Modi govt to revamp DRDO, sets up committee with members from services and industry


NEW DELHI: An expert nine-member committee to review the functioning of DRDO and the country’s entire defence R&D ecosystem has been constituted by defence minister Rajnath Singh. The committee is headed by former principal scientific advisor to the government Prof K Vijay Raghavan and includes some top retired military officers and scientists.
The committee is tasked with making recommendations to restructure and redefine the role of the Department of Defence (R&D) and DRDO, as also their relationship with academia and industry, as well as how to attract and retain top-quality scientific manpower, among other things.

DRDO often faces flak for huge cost and time overruns in development.

The committee, which was given three months to come out with recommendations on revamping DRDO, has members with links to the three Services, industry and the ministry itself.

The panel members include former Army deputy chief Lt. Gen. Subrata Saha (retd.), the prime mover behind Army’s reach out to the Indian defence industry.

Other members are Vice-Admiral S. N. Ghormade (retd.), former chief of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) Air Marshal B. R. Krishna (retd.), J. D. Patil of Larsen and Toubro, and Mahindra Group’s S.P. Shukla who is also the president of SIDM, an industry grouping of Indian defence companies.

Sujan R. Chinoy, head of the MP-IDSA think tank and Manindra Agarwal of IIT-Kanpur, S. Unnikrishnan Nair, Distinguished Scientist, ISRO, and Defence Ministry’s Financial Advisor Rasika Chaube are part of the panel.

Sources said the committee’s primary task is to come up with recommendations of restructuring and redefining the role of the DRDO, a way to rope in and retain high quality manpower, ability to collaborate with foreign experts and entities besides rationalising the number of laboratories within the organisation.

The need for revamping was felt by the Modi government for some time, and the directions now came from the Prime Minister’s Office to push through the reforms, they added.

The Services have had their long list of grievances with the DRDO which was highlighted in meetings with the defence minister as well as with the organisation, they said.

From tanks to fighter aircraft to even basic assault rifles to specialised battery systems for the Navy or communication systems and unmanned aerial vehicles, the DRDO projects have seen huge delays.

Last year, the forces had also given several inputs on the need to revamp the DRDO — something that has been talked about in the past but without much success, including by a parliamentary panel as early as 2019.

One of the few areas where the DRDO has done well and within a reasonable time frame is the missiles, the sources said.

Starting with only 10 laboratories in 1958, DRDO has grown into a giant organisation with a network of over 50 laboratories and establishments spread across the country. It, however, has not been able to produce a single technologically contemporary or futuristic platform or capability for the Indian armed forces on its own.

Sources in the armed forces say that in order to prove its technical expertise, DRDO “has heavily advertised ‘proof of concept’ demonstrations of prototypes of various weapon platforms with no thought given to mass production and adoption by the clientele for whom they have been apparently designed”.

A number of groups, including Kelkar, Kargil and Rama Rao committees, had been appointed to suggest recommendations, but very few were implemented.

The DRDO revamp will be a big step after what the government did with the erstwhile Ordinance Factory Board (OFB), which was divided into seven separate entities focussed on specific verticals of manufacturing.

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