Role of R&D in Nation Building: The Way Ahead

The DRDO needs a complete overhaul to focus solely on cutting-edge technologies and weapons systems. A number of its 52 laboratories can be merged to make it lean and mean. Production of packaged foods, clothing items and other such activities should be hived off to the private players


By Lt Gen VK Chaturvedi (Retd)

Akash Weapon System

The research and development (R&D) organisation in any country plays an important role in the development of the nation as well as its society. All nations, therefore, invest a sizeable portion of their budget on creating an effective and potent R&D establishment. The investments are always high initially and with no returns. To create a scientific environment, facilities, infrastructure, educational institutes of excellence, the technology development projects have to be undertaken and funded. Till a few years ago, there was a feeling in the scientific community that we will always be able to procure or transfer technology from outside.

Therefore, we did not endeavour and put in sincere efforts to create anything new. Israel, born after India got its Independence, today spends more than 4% of its GDP on R&D whereas India spends only 0.7%.

However, post the nuclear tests of 1998, sanctions were imposed on us by many developed and developing countries. This prompted and motivated many exceptional minds in the country to put in that extra bit and produce indigenously several critical cutting-edge technologies, which until then were beyond our imagination. The Cryogenic engine is a case in point. Since we started late, there are still miles to go. With our Prime Minister’s focus on self-reliance and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, there is a great push for R&D and we today feel ‘Bharat’ can and produce indigenously, anything and everything within the country.

The Present Status

The DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), was established in India in 1958 after amalgamating the Defence Science Establishments and some of the technical development establishments. It has come a long way since then. However, it has failed to give the user, (primarily, the Armed Forces of India), the much needed confidence that our DRDO will be able to develop the best products in the world.

There is always a sense of unease in this regard amongst the Armed Forces personnel. There are surely some bright sparks, like the development of missiles, the state of the art WLR (Weapon Locating Radar, SWATI), ACCCS (Artillery Command Control and Communication System) etc., but the list is not long, as one would expect. This makes it an absolute necessity to introspect and internalise.

What We Can Do

Over time, different committees have recommended a number of reforms to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and output of DRDO. However, because of the internal equations and the reluctance to change not much has been achieved. After a long time, three laboratories, namely DTRL, LASTEC and ANURAG, were shut or merged with laboratories involved in similar activities. These are, however, only cosmetic reforms. There is a need for a major surgery as over time the issues involved are critical and affecting the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation.

It would be worth mentioning that today India is one of the largest importers of weapons and high-tech defence equipment. More than 70% of our defence needs, as far as capital expenditure is concerned, is being imported. The Prime Minister’s call for self-reliance and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is therefore an apt call. There is no doubt that it is going to be a beacon of light for this vital organisation to act speedily and produce results.

Now with our defence private sector having developed to an extremely good standard with reach across the length and breadth of the country, there is an imperative need to review the role and charter of the DRDO

The requirement is to have a change in perception. At present, there is a lot of self-glorification. This must stop forthwith. The aim is to collaborate, cooperate and even compete but at no stage confront.

The Bharat of today is, in fact, leading the world in almost all fields where mind, intelligence, management, execution is involved. Most of the renowned technology companies the world over are being led and spearheaded by Indians. Our esteemed institutions like the IITs, IISc and the IIMs have all done us proud. The DRDO, therefore, must commence interacting with these institutes. There is no harm giving and sharing the credit where due and acknowledging the same publicly and even honouring some of them at appropriate forums.

There are several high-end technology-oriented companies in the private sector, who have the capabilities and the wherewithal to produce high-end technology-oriented weapons and equipment catering to the demand of our armed forces. Their credibility and ethics are beyond doubt. I have no hesitation in naming a few like TATAs, L&T, Bharat Forge etc. who have the capabilities, the wherewithal and the passion to work on projects of national importance with the same zeal, enthusiasm and responsibilities as any of our Government Institutions. The only need is to either give them firm orders initially, subject to their meeting the Qualitative Requirements (QRs) or fund them for the research. I have no doubt they will produce the results. It has been done in the past — the Pinaka MBRL is a case in point.

Weapon Locating Radar ‘Swathi’

The 52 DRDO laboratories must be reduced to a bare minimum by merging a number of them. The DRDO should not be producing packaged foods and clothing items, these could be outsourced to some private laboratories. The DRDO must focus on cutting-edge technology, cyber, space, missile systems, ammunitions, MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) and HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) UAVs, the seekers, the electronic systems, aircraft and helicopter design and development, software algorithm development and other such high-end technology systems where sensitivity, competitive superiority and confidentiality is involved and paramount in national interest. Even in these areas a certain amount of collaboration could be explored, but the nucleus and the leadership must always be from the DRDO.

Management of Change

This is a very difficult phase to bring in any material change in the functioning, reorganisation, merging and implementation of the proposal. The basic resistance comes from within, the people who are used to a certain way of working. They want to remain in their comfort zones and do not want to change. Therefore, the most important task is to motivate them, by being extremely transparent, explaining the reasons for the change and taking them along to achieve the aim. At no stage should anyone who has been working on a particular project or in a specific field be made to feel ‘left out’. There will be some surplus of manpower, whenever such major changes are brought about.

The foremost duty of those implementing the change and the decision makers is to ensure that these people are adequately compensated or rehabilitated. It must be ensured that their self-esteem is not hurt. It must be remembered that they are not inefficient or unwanted, but are extremely effective. Unless the change is managed in the most professional and compassionate manner, the best of plans will fail. It must however be noted that the change is a must and must be put in place sooner than later.

Prithvi Missile System

Awarding The Best Talents

There is always a need to get the best talent for our Research and Development. We have some of the finest educational institutions in the world. Therefore, we must ensure that the best comes to our DRDO. The Government of India must give waiver in deserving cases to get the best talent. The aim is to get the best brains for our research and to ensure that funds are not a constraint. A lean and mean organisation with well-defined and clear objectives for research and development in cutting edge technologies and development of sensitive, critical weapons platforms and systems must remain the sole aim of the DRDO.

Equally important, those who make extraordinary contributions and develop state of the art technology should be awarded for their work. These awards must be something like the Nobel Prize in the field of R&D. The value of the award, the selection system, the award ceremony etc. must be world class. We (Indians) may not get the award initially, as the best will win, but soon many Indians will compete and add glory to our DRDO. This will ensure that our DRDO is talked about the world over and achieve greater glories.

Quality Assurance

This is one important field that affects the quality of the product and ultimately has a major bearing on its development. Therefore we must have an extremely committed, honest and effective quality assurance set-up. This again is required to be an independent and autonomous body totally dedicated to the national cause. The motivational level of the employees must be of the highest order with impeccable record of honesty, integrity, and dedication. The present set-up of our DGQA has failed to inspire confidence in the user, primarily because of the attitude of empire building both by the OFB and the Department of Defence Production. How can the DGQA be under the production agency? They should be preferably under the user or an autonomous body.

In conclusion, it would be pertinent to mention that our DRDO over a period of time has some feathers to its credit like the missiles systems (Prithvi, Agni, BrahMos, Nag, Akash etc.), Weapon Locating Radars (SWATI), Rockets like Pinaka and some Naval systems, yet there is a lot to achieve. The present organisation system may have been okay for the 1950s and 60s, when the private sectors were not well developed and equipped, and our R&D was involved in developing even minor technologies.

However, now with our private sector having developed to an extremely good standard with reach across the length and breadth of the country, there is an imperative need to review the role and charter of DRDO. A lean, mean and focussed organisation with the sole aim of developing the best and state of the art cutting-edge technologies and producing strategic weapon platforms and ammunition systems for the Armed Forces is the need of the hour. The government must provide and give waivers to the rules and regulations wherever required to ensure the best minds come to our DRDO. The necessary checks and balances must be put in place to see that our DRDO is among the best in the world. The capability exists and we need to now ensure it happens in the earliest time frame.

– The writer is a veteran who served the Indian Army for 40 years in various Command and Staff Appointments. His last appointment was Director General Manpower Planning and Personal Services at Army HQ. He is a gallantry award winner of 1971 Indo-Pak War and has tremendous experience about the modernisation of the Artillery, and is also a recipient of PVSM AVSM SM.


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