of Technology Demonstration (TD) Projects, as well as Contract for Acquisition of Research Services (CARS) projects (with a mechanism to include academia), are available. Additionally, the Technology Development Fund (TDF) allows outsourcing work to cut short the timelines. However, these projects should be selected with the concurrence of the end user to contribute towards the desired end product. A synergetic approach under the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA), headed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), is a possible route. Simply stated, all research ought to be user initiated – DRDO driven – and with private industry collaboration. Only then, India will be able to shed the dubious distinction of being the largest importer of military hardware in the world.

    Posted on February 25, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.