Before discussing about DRDO and it’s importance it is importance to study the administrative setup of India. Since Independence, India has sought to follow its colonial Master’s governmental ladder & network in all its administrative set-up. Specifically, in the Defense & Intelligence Segment. If one minutely observes all our Ministries & Offices are named and work similarly to those in the UK and consequently to that of the USA. Since, USA too sought to have its Governmental Organizational set-up similar to that of its Mother country which is UK. Consequently one will find many close similarities between the Government Ministries and departments of both USA & India.
If USA has the CIA, India has the RAW. If USA has the FBI, India has the CBI. If USA has ‘Homeland Security’ India has IB. If USA has separate ARMY, NAVY & AIR FORCE Services of their Defense Establishment, India too has the same, with separate and individual heads of the 3 Services. The designations of various officers in the 3 services too are the same. India too has been mulling since quite some time to have a Joint Chief of Staff who is basically the head of the 3 Heads of the 3 Services. If the USA has a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), India too has a DIA headed by a serving senior ARMY Officer.
Whenever you have a robust Military, that nation needs to have an agency catering to Defense Research. All the equipment being used by the 3 Services, namely, Battle Tanks, guns, fighter jets, attack helicopters, Missiles, Bullets, grenades, pistols, launchers, armoured vehicles, etc need to be developed and then given to be manufactured. So, when we talk about development than research during development becomes a key aspect. Specifically, research as to the adaptability of the equipment to latest hostile trends and all weather locations.
Which Organization in the USA is specifically dedicated to this aspect and goal? Which is, to give the USA Defense establishment cutting edge weaponry and armaments for all the 3 Services in line with the need of the day and hour?? It is the Pentagon. Pentagon develops the weaponry as per the specifications conveyed by the 3 Services and then when the trials are to the individual satisfaction of the Services issue the product/weapon for mass production. In the USA defense Production is in the hands of Private Companies contracted by the Pentagon or USA Government. The power which is wielded by the Pentagon is perhaps the highest and maximum as compared to any other Governmental Organization in the USA. The annual budget of the Pentagon itself makes the annual budget of the 3 Defense Services look like change in a Convenience Store. Billions, if not Trillions of Dollars are given to the Pentagon annually to develop the best for the USA Defense Services, which are also subsequently sold to other countries at high profit margins.
At all times there will be a senior officer from each of the 3 USA Defense Services to liaison with the Pentagon for their individual needs, requests and requirements. Regular co-ordination meetings are held between these liaison officers and the Pentagon Scientist and/or his team assigned for that Project. Meetings where the Pentagon Scientist shows who is boss. The authority and rank of the Service Officer be damned. Highly qualified, highly paid, highly respected and highly feared Scientists.
Coming back to the Indian scenario. Which is that corresponding Organization in India similar or which works similar to the Pentagon in the USA? Or more bluntly, does India have such an Organization dedicated to Defense Research for the Defense needs of the Country? The answer is YES!!! The Organization in India which is fully 100% dedicated to Defense Research is the DRDO (Defense Research Defense Organization). Yes the same Organization which was once headed by our ex-President the late great Abdul Kalam.
The organization matrix of DRDO is as below. The DRDO has 3 key Laboratories working for it exclusively:
- DLRL (Defense Electronics & Research Laboratories) dedicated entirely to the research on the Electronics part of the defense weaponry and to the needs of electronic warfare.
- DMRL (Defense Metallurgical Research Laboratory), dedicated to the research of various minerals and metals needed for the development of the weaponry and armaments.
- DRDL (Defense Research & Development Laboratory), dedicated entirely to our Missile Program.
All the 4 Institutions, DRDO, DLRL, DMRL & DRDL located strategically in Hyderabad.
Together with these 3 laboratories this highly exclusive Organization employs no less than 15,000 scientists, junior and senior and thousands of Support Staff, which form the back bone of the Defense needs of the nation. Right from bullets to grenades to assault rifles to Main Battle Tanks, LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) and to our Missile Program, there is nothing which is not under the purview of this highly secretive and exclusive organization.
I had the privilege of interacting with an ex-Scientist Employee of DRDO and who was one of the key Team Members on our prestigious LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Project over Dinner at his house. During the course of our evening interaction, I just happened to ask him for the delay in our LCA Project, which was actually delayed by over 10 years. Until then, I did not know that he was ex-DRDO let alone a key member of the LCA Development team. It was only after he conveyed that he was ex-DRDO I asked him about the LCA Project after which he also conveyed that he belonged to that team. What he revealed in the next one hour of discussions conveyed to me about how DRDO was used or mis-used by successive Central Governments and prevented India from becoming self reliant and perhaps even the leading Defense Powers in the World.
It was in 1983 that the DRDO obtained permission to commence its work on the LCA Program. By 1990 the full design was finalized and by 1993 the full funding started to pour in. Same year American Aerospace Giant Lockheed Martin was finalized to develop the High Tech ‘Flight Control System’ (FCS). My friend, who joined DRDO as a young aspiring Scientist was part of the 4 separate teams on this valuable Project.
Everything was going as per schedule, when India under the NDA conducted its 2nd Nuclear Test in 1998. This led to sanctions which spilled over with Lockheed Martin being asked by the US Govt to back-off from its contract on the LCA Project. This sent the Project into complete disarray. The DRDO chief approached my friend who by then was the Team Leader of his group how to go about this challenge. Since the FCS was the heart of the any Fighter Jet. The FCS basically required 4 critical chips to be developed. 2 Analog & 2 Digital.
The development of these chips was solely done in USA, Europe and Japan. My friend and his team took up the highly critical challenge. In 2004 (with the new regime change) by which time they had almost developed the chips, the sanctions were lifted and all the hard work which was done in developing the 4 chips were immediately stopped and the Government went to Lockheed Martin (which was cleared by the US Gov. to deal with India again) to procure the chips readymade. 4-5 years of extreme hard work and dedication by elite Scientists poured down the drain. Not to mention thousands of crores in funds for the development of the 4 critical chips. It goes without saying that, incase those critical chips would have been developed by our DRDO Scientists, which they were very close to, India would have been a Fighter Jet Super Power by now.
Evidence of our capabilities which the world is seeing with awe at the LCA rolled out now.
It also cannot be ruled out that, sensing the impeding development of those chips which could have altered the technological equation between India and the Developed World could have led the USA to lift the sanctions immediately and allow Lockheed Martin to jump back into the contract with the Indian Government.
In summary what was conveyed to me was, that, an unbelievable amount of money is made to be at the disposal of DRDO. Simply unbelievable. Funds which at times is not even accounted in the Union Budgets. But the utilization of those funds is a big question mark.
According to him, there is a force (guided by a selfish Political Logic) not to make India Technologically self reliant. Otherwise, with the kind of funds and intellect at the disposal of DRDO nothing was and is impossible. This was not just the case with the LCA Project but with various Projects under the aegis of DRDO. The Indian Missile Program another of DRDO’s high profile projects which also got hit by the sanctions had to ultimately rely on ISRO to bail them out for the aviation Technology needed. In my friend’s opinion ISRO was and is highly motivated and overcame the hurdle of the sanctions far more effectively and with a far better sense of purpose as compared to DRDO, which reflected in all of ISRO’s milestones. In comparison all of DRDO’s milestones with respect to any major Military Program have been always delayed by many years.
Another major factor for cause of disconcert among the Scientists elite of the DRDO is the attitude of the 3 Defense Services towards the DRDO and its Research teams. Like the Pentagon here too the 3 Services appoint senior serving Officers to liaison with the Scientists on various Projects assigned and requested from the DRDO for their needs.
The respect given by these Officers to the Scientists, it seems is appalling. In stark contrast in the Pentagon the Military Liaisons are told who is Boss by the Pentagon Scientists. This attitude of the Military Officers towards the DRDO brass is mainly attributed by the DRDO to the Military still being in the British English Culture. On the sidelines, this culture is also the main reason for the Military elite being caught in scandals typical of Western Culture like Partner and Spousal exchanges and easy targets for Honey Trapping Scandals.
My friend now having resigned from DRDO a good 10-12 years back specially after the disappointment on the chip development of the LCA Project, who ironically is working for a leading USA Chip Development Company with an insane take home income feels that things are changing in the DRDO under the new leadership as per his periodic contacts with his ex-colleagues.
His ending statement was ‘if this same leadership would have been existing in 2003-2004 the LCA would have rolled out a good ten years before and that too with our own chips’. But, as per him a lot has to be done to make the DRDO into the world’s leading Defense Research Organization, for which it has all the intellect, purpose and money at its disposal.