DISMAL PERFORMANCE OF DRDO: A case study of the MBT ARJUN:
S.Chandrasekharan, May 2000
On April 27, the Public Accounts Committee in its report to both Houses of Parliament, came down heavily on the Defence ministry for the inordinate delay in the production of the Main Battle Tank- Arjun. It said that the delay overshot the time schedule by 16 years resulting in a cost overrun twenty times more. It may still take two years or more for the tank to be made available thus having an adverse impact on the country’s preparedness and worse still, the report says that bulk production of these tanks is "nowhere in sight."
It will be useful to make a case study of Arjun Tank as delays in R&D projects relating to the development of Weapons Systems besides being costly in financial terms have strategic and military/operational implications.
Case Profile of MBT Arjun:
|1970||DRDO commences the project for MBT|
|1980's (mid)||Target date for completion of development as envisaged in the original plan.|
|1992-93||MBT Arjun undergoes field trials, 22 years after the commencement of the project. Trials were declared successful. However the then COAS, Gen. Shakar Roy Choudhary suggests some refinement of weapons parameters.|
|1997||Proposals for mass production cleared.|
|2000||Tank still not made available to user and may take two or more years.|
Two things are clear from this. First, the DRDO took 22 years to develop the pre-production models for field trials. Second, it took another five years of field trials for the decision makers to clear the project. In the first case the onus for delay is with DRDO while in the second, all the parties involved namely the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ministry of Defence (MOD), Ministry of Defence Production (MODP) and the Army Headquarters (AHQ) are equally responsible.
Reasons for Delay:
As there is no integrated management of such projects it is useful to study the role of each agency from the sanctioning authority to producer, to the end user to understand why and how the delays occurred.
The DRDO has no excuses for the delay of 22 years and the only plausible reason one could think of is that the end user AHQ kept on revising the Qualitative Requirements (QRs) midstream thus delaying the project. It is admitted that changing of QRs midstream tends to delay the project but the DRDO could have foreseen this and taken remedial steps.
DRDO had enough experience in R & D while developing the Vijayantha and lessons learnt should have made them anticipate problems like changing QRs.
Secondly the QR changes were confined to weapons systems, fire control system, night vision devices etc. These at any rate were not to be indigenously produced and could have been purchased off the shelf from abroad to speed up the development.
One cannot but conclude that
* DRDO was wanting in implementation of time-bound project objectives which come only when a project is run on scientific management lines.
* DRDO’s functioning has got bureaucratised like other agencies viz. the MOD and MODP.
* Lack of accountability which is a major ill in all bureaucracies.
Army Headquarters (AHQ):
Changing QRs midstream does contribute to delay in the project and the Army’s only excuse could be that the inordinate delay in R & D of MBT coupled with changing threat perceptions and technology advancement of armaments forced them to change the QRs
It is unrealistic to expect the R&D units to revise the project on time if frequent changes of QRs are made for whatever reasons.
* It should be possible at the initial stage itself to fix a time frame for the validity of QRs and if mass production does not take place within the stipulated period then revised QRs should apply.
* QR changes if any should be realistic and in conformity with Indian tactical requirements, terrain and weather conditions. The tendency to pick up points for QRs from glossy Defence journals should be avoided.
* QRs should not be changed midstream. If it is required for emergent reasons, then it should be applied only for a second phase of the project with variants if any.
* Military bureaucratisation at Army Head quarters also contributes to delay. Proposals for even small items have to go through many different directorates with each directorate trying to preserve its turf by queries and counter queries and suggestions. Thus, the files go from one to another, back and forth involving waste of precious time. While this could be acceptable at the initial stage, it is inexcusable to allow such sea sawing at the intermediate stages for revision of QRs.
Role of Ordnance Factories Board:
Ordnance Factories provide the vital link between the project managers, here the DRDO and the end users, the Army. It is seen that in most of the cases the Ordnance factories Board make unrealistic and ambitious time schedules and financial plans. The Armed Forces complain that production schedules are never adhered to and overrun in terms of schedule invariably results in cost escalation and thus a vicious cycle is created,. This log jam could be broken only if all the three parties viz. the producer, end user and the link provided by the ordnance board sit together and frankly discuss the capabilities to adhere to a realistic schedule.
This is based on the assumption that there would be no bureaucratic delay on the part of MOD and MODP which in fact is not the case.
MOD and MODP:
Like all other agencies in India the MOD and the MODP are plagued by the following ills.
* Civil Bureaucrats in MOD and MODP have no clue of defence requirements and their criticality. They continue to treat all issues in the languorous bureaucratised style of administration they had learnt while administering districts.
* They are not attuned to the modern industrial management or financial management disciplines and red tape takes a heavy toll in terms of coming to quick and critical decisions.
* Lack of accountability. In defence matters there could be no compromise as national security interests are involved.
The Arjun tank is a case in point. The Public accounts committee reports that the "delay in production of MBT Arjun has created such a precarious situation there is no option but to retain obsolete Vijayantha tanks." The Vijayantha tanks were in the process of being phased out.
* Both MOD and MODP have not monitored the Arjun project in any purposeful manner. There have been serious delays in decision making and financial allocations.
* The MODP has set up Monitoring Committees for various projects and it is not known how far the monitoring committee has discharged its duties efficiently in the case of the Arjun project.
* Much would depend upon the personality of the Defence Production Secretary as the post itself is not considered by administrators as a prized one. Added to this is the staffing of the MODP at the middle level. These are mostly filled by deputationists from diverse disciplines who have practically no exposure to modern management techniques and no idea of the cutting edge technologies generally required for Defence products.
* Though the Secretary of MODP is of the rank of a Secretary, in terms of administration the Defence Secretary assumes the role of a Principal Secretary with powers to override the MODP Secretary who at times may be senior to the Defence Secretary.
It is not our intention here to make a fault finding paper. But there has to be accountability of various agencies in the matter of acquisition or research and production of weapons and weapons systems which have an impact on our national security. One typical example is the weapon locating radar for the Indian army. The third report of standing committee on Defence 1999-2000- demands for grants (2000-2001), Lok Sabha Secretariat, April 2000 states-
We quote -
"The Committee find on the basis of the facts brought before it that the Ministry of Defence has not shown any sense of seriousness in acquiring this item ( WLR). The enquiry in respect of this item started in 1989 and even after a decade the Indian Army has not been able to acquire it. Our adversary is in possession of the weapon locating radar and it was used by it during the Kargil conflict to destroy our gun positions".
Who is to answer for the "seeming casualness shown by the Defence ministry?" Should not someone be made accountable?
Defence R&D projects to be viable should meet the requirements of end users in time, if not ahead of time to keep pace with advances in Defence technology. The DRDO should be geared up to execute these projects in a dynamic and integrated manner and there should be accountability at all levels.
There is need to restructure the interrelationship of MOD, MODP, Ordnance Board and the DRDO. There is no doubt that there will be a tendency to buy equipment off the shelf from other countries as this helps officials to make frequent trips abroad. There is scope for corruption and though denied the role of dubious middlemen cannot be avoided. The DRDO route where viable should be opted, but the procedures will have to be streamlined.