Thursday, May 27, 2010

With PM watching,DRDO lets loose missiles at armed forces

After public bickering among Cabinet ministers, here comes the sharp divide in defence establishment. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, defence minister A K Antony and others watching, the faultlines that underlie the embittered Defence Research and Development Organisation armed forces relationship erupted into plain view on Wednesday. DRDO chief VK Saraswat,speaking at the National Technology Day awards function,tore into the armed forces for failing to overcome their "temptation'' to induct the latest weapon systems from abroad. This did not go down well with the forces,represented as they were by Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, Admiral Nirmal Verma and General VK Singh as well as other officers in the audience. Some officers told that DRDO "promises too much'' but delivers "too little, too late'' and forces are "forced'' to push for import of weapon systems to maintain operational readiness. "Some awards given today, for instance, are for Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, Nag anti-tank guided missile and Astra air-to-air missile. These are still not operational despite years, if not decades,of trials,'' said an officer. The spat, incidentally,comes just two days after the Navy chief held a long meeting' with Antony to stress that it was high time DRDO got its act together,said sources. Wednesday's award ceremony began normally enough,with Saraswat listing out achievements ranging from launch of India's first nuclear submarine INS Arihant to the planned test of the 5,000-km range Agni-V ballistic missile in 2011. But then, Saraswat let loose a couple of heat-seeking missiles. It's grossly unfair to hold only DRDO responsible for the poor level of self-reliance in defence systems, he said. "The responsibility should be shared by all stake-holders of defence ministry and cannot be placed on DRDO alone, which neither has the power to impose its products on its customer (armed forces), nor the mandate or capacity to produce the developed systems all by themselves (without a strong defence-industrial base),'' he said.
"Services also must understand that while the temptation may be overwhelming to field proven,state-of-the-art imported systems, they too have a role to play in the country's economic and industrial growth. No foreign system can be customised to completely address our long-term requirements, ''he added.

There is, of course, a lot in what Saraswat said. The armed forces certainly need to fully support DRDO to ensure self-reliance in critical weapon systems, supply of which from abroad can easily be choked in times of crisis. But it's equally true DRDO projects cannot continue to be bedevilled with huge time and cost overruns. The PM, on his part said, "We should be able to acknowledge and learn from our setbacks. It's a fact some projects have been delayed and others have faced difficulties.''

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