Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Look who's talking!

I reproduce here R Prasannan's fine piece in The Week -- the other side of the DRDO story. Some of our commenters have referred to this piece from the April 8 edition of the magazine, so I've posted it here.

DRDO gets a bad name because of Army and Air Force
by R Prasannan

Finally, the much-maligned and underpaid defence scientists feel vindicated. Having been rubbished by the media and the defence services for long-delayed and aborted defence technology projects, they feel that someone has heard their side of the story, though this story is not that flattering to the Army and the Air Force.

The 14th report of the Balasaheb Vikhe Patil-headed parliamentary standing committee on defence has vindicated THE WEEK's reports (Feb. 19, 2006 and February 18, 2007) that the services are as much to blame for Defence Research and Development Organisation's project delay. The committee has noted that many of DRDO's difficulties are caused by the changing of the qualitative requirements (QR) by the services midstream, and the long and extended trials by them. Said a DRDO scientist to THE WEEK: "When it comes to imported systems, the services are willing to dilute their QR if the supplier can bring down the price. Why can't they extend the same concession to systems developed by our own scientists?"

The committee, too, has criticised the services' phoren craze. "...indigenously developed product is subjected to prolonged and exhaustive trial and evaluation, whereas imported products are not subjected to the same evaluation, but are readily accepted...," it noted.

The committee has listed several instances of the services' changing QR midstream, leading to delay in projects. The Army asked DRDO in September 2000 to develop an air-defence gun system for Rs 17.7 crore. Four months later, the vice-chief reported that the existing L-70 and ZU guns could be upgraded to a level superior to what the Army had asked it to develop. The new QR, issued in May 2001, was so different from the earlier one that DRDO had to short-close the programme after spending Rs 14.5 lakh.

In 1994, the IAF asked DRDO to develop an emergency floatation system for Mi-8 helicopters for Rs 75 lakh, when IAF was negotiating with FPT of the UK. As FPT could not meet the air-worthiness requirement, the system was imported from Kazan in Russia, and the indigenous development programme foreclosed after spending Rs 48 lakh. To DRDO's credit, instead of throwing away the already-developed technologies, it employed them in the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter.

In 1993, the IAF asked DRDO to develop a mobile balloon barrage system for Rs 45.99 lakh. By March 1998, DRDO was ready with the system. One and a half years later, the IAF reported that it no longer needed the system, as it was based on the 1980s operational philosophy.

The maximum flak on DRDO has been over the delay in the light combat aircraft (LCA) programme. The IAF, too, has to share the blame. It asked DRDO to redesign the composite wings "to cater for weapon definition changes" in January 2004, by which time the prototypes had flown for more than a few hundred hours.

The most intriguing case has been the cargo ammunition development project, sanctioned in January 1998 at Rs 16.35 crore. Initially, DRDO thought it could modify the bomblet developed for Prithvi for the cargo system. When this failed, DRDO attempted to design the bomblet and fuze afresh. That threw up certain technological constraints. Finally, all the "constraints were overcome and the design of 130mm cargo shell, bomblet, bomblet fuze..., packing system and ejection system were worked out."

Hardly had DRDO opened champagne bottles when, according to the committee, "the project was shortclosed [as] the government did not grant an extension of time after spending Rs 2.78 crore." The committee has recorded that it is "not fully convinced with the reply... that due to technological constraints, change in design and development and GSQR, the projects sanctioned were abandoned...."

The services' argument has been that changes in technology and threat perception are making them amend the QRs. (THE WEEK reported in February that the Nag anti-tank missile programme was delayed partly because the Army and IAF suddenly wanted longer ranges than what they had originally asked for.) The committee has observed that several projects "were shortclosed due to change in General Staff Qualitative Requirements by the user, or due to technological obsolescence."

The problem appears to be mainly with the Army and Air Force. The Navy, which has its own design capability, has fewer problems with DRDO. As the committee observes, "Only the Navy has design capability, and... is far ahead of the Army and Air Force in R&D and outsourcing."

Thus, naval engineers and designers seem to have a better working relationship with DRDO. For instance, the Samyukta electronics warfare programme for the Army was launched in May 1994, but is yet to be completed and handed over to the Army. On the other hand, the similar Sangraha programme for the Navy, which was launched a year after the Army programme was launched, has already been completed, and is being happily used by the Navy. This was after the cabinet committee took seven months to sanction the Army project and 13 months for the Navy one.

Similarly, other naval projects like high-speed torpedo Varunastra and anti-torpedo decoy system Mareech, though delayed by two years, are expected to be completed with no cost overrun. A non-official expert put it pointblank to the committee: "The Navy has the best example. So why don't we follow that? All major developments take place as part of the service, under their care and accountability."
The Navy's higher satisfaction level with DRDO is reflected in the naval representative's statement before the committee: "With the help of DRDO..., we have made considerable progress on the electronic warfare systems." According to him, the Navy has stopped buying sonars from abroad for the last five to 10 years; DRDO-developed sonars have been retrofitted even in Russian-built ships; DRDO's electronic warfare systems are being inserted in foreign-built naval aircraft; and systems are being sent to Russia for retrofitting on aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is being refurbished in Russia.

Similarly, Garden Reach Shipbuilders of Kolkata has no problem with the special steel developed by DRDO and produced by Steel Authority of India for anti-submarine corvettes. As the Garden Reach representative proudly told the committee, "We are now the first major user of this indigenous steel.... The entire electronics, weapons and sensors in that ship are going to be... indigenous." The only problem, as noted by the committee, is that the Navy is often unable to provide enough ships for trials of warheads.

There are problems within DRDO, too. As many as 1,404 scientists have left it in the last 10 years. As the ministry pointed out to the committee, many of the multinationals' R&D centres are located in cities where DRDO has a cluster of laboratories and establishments. "Some of the scientists selected in DRDO through proper selection process, after training and R&D experience in the organisation, are offered lucrative salary by MNCs and private companies," it said.

Not that the report is a clean chit to DRDO. The organisation has been criticised for its lack of project management culture, reluctance to involve the users in project management and review, lack of trust in the capabilities of private industry, and lack of technological follow-up with public sector manufacturers. But the committee has refrained from blaming DRDO even for US sanctions which delayed the Kaveri engine.

As a DRDO scientist told THE WEEK, many of these technologies are being developed for the first time in the country, and there would be teething problems. "This would happen in any country where strategic technology has progressed far ahead of civilian industrial base. We have been developing extremely complex technologies for fighter planes and warships and electronic warfare, whereas our civilian industry produced the first indigenous car only recently," he said.

The problem, according to him, is not in the development of technologies, but in integrating them into products and weapon systems, which is the job of design engineers. As DRDO chief Dr M. Natarajan has been saying, "We don't have enough design engineers in the country. India needs at least one lakh of them."

©The Week 2007


Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, I would definitely request you to express your opinion on this article. It would be much appreciated, because it is in contrast to the series of articles authored by you which were critical of the DRDO.

Thank you.

Teews said...

Shiv, as much as you and Ajai have always criticised DRDO, and I will agree that they have delayed projects and other issues, can you guys be honest enough and start criticising the IAF and IA and the government with the same vigour and contempt that you have used against DRDO?

Because true journalism isn't about selling news as a product but it is about presenting the facts to the citizens of our country (or for that matter any other country) without bias and let them make up their opinions instead of shoving down your opinions on them. But then you already knew that didn't you???

So lets see how truthful you are about your profession. You have taken the first step in posting the news on your blog, lets see you take this to the next step. Then and only then you will be taken seriously.

vasu72 said...

I appreciate that you were present during the flight test atleast now I hope you understand the complexity and technology involved in missiles. I do hope that your perception about DRDO scientits will change to better. It was a great gesture on DRDO's part to invite few of the journalists to be present during the flight such things enhance popular image of DRDO among public and media.

Shiv Aroor said...

vasu72, actually it was not DRDO which invited me to watch the launch. DRDO in fact did everything in its power to get me barred from watching the launch from the MoD operations room, but thankfully I was able to persuade people in the MoD otherwise. If it were upto DRDO there would be no publicity, believe me. it took the MoD spokesperson the whole day to convince Mr Natarajan to meet the press and hours to convince them to part with footage of the launch for the news channels. If armed forces understanding of media is 5/10, DRDO's is approximately minus 250. let's hope things change with more successes. this was of course a great success vasu, and i have congratulated all on this blog and on orkut, but it does not absolve DRDO not its people for all the other massive failures. one successful test doesn't change history.

Abhiman said...

Hello Mr. Aroor. I do not wish to trigger yet another "flurry" of arguments, but so-termed massive failures as mentioned by you may relate only to Tejas, Nag and Arjun projects.

As per ADA, US sanctions delayed Tejas by 2 years and request for change of composite wings by IAF also delayed it. The present stage may have been reached 2.5 to 3 years ago. Same may be applicable for Nag.

The sole project that may be termed as "failure" is Trishul which also has been completed by DRDO and only IAF's test schedule is awaited.

Thus in my view, failures of Trishul and Pinaka may not be generalized lest the generalization be termed as 'massive' failures.
I disagree with your view that the Agni-III test as described by you is "just one success".

The so-termed "massive failures" may also be attributed to :

1)The "intrangisense" of the services who prefer imported systems.

2)The middlemen and bribery in procuring foreign systems (Scorpene & Barak) due to which shipyards have lain idle for over a decade, and Barak was given numerous chances despite a 50% failure rate in the late 90s.

Thank you.

Shiv Aroor said...

abhiman, let's no pussyfoot around the real issue. when i say massive failure, i talk of any delays in a poor country which translate into crores spent on imported systems which could have been spent on social schemes if DRDO delivered on time and with efficiency. let's be clear about another thing. to sa DRDO's failures are restricted to LCA, arjun and nag is again to deny a great number of realities. thirdly, you're kidding yourself about trishul my friend! the trishul programme is over. it is closed. manpower from project trishul have been divided betweel BDL, Barak-II and the Maitri programmes. no further work is being conducted on trishul so there is no question of waiting for trials. it is a closed chapter. MBDA of france will be helping bail out the programme by helping build a tri-service family of quick reaction OSA-type missiles from the remnants of trishul. these are facts, not speculation.

Mihir Shah said...

What do you expect? Delivery of each and every product on time? That won't happen when you are developing something for the first time. There will be bugs. And bugs need to be sorted out post-induction. But without induction, how is DRDO going to do that? There are many things wrong with DRDO (insufficient funding is a major problem), but the customers have been guilty of bad attitude.

Abhiman said...

Mr. Shiv, LCA has been delayed by 3 years due to non-compliance of an agreement by the US and IAF. DRDO may not be "blamed" for that.

As per the statement of Dr. Natarajan, and Defence Minister Mr. Antony, development of Trishul has been concluded and negotiations are ongoing with IAF for determining parameters of user-trials.

Reports of MBDA's assistance, etc have appeared but to my knowing these are under consideration.

Regardless of the above, even if we may assume that Trishul has "failed", that is 1 such failure only. Arjun's "failure" may not be isolated because as per a CNN-IBN report, T-90s has also and continues to suffer from problems of overheating, thermal imaging, FCS, etc. as Arjun.

Reference :

It is yet inexplicable why orders are being continuosly given for T-90s whereas Arjun's orders have not exceeded 124. At least the Arjun cannot be "singled out", else you should also call T-()s a 'massive failure' too.

Thank you.

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, the crux of my viewpoint is that failure is NOT determined by the delay from promised date of delivery, but rather the fact that India was a nation with a very little and "shaky" scientific base when it got independent.

US, USSR sent men and lunar orbiters to the moon in the 1960s when ISRO was struggling with the technology of sounding rockets. These rockets go to the edge of the atmosphere and launch a parachute; today, they are built by University students in the US for Science competitions of prize money of the order of a few tens of thousand dollars.
This example must serve to enable us to appreciate how far we have come. A delay of a few years in some defence projects must not be "venomized" (though I agree it can be criticized).

Let me tell you with confidence and conviction, that ALL the scientists of DRDO, ISRO, BARC et al have a "rabid" streak of indigenenousness. If the media encourages them instead of headlines like, "ISRO's ambition sloshes into Bay of Bengal" (CNN-IBN, after last year's failure of GSLV-Mk 2), it will be very helpful.

As succicently put by Mihir (I presume Mihir Shah) in BR, I quote, "The Indian Express stupidly enclosed their skepticism in inverted commas". He was referring to the Indian Express headline after Agni-III test which ran as : Agni-III 'successfully' test-fired. The inverted commas in successful clearly indicate a "jibe" at DRDO by indicating that they are not to be relied or trusted upon.
Leave aside congratulations to the scientists or appreciating the strategic milestone reached, the report's attitude can be guaged when it stated, "China has missiles with a longer range than Agni-III", instead of mentioning even once that the Agni-III can now strike all of China !! Besides, what use are Chinese ICBMs to India which is already covered by their lesser-ranged missiles ?

"Chinese missiles have longer range than Agni-III" reflects a clear predisposition towards DRDO which I believe will take a very long time to cleanse. Till then, the expectation of -250 in media friendliness may continue.

Thank you.

Mihir said...

Abhiman, that was first pointed out by Nitin Pai of "The Acorn". I just posted it on BR.

anon29 said...

Very few Defence Journalists really have a grasp of defence issues. They are usually the discovery channel educated fellows.

When people compare the LCA and talk about how advanced the F-22 is, or how the Agni-III 'Fiasco', it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth for DRDO. No wonder they didn't want you watching. As for their Media relations, having seen their PROs, its pathetic!! Its only the Directors who sometimes give out info, while the PROs are sitting on their fat behinds and sipping drinks.

DRDO may be flawed (seriously even), but EVERY single organization has faced failures. What of the 6 billion spent on the RAH-66 Comanche? Or the hundreds of Billions on the THAAD?? The cost overruns on the LCA have made the cost only go up to 1.3 billion dollars, and the benefits in other areas have been huge.

When a few DRDO projects flounder, probably only because they are the first such hi-tech project being done in the country, and are setting the stage for the future, it is called a disaster, and the whole system is badmouthed. But they are just small hiccups in an inexorable path to progress....

Of course, if the Agni missile is such a useless piece, we could try asking the US to lend us some of theirs, couldn't we. I'm sure they'll be willing to share.

What about the delays from the armed forces. the 2 year delay in framing the LCA ASR? or the 3 years wihout funding? and the Wing redesign? Tehy are DRDO faults right? And sanctions?

And the Arjun redesigns??? DRDO again...

I think that DRDO should organize a camp for all defence journos. At least then, we would know a bit more about the DRDO side of the story.

Anonymous said...

mihir i agree that the armed forces and government are probably as much to blame, but what i feel people should be utterly against is unbridled and sometimes illogical support of the endless pursuit of something that's become so amorphous, it's lost its initial value. so what do i expect? how about some accountability? nobody's complaining only about delays or wastages. those can be understood if not condoned. but the holy cow touch me not opacity, the absolute lack of accountability and transparency -- that's the real problem. on another note (but in one way connected), in a few days a friend of mine at the organisation where i work will be doing a ground-level story series on corruption and pilferage of funds by senior scientists and officials at DRDO. crores meant for hardcore research sluiced off for properties in jayanagar, basavangudi, mumbai and other places. for THESE scientists (they'll be exposed in a few days), there will be no pity. let's see how DRDO defends this one. of course they'll say there's corruption everywhere. but how will they defend funds stolen from a corpus meant for developing high-altitude special clothing.. can;t wait to see their fat well-fed faces.

Anonymous said...

and i would also like to add... Major General Umang Kapoor (Director C-TEC) is one of the most corrupt officers in the organisation. in the army he would not have lasted beyond a colonel. but in DRDO he's a general. he has made a killing on bullet-proof materials and the bullcrap they produce at the DARL in pittoragarh.

Anonymous said...

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