Friday, June 29, 2007

Interview with Dr. Atre

Frontier India has an extremely informative interview with Former Scientific Advisor Dr. V.K. Atre, who is uncharacteristically blunt and direct about the level of commitment the Services have shown in DRDO projects, preferring to go in for foreign solutions. Considering that Dr. Atre has rarely given interviews & has never criticized the Armed Forces or media before, this is really a revelation, and a wake-up call.

The former DRDO Chief is clear that DRDO has got a lot of flak that it scarcely deserves- the Sources, Armed Forces, An Ignorant Media, Foreign Vendors and the Import Lobby, all with an axe to grind, an interest to serve, or simply trying to cover their own mistakes.

DRDO-bashing is the easiest thing to do, since it is the focal point of all indigenous weapon systems development. Production & Quality problems are blamed on DRDO, even though it doesn't produce equipment, only develop it. Delays are caused by the services, which delay or mess up Staff Quality requirements (the Redesign of LCA wings, or the Arjun Project), or MoD bureaucrats who sit on files, or push pennies to try and save money, at the expense of destroying national security. All these are conveniently forgotten when journalists blame DRDO for any problem that ails the defence projects. And with an active defence contractor Lobby that will do anything for billion-dollar cheques and an easily-influenced media, its no wonder that the spate of recent anti-DRDO rants have been published.

We must be clear that DRDO is at fault in many cases, and is not perfect. But the fact remains that it has been expected to develop world-class systems for costs that Foreign companies throw monthly parties for. Look at the Trishul- how can anyone expect results for a measly $70 mn. Or the LCA, which has reached the stage its at for just $500 mn. The F-22 Raptor has already spent over $60 Billion, and the JSF another 15 billion. The much maligned Arjun has spent only 315 crores to reach the state its in now. And it is a world-class system comparable with the Abrams (which was a $6 bn project) and the latest Leopard 2s.

Dr. Atre comes out strongly against these criticisms and has presented a strong defence of the DRDO, which has had to navigate through a lot of dirt hurled at it to get crucial projects ready. Frontier India also has a lot of other related articles that together, tell the same sad story of conspiracy and slander against the DRDO, which has had to keep quiet and rely on retired officials to defend it. Please read this extremely well written piece (link:

P.S.: Keep looking out for good news on the Defence projects front. A little birdie (Mr. Chacko Joseph from Frontier actually) tells me that a lot of great news is coming up... will update as it comes out.

Indigenous defence research - looking through DRDO prism

Indian Armed Forces are used to import Defence systems from abroad and use them mostly for training and during operations whenever necessity rises. Most of these systems are in free flow production in their respective countries and sometimes inducted by their Services. These systems, therefore, have got the maturity in terms of engineering, production and maintenance. This provides the comfort zone for the three Services to induct, operationalise and maintain these weapons.

The most important aspect is that these weapons, are not designed keeping Indian environment, tactics, operational doctrines or user’ preferences in mind. They are not customized for the convenience of the Indian Armed Forces. Even then, they are accepted by the Services based on their maturity level. Even in those cases where partial quantities are produced in the country, mostly in Indian Ordnance factories (OFB) and Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs), there is hardly any technology transfer taking place. These items would already have been produced in large quantities in their respective countries and would have reached end of production life for their own use. Many times, the tooling will be transferred to Indian production line accordingly. Though the products are subsequently made in India, most of the raw materials and components still have to come from the parent country and the value addition by Indian Industry is very small, varying from 10% to 30%. Even then, this is a preferred route for the OFB’s and DPSUs as there is no risk for them. They have assured product line and order quantities from the Armed Forces. Most of time, the critical high end system’s technology is not passed to India. It is a form of “Technology Apartheid.” India ends up paying exorbitant prices and foreign exchange.

The international arms market runs with political and monetary diplomacy. The arms majors adopt all tricks of trade to push their wares. India is one of the largest importers of arms in the world, hence these issues imply to India too.

With this background, it is natural that the Indian Armed forces hesitate to accept Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed items as they know that even after DRDO successfully develops, there would be a reasonable time gap before a smooth free flow production gets established by the Indian Industry. There is also pressure from import lobbies and vested interest which cultivate the sensation seeking mass media for defaming Indian indigenous research.

It is to be noted that all countries which develops a complex defence system has gone through the same pains and problems as DRDO before serial production gets established.

Frontier India Defence and Strategic News Service interacted with Dr. VK Atre who has held the position of Scientific Advisor to Minister of Defence. I covered in depth on the DRDO point of view on the state of indigenous Defence Research.

There are 4 state actors when it comes to indigenization of weapons.

1) The Ministry of Defence (MoD)
2) The Armed Forces
3) The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)
4) The Public sector defence production units (DPSU)

There are 3 non state actors which influence the outcomes
1) Foreign Vendors
2) The Mass Media.
3) The Import Lobby

The Ministry of Defence

Ideally the MoD should act as the bridge between the scientific & technical community and the armed forces.

On the role of MoD in indigenization Dr. Atre say’s “Variable. There are occasions when MoD has supported DRDO strongly and there are occasions when they have not. It depends.... (read more)

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