DNA: The DRDO Audit Report

It's something we've all been waiting for. My friend and colleague Josy Joseph of DNA has accessed the long-awaited P Rama Rao committee audit report on DRDO. Here's his piece from today's edition of the newspaper in full:

DRDO may have major say in defence purchases

by Josy Joseph

A high-powered committee appointed by the government to overhaul the working of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has called for major administrative changes that would give DRDO a significant say in defence purchases.

The committee headed by P Rama Rao, a former secretary of the department of science and technology, has also called for establishment of Brahmos missile-type joint military ventures with more countries, giving up many DRDO labs to other government departments to make the military research leaner, increasing the number of top rung scientists, induction of outside scientists at middle rung, and allocation of at least Rs600 crore annually to rejuvenate research culture within.

The confidential report, exclusively accessed by DNA, has asked DRDO to identify “8 to 10 critical areas which best fit their existing human resource, technical capability and established capacity” to take up new projects. These should be “assuredly culminate in the delivery of the specific products to” the military services which can “deploy them successfully in the next 10 to 12 years.”

However, the report’s contents has disappointed many former DRDO scientists and other observers who said the “revolutionary” changes they expected seem to be missing from it. The committee has given 25 detailed recommendations, but none of it point to the failure of leadership in checking the huge drain of military scientists to private sector in recent years and the failure of major projects such as the Arjun tank and LCA programme.

One of the most significant recommendations is the setting up of a Defence Technology Commission (DTC), to be chaired by the defence minister, which would allow “DRDO to play a major role in the procurement policy.”

Clearly, the committee wants the government to give DRDO a greater say in purchase of defence equipment from abroad. It is a common practice for services to overrule DRDO on foreign purchases - most evident in the Barak missile system purchase, which is now under CBI investigation. DRDO wanted Navy to wait until the Trishul system was ready, now CBI suspects that a motive behind overruling DRDO was huge bribes.

DRDO officials complain that a significant number of senior military officers involved in procurement are against indigenisation efforts, and foreign military lobbies are also hard at work to defame and discourage DRDO.The Rama Rao committee says the proposed commission should restore the “role of DRDO in rendering scientific advice to the Services in acquisition of weapons systems”. The commission would also formulate a “clear-cut self-reliance policy”, setting up quantitative targets for sourcing defence products based on indigenous R&D.

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