The state-run DRDO has once again fallen into the line of fire as it lags behind schedule for key Defence projects for the Indian Armed Forces. Besides, none of the recommendations to revamp the DRDO’s operations or its restructuring plan have been implemented. Defence Minister AK Antony has stated in the Parliament that DRDO projects including Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEWC) and Kaveri engine have not been executed as per the schedule resulting in a hike in their cost of development.
Admitting to the delays, Defence Minister Antony has replied in the Parliament that probable dates of completion (PDC) for LCA Phase II, Naval LCA, AEW&C and the Kaveri engine have been extended and costs have been enhanced. These changes have been effected due to various reasons like change in scope, ab-initio development of technologies and denial of technologies by the advanced countries, extended trials and increase in cost of materials and manpower.
DRDO has been criticized for the delay in the LCA project which has been in the making for about 25 years as the air force and the navy awaits its delivery. As for the Kaveri engine project for LCA, the engine is still in trial phases while DRDO has been importing US-made engines for the aircraft's trials.
Besides the delays in the execution of DRDO projects, the implementation of various recommendations by a committee to make DRDO efficient has also not seen the light of day. In 2008, the Rama Rao Committee had made major recommendations to enable DRDO to function efficiently and become capable of developing state-of-the-art weapon systems without time and cost overruns. However, these recommendations have not been implemented. Even the major DRDO restructuring plan assured by the Defence ministry in 2010 has not taken place.
Only a couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated that the indigenous content in Defence procurement was low and asked DRDO to focus on areas where it has the capacity to deliver within reasonable time. He added that DRDO must focus on time and material resources on selected areas where they have a demonstrated capacity to deliver projects within reasonable time and cost.
An overhaul in the operations of DRDO has become imperative since India remains the top Defence importers in the world and it imports 60% of its military needs. As part of the revamp of DRDO, which has an over Rs 10,500 crore annual budget, a new Defence Technology Commission (DTC) was to be established with Defence minister A K Antony as its chairman. However, this has been delayed as well as it awaits the Cabinet’s approval.