The Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile technology was successfully tested last month by the DRDO (India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation). It was a giant step forward for India’s scientific reputation. Understandably, India has a lot to catch up with in comparison to the US, Russia, and China. However, this achievement has put India in an elite club of four countries. Moreover, it has also given the DRDO some respite from the criticism that it faces for its inability to meet the demands of India’s armed forces. But that is only half the story. The DRDO’s focus appears to be to design and develop security-sensitive systems that are complex and have strategic value.

So, while DRDO continues to face flak for delays and cost overruns, with projects like the Arjun main battle tank, and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas; to be fair, the DRDO, has also developed a number of military systems and technologies, which have been put into production, and their value to armed forces stands at over Rs. 1,90,000 crore. These include a wide range of military technologies like anti-tank missiles; multi-barrel rocket launcher and torpedoes; unmanned aerial vehicles; radars and sensors; cyber and electronic warfare systems; etc. It is another matter that this message doesn’t get out effectively into the public domain; the DRDO has itself to blame for its poor image.

‘DRDO System Needs Overhauling’

Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues the DRDO—like most PSU—is the lack of accountability and a time-bound target centric approach. A former DGQA, Lt Gen. VK Bhat (Retd), has stated that “There is a very apparent problem of quality and lack of accountability. No doubt that there have been glimpses of excellence within the DRDO but that system needs overhauling”. But one cannot put all the blame on the DRDO, says Dr Saraswat, until recently the head of DRDO. “If you actually look at any of DRDO’s programs, you will see that they have delivered every time a project has been on mission mode and given priority. If you are giving some seed money and asking people to develop aircraft, you are fooling yourselves,” he claimed.

That perhaps is the central problem that plagues India’s defence indigenisation; a clear lack of urgency to make India largely self-sufficient for its defence needs. Thus, our armed forces have only been dependent on big-ticket purchases from western countries. There are strong lobbies within and outside India, that want India to keep up its buying spree. It can thus be argued that it is for that reason alone that our defence modernisation hasn’t lived up to expectations.

A Slow DPP & It’s Impact on Arms Merchant Dealings

With the defence procurement process (DPP) being slow and time-consuming (as anyone familiar with the DPP will know), the earliest one can hope for particular equipment to arrive on our shores would take five years or more, if all goes as per the book. Normally it takes 10 years or more! That gives enough time and room for several people in the chain to benefit from the handouts that arms merchants are only too willing to give, to increase sales of their equipment.

China, as per the think-tank SIPRI, is today not just the world’s 6th largest arms importer but also today the 5th largest arms exporter. China has spent 2 per cent of its GDP on R&D for several years. Our establishment, on the other hand, is still holding the moral high ground against export of defence technologies. This thought process will not only generate revenue but also allow Indian companies expertise in hi-end defence manufacturing.

Stalling the entry of the private sector into the area of manufacturing defence platforms is being done on the grounds that there are sensitive military requirements that cannot be disclosed to them but only to governmental PSUs. This is contestable, since virtually all the top end equipment that we buy for our armed forces, are made by private enterprises abroad, that aren’t bound by the restrictions India places on its companies, at home.

For more details on Maroof Raza, visit https://www.maroofraza.com.

Maroof Raza

Maroof Raza is a retired Indian Army officer and an author for Salute with experience in counter-insurgency operations. He is a consultant and strategic affairs expert on Times Now. Apart from his appearances on news debates, he has anchored and presented a 20 part series on the Indian armed forces, titled ‘Line of Duty’. An episode from this series, on the Siachen Glacier won an Award in the military documentary section at the Film Festival in Rome in 2005. The anchor of a strategic affairs show called Latitude and India Risk Report for the same channel.

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