PM Modi does not want cost overruns and delays in defence projects

HT learns that Modi held a high-level review meeting with top officials on January 13 and told them to ensure total accountability in Indian defence planning.

The meeting was attended by Dr PK Mishra, principal secretary to PM, Ajit Doval, National Security Adviser, Gen Anil Chauhan, Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of Naval Staff, Giridhar Aramane, defence secretary, and Dr Samir V Kamat, secretary DRDO and chairman DRDO, apart from other top officials.

Although the details of the meeting are classified, it is understood that Modi asked those present to look at the long-term future of defence manufacturing, not merely the present, and conduct an audit of the platforms already with the armed forces before asking for more.

He wanted accountability for cost overruns and delays in defence projects running into hundreds of crores and tens of years at a time when his government is keen to ensure the money saved can go into welfare programmes such as the PM Awas Yojana, which builds houses for the underprivileged.

Rather than clear any new acquisitions, the PM wanted answers on how the armed forces handle the obsolescence of platforms and accountability for accidents in which platforms worth hundreds of crore are destroyed or rendered unusable, people familiar with the proceedings of the meeting said on condition of anonymity.

Modi’s concern over the Indian defence research and manufacturing came just two weeks after Prof K VijayRaghavan, former principal scientific adviser to the Modi government, submitted a scathing review report, “Redefining Defence Research and Development” to defence minister Rajnath Singh on December 30.

The high-level committee has made critical observations about DRDO that need urgent attention and reform.

The sum and substance of the report is that DRDO is taking on defence projects it cannot possibly complete in the timelines projected, resulting in heavy cost overruns and technological obsolescence even before the platform is ready.

The 10-member committee headed by VijayRaghavan found that DRDO was top heavy with an aging scientific force that was not nimble and focused only on India’s western front (Pakistan) rather than being cognisant of the current threat (an ostensible reference to China).

The committee also found that DRDO was reactive to what was being done in third countries with no plans to lead in terms of technological expertise or advancement; DRDO was in a “catch up” mode technologically, not “breakthrough” mode.

The report comes at a time when India has sought to enhance domestic acquisition of defence equipment, and also make products for the export market.

The committee, after talking to stakeholders in government and private sector found there was a no synergy between DRDO and the equipment users, two with the designer and the user mostly talking past each other, leading to lopsided development of platforms.

The VijayRaghavan committee has made 11 key recommendations with implementation deadlines in the report (the longest is 180 days).

The report found near total neglect of development of the national ecosystem for defence research with the private sector kept out, ostensibly in the name of national security.

It found that DRDO’’s interaction with a resurgent Indian academia and industry was only in the early stages of a project and usually, of a token nature.

The conclusions of the report and the proceedings at the PM’s review meeting suggest that DRDO needs a complete overhaul, armed forces need accountability, and national security planners, the vision to make “Atmanirbhar Bharat” a success.