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Home > India > News > Columnists > M Natarajan

'DRDO can't meet country's self-reliance goals'

May 20, 2008

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While there have been significant achievements in almost all disciplines, it must be appreciated that there is a definite capacity constraint in the Defence Research and Development Organisation. It is impossible for one DRDO to cater to the entire spectrum of products and services required by our three armed services.

DRDO, therefore, has progressively sought to draw in small & medium enterprises (SMEs) into areas of technology development. During the course of development projects, DRDO finds itself compelled to handle a number of issues related to technology transfer and productionisation like engineering development for production, product support etc which are not its core competence. DRDO, therefore, wishes to progressively shift these to industry/production partners and seeks the government's help in empowering it to benchmark private industries and to entrust them these tasks in entirety or by way of assistance to public sector/ordnance factories.

A fundamental problem is that the defence industry is comfortable with licenced production, rather than the more painstaking route of indigenous development. In the absence of policy directives to defence public sector units/ ordnance factories and even private sector industries wanting to enter defence production to ensure certain percentage of their turnover exclusively by way of indigenously developed products, the goals of self reliance cannot be met by DRDO's efforts alone.

The private sector will have to be provided sweeteners, in terms of incentives for taking up at least engineering development for production and, where possible, participation right from early stages of project. All major acquisitions from abroad while providing short-term comfort to MoD, also places responsibility on it to ensure that the technology transfers and offset provisions be capitalised through follow-on projects to be taken up indigenously. If not, these gains will be dissipated and nullified.

To claim India's rightful place as geopolitical power, we need to establish capability in propulsion, navigation, sensors etc. There is a need to invest heavily in basic research in universities. Adequate funding to our scientific institutions is required to generate expertise/experts in these areas through advanced courses. This is a time consuming and cost intensive activity. Until then strategic tie-up for specific products with certain countries, on whom we can depend, maybe the only solution. The strategy for acquisitions from abroad must factor in this requirement. Apart from academic qualifications, the scientists/engineers need to get trained in specific tasks to pickup skills and talent for creatively transforming knowledge into products and systems. The industry can only mature through participation in development projects, technology absorption and value addition, fabrications and process engineering, packaging and integration. Hence, a deliberate policy for investment in production in respect of indigenous developments is essential for industries to mature.

We are confident that each entity -- the services, the MoD, the department of defence production and DRDO will respond to this challenge and the government will promote necessary ambience through decentralisation and greater autonomy.

A DRDO Review Committee, as a sequel to Kelkar Committee, was constituted to review the functioning of DRDO and recommend all round changes for sharpening defence technology and enhancing self-reliance. The committee has lauded the contributions of DRDO in developing and producing strategic systems and critical technologies. The committee is of the strong view that only if the need for self-reliance is legislated, the contributions of DRDO can become wholesome. The constitution of a Defence Technology Commission to play a major role in bringing about these transformations is suggested. DRDO has also engaged the National Council of Applied Economic Research to carry out an assessment of defence research and development through case studies.

Fortunately, DRDO, in its 50th year, has over 50 per cent of its technical workforce in the age group of 25-35 yrs. These budding technocrats have enough challenges in the current and foreseeable projects, which they can enjoy, gifted with better capability, and greater networking.

Excerpts from the speech of M Natarajan, Secretary Defence Research and Development and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister in New Delhi on May 12 during the DRDO golden jubilee celebrations.


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