14/03/2017 3:40 PM IST | Updated 14/03/2017 4:03 PM IST

Shut Down Laboratories And Overhaul The DRDO, Expert Committee Tells Defence Ministry

All non-core research activity of the DRDO must stop.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
The Arjun tank stationed on the Parliament House premises for an exhibition in August 2016 in New Delhi, India.

India's premier defence research organisation, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), needs a major overhaul, some its research laboratories closed and the organisation needs to concentrate only on development of defence platforms, a high-level committee appointed by the Ministry of Defence has said in its report.

In the last five years, DRDO has been getting between ₹6,000-₹8,000 crore annually for defence research — roughly 6% of the defence budget.

The DRDO was set up in 1958 to achieve self-reliance in manufacturing weapon systems to equip the armed forces. It has over 33,000 personnel, which includes nearly 8,000 scientists, 13,000 technicians, and 52 laboratories. Its area of research is wide and encompasses everything, from juices to nuclear missiles.

Former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had constituted the committee led by Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (Retired) in May 2016 to suggest ways to enhance the combat capabilities of India. The panel submitted its 550-page report to the government recently.

Top sources told HuffPost India the committee has said as many as 11 laboratories of the DRDO need to closed down or amalgamated and its "non-crore" research activities stopped. The committee also said that DRDO needs to work with "clearly defined" objectives to develop "weapon systems and platforms".

Instead of the DRDO deciding on areas and focus of research, the committee has recommended setting up of a "Technology Commission", headed by the defence minister, with representatives from the armed forces. The commission should formulate research and development policy and even set specific deadlines for research.

The committee feels that end-users — the three services — must be consulted on areas of research and development of weapon systems. To break the red-tape in the DRDO, the committee has suggested that DRDO scientists be given incentives for successful completion of projects.

Suggesting further reforms, the DB Shekatkar Committee has also said that Ordnance Factory Boards (OFB) — which produce bulk of the ammunition and weapons used by the forces — should consult the armed forces when inducting new technology or material. It has pointed to the fact that OFB, which produce rifles, wasn't aware of the exact weight of the guns it was producing.

Interestingly, the committee has said that OFB needs to include private companies and has suggested using private-public partnerships to speed up production, ensure better quality and cut down delays.

This isn't the first time an overhaul of the DRDO has been recommended. Questions have been frequently raised about the delays and cost over-runs in DRDO projects.

In a 2015 report, the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) had pointed out that audit examination of 14 mission mode projects, carried out by DRDO laboratories, "revealed that all projects failed to achieve their timelines and the probable date of completion (PDC) was extended many a times".

These mission mode projects include the crucial S-band surveillance system 'Rohini' radars, secure video and fax communication between airborne platforms and ground station 'Meghdoot' and electronic warfare suit for the modified MIG-29 fighters.

The delays, the CAG pointed out, "were mainly due to inadequate monitoring".

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