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Saturday, October 21, 2006

"If wishes were horses... " the saying goes, "beggars would ride."

We have all wanted the DRDO to succeed, but 50 years is too long to wait.There is no point indulging in wishful thinking. There is no alternative but to dismantle the DRDO and remake it on different terms. This article appeared in Hindustan Times October 19, 2006



There is a time in the life of many a business establishment — and a marriage — when the realisation dawns that things are not working. The only options are to close shop or get a divorce. Government behemoths are a tad different, but even then, we think the time has come for terminating the already estranged relationship between the country’s armed forces and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Since the armed forces cannot, and should not, do without a defence research organisation, the option of shutting shop is not there. But divorce and remarriage is a distinctly desired option. The way to go is to dismantle the organisation as it exists now, spin off its laboratories to defence public sector units, and reconstitute its core. What should result is a lean and mean defence science set-up that will provide conceptual inputs and funds to private and public labs to service the needs of the armed forces and the country.

This may seem to be a harsh solution. But in my view, it is an absolutely necessary one. Two years short of its 50th anniversary, the DRDO’s record is not just shabby, it is a disgrace. The annual budget of the 25,000-strong outfit has risen from Rs 500 crore in 1988-9 to nearly Rs 5,000 crore today. Yet there is not a single major or minor product, barring an excellent sonar system and the INSAS rifle, that has found usage in the armed forces. In sum, the Indian armed forces have been forced to do with less, and suffered more, because of the inadequacies of the DRDO.

The jawans in Kashmir were compelled to design their own steel plated patka, or headgear, in place of the helmet, which is awkward in insurgency firefights. The paramilitary devised their own light armoured vehicles, and the DRDO’s heavy steel bulletproof vest was no less cumbersome than medieval armour. For 20 years, the armed forces have been tackling improvised explosive devices and mines. But the DRDO has only recently, after 9/11, discovered robotic systems to do the job.

A great deal of the responsibility for this rests with A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who was the head of the missile development programme from 1982 to 1992, and then the chief of the DRDO till 1999. During this period, the DRDO made it a practice to claim that it could provide services in, and make any product related to, aeronautics, armaments, electronics, combat vehicles, engineering systems, instrumentation, missiles, advanced computing and simulation, special materials, naval systems, life sciences, training and information systems. So while DRDO budgets grew exponentially, the armed forces were forced to do without products because they were either interminably delayed, or never performed anywhere near the claims made by the DRDO. The result has been that the country’s defence system has suffered from several dangerous gaps during the last decade and a half.

The Agni missile that you see on parade on Republic Day is nothing but a mock-up model; but you won’t see that written on the placard. The DRDO claims the Agni as its great success. Yet the reality is that the tardy programme — whose only useful launchers are made by the Isro — is not yet a fully operational system. At least not good enough for the missile to have been tested on a land target — a vital requirement for a mature product.

The Arjun tank that is being displayed for the past 15 years is not a dummy. But it has come into limited service in the army riding on the back of a political fiat. For the second time in its history, the army has a tank it cannot allow, in good conscience, to be sent into battle in a real war. Its antiquated rifled barrel main gun cannot fire missiles, and is not optimal for fin-stabilised anti-tank munitions. Worse, the Arjun’s sophisticated (German origin) pneumatic suspension system is fed nitrogen gas through pipes that are, to put it delicately, not protected by its armour, and hence even small-arms fire can bring the 58-tonne monster to a grinding halt.

On Kalam’s insistence, the government would have shoved this down the army’s throat as the Main Battle Tank (MBT). But in the early Nineties, Pakistan acquired some 300 T80UD tanks and the army put its foot down. Like the T-90S — which is now our MBT — the Pakistani tank has a very effective tandem-warhead missile that can be fired through the gun tube and can knock out an adversary tank well before it can bring its tank gun to bear.

The third case where DRDO delays cost the country dearly was in the case of the artillery location radar. After having promised to make a system based on the British Cymbelline, the DRDO failed. By the time they acknowledged it in 1998, the US, which was offering its AN TPQ/37 system, had put an embargo on India. The result was that the army had no means of locating Pakistani artillery units during the Kargil war of 1999.

The fourth case is the one under current discussion — the Trishul missile. In the late Eighties, Kalam had promised that the air defence of a new class of Brahmaputra-class ships of the Indian Navy could be provided by the Trishul, which he said would be able to down aircraft, as well as in-coming anti-ship missiles. The na├»ve navy, which had had a major success in a DRDO-designed sonar, accepted this. But when the frigates started coming up, there were no signs of the Trishul. For two years, anti-aircraft protection was given to these expensive ships through hand-held missiles that infantry-men or guerrillas use. Things would not have changed but for the Kargil war when the navy was compelled to point out the needless risk it was taking of sending a fleet to battle-stations without adequate protection against Pakistan’s very potent French- and American-supplied anti-ship missiles.

Even today, the country’s air defence system is severely hampered by the DRDO’s failure to produce the Trishul and Akash surface-to-air missiles. All vital areas across the country, as well as combat formations and the naval fleet, are protected by a multi-layered air defence system. The first layer is fighter aircraft of the IAF, which seek to either destroy enemy air bases or shoot down their aircraft when they enter our air-space. If these aircraft get through, they hit the second layer, which has Surface-to-Air Missiles (Sams) with ranges from 2-30 km. Since the Seventies, Soviet-origin missiles — with specific variants for the army, navy and air force — did this job. The Trishul and Akash were designed to replace these systems beginning from the mid-Nineties. It is now 2006 and the missiles are not there, which means 50 of our cities and industrial zones are more vulnerable than they should be to air attack, as are our armed forces.

In 1996, the government had grandly announced that Kalam would chair a “Self Reliance Implementation Council” that would take the level of indigenous equipment in the armed forces from 30 per cent to 70 per cent by 2007. By that time, just months away, the target is far from being achieved, even though Kalam will have finished a term in office as President of the Republic.

The time has come to make painful choices. The continuance of the DRDO in its present form will not only not reduce India’s painful dependence on foreign weapons systems, but will also leave critical gaps in the country’s ability to defend itself. The culture of bureaucracy is so deep in the DRDO that mere restructuring or overhaul will not yield any result. The time has come for surgery, and a drastic one at that.

1 comment:

Nik said...

Mr Joshi, there are several inaccuracies in your article- I take the liberty of replying to them:

This may seem to be a harsh solution. But in my view, it is an absolutely necessary one. Two years short of its 50th anniversary, the DRDO’s record is not just shabby, it is a disgrace. The annual budget of the 25,000-strong outfit has risen from Rs 500 crore in 1988-9 to nearly Rs 5,000 crore today. Yet there is not a single major or minor product, barring an excellent sonar system and the INSAS rifle, that has found usage in the armed forces. In sum, the Indian armed forces have been forced to do with less, and suffered more, because of the inadequacies of the DRDO.

First, this is completely untrue.

There are dime a dozen DRDO products in service, from MRE's for the troops at Siachen, to the excellent BFSR-SR radars that were ordered by the Army a year back, some 1100 of them. The IAF recently ordered 7 CARs, and has signed up for 20 odd LLLTRs (Lowlevel lightweight radars) as well. Coming to sonars- "one excellent sonar"? There are multiple sonars- you have the original APSOH, now supplanted by the HUMSA, there are variable depth sonars- HUMVAAD, submarine sonars- USHUS for our Kilos, Towed array active/passive sonars- Nagan, which is fitted to the Mumbai, plus a dipping sonar for the ALH..
Kindly look through the list of products here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DRDO

There is no doubt that the DRDO has not been entirely successful in some areas- the Arjun projects tortured development time testifies to that, but then again- if the DRDO was permitted to bypass the OFB and have L&T or TATA do the manufacturing, it would have been far better for the program.

The jawans in Kashmir were compelled to design their own steel plated patka, or headgear, in place of the helmet, which is awkward in insurgency firefights. The paramilitary devised their own light armoured vehicles, and the DRDO’s heavy steel bulletproof vest was no less cumbersome than medieval armour. For 20 years, the armed forces have been tackling improvised explosive devices and mines. But the DRDO has only recently, after 9/11, discovered robotic systems to do the job.

Whoever told you this, is mistaken. First, the DRDO moved out of the body armour business a long time back. They developed ballistic steel for uparmouring vehicles, SAIL and the IArmy spun it off into the Patka. Why the Patka- because Sikh soldiers cannot wear a full helmet, so a band of ballistic steel around the forehead would be better than no helmet at all. Currently BPJs are being manufactured by half a dzen firms in India, with dyneema, and ceramic inserts- check Tata Advanced Materials Ltd, which has supplied the bulk of jackets to the IA along with MKU of Delhi.
Coming to IED devices- the DRDO developed the Safari, a jammer for muting IED devices for convoy protection, its in series production at ECIL, Hyderabad.
The ROV is a new development, and has cleared user acceptance trials, user trials are slated shortly.

The Agni missile that you see on parade on Republic Day is nothing but a mock-up model; but you won’t see that written on the placard. The DRDO claims the Agni as its great success. Yet the reality is that the tardy programme — whose only useful launchers are made by the Isro — is not yet a fully operational system. At least not good enough for the missile to have been tested on a land target — a vital requirement for a mature product.

This is again full of wrong facts.

The Agni is anything but a mockup. Two missile variants have already been inducted into the services, the 1& the 2. And secondly, no country in the world tests its missiles over the land. Trajectory shaping is employed (kindly pick up a physics text for ballistic trajectories) to specify that the trajectory is monitored by ground controllers via radar. Then you have the issue of long burn motor tests to verify their performance. There are many other minutae that go into testing. Please understand, India and Israel both rely on minimal testing (in terms of numbers of full fire tests) to save cost, and pack as much testing as possible into each fullfledged live test. The flip side, as the Trishul demonstrates- if anything goes wrong, failure analysis can be a Pain as one has to check all the new (hence risk) equipment validated in each test.

The Agni is one of the most sophisticated BMs in the world today- why? Because its RV is a completely independent vehicle in its own light.

Please read up here:
http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/MISSILES/Agni.html

The launchers are NOT made by ISRO, but by the private sector to whom DRDO gave TOT.
The railway launchers are made by RITES and BEML.

The Arjun tank that is being displayed for the past 15 years is not a dummy. But it has come into limited service in the army riding on the back of a political fiat. For the second time in its history, the army has a tank it cannot allow, in good conscience, to be sent into battle in a real war. Its antiquated rifled barrel main gun cannot fire missiles, and is not optimal for fin-stabilised anti-tank munitions. Worse, the Arjun’s sophisticated (German origin) pneumatic suspension system is fed nitrogen gas through pipes that are, to put it delicately, not protected by its armour, and hence even small-arms fire can bring the 58-tonne monster to a grinding halt.

This is completely wrong. The rifled gun is anything but obsolete- its energy profile (check the muzzle velocity), and accuracy and range testify to it being the equivalent of smoothbores worldwide in the L44 class. The British are also using a rifled gun on the Challenger MBT. Coming to ATGMs, no western country uses them. They are unnecessary for the role of tank killer as modern FCS and FSAPDS do well at ranges of 2-4 km, even so the IMI LAHAT ATGM has been integrated on the Arjun already, to ensure that the tank dots the i's and crosses the T's. The Israeli Lahat is in fact superior to the Refleks (third party designation possible, loft trajectory ) and will be license produced at BDL. Coming to the suspension, prototypes had an American suspension, not German. This was replaced with one currently manufactured by the Kirloskars with DRDO assistance.
The suspension IS protected against small arms fire, by a simple thing such as "ballistic skirts"- all tanks have them, and they can be extended downwards as well.
http://www.google.co.in/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rls=GGLG,GGLG:2006-19,GGLG:en&q=ballistic+skirts

Kindly check Arjun pictures if you dont believe me.

The actual view, as coming from someone who led the trials is available here:
http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/Army/Articles/Article46.html

The issue with Arjun has little to do with its technical issues- these can all be sorted out once it is in service and after five-six years of user comfort. Same as with the T-72. The actual issue is of requirements creep. The Arjun was bulked up to meet the acquisition of the M1 by Pak, with all similar specifications, and today, the Army feels that a 58.5 ton tank with heavy armour (and hence logistics costs) and at 3.8 Million $ vs 2.2 for the cheap T-90S, is unecessary.

Like the T-90S — which is now our MBT — the Pakistani tank has a very effective tandem-warhead missile that can be fired through the gun tube and can knock out an adversary tank well before it can bring its tank gun to bear.

Any ATGM has a flight time of 14 seconds, for its max range. Tank doctrine, as practised everywhere calls for a laser guided round as this, to be detected by laser warning sensors (such as the Arjun has) and a FSAPDS round fired in return (4-5 seconds at that range).

Sir, the rest of your article also has some incorrect perceptions. There is truth in the fact that the DRDO can be made more efficient, and that as Indians we should all wish for it (and other orgs) to perform at their optimum, but we need to be particular about our facts.