Prime minister Narendra Modi could not have given a better advice to the scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) than to complete all their projects before the stipulated time. It became necessary as the DRDO has become a byword for delays and the resultant cost-escalation. There are projects which continue to be at the stage of drawing, though years have passed since they were entrusted to the organisation. This is not to underestimate the contributions it has made to the progress in the indigenisation of the defence sector. The DRDO has accomplished this task against the reluctance of foreign companies to transfer technology to India, as they want only a seller-buyer relationship.
Seen against this backdrop, India has a lot to be proud of the contributions of the DRDO, particularly in developing the missile technology. In many respects, India has achieved self-sufficiency in some sectors of the defence industry. It is also a fact that India is one of the world’s largest importers of arms and ammunition. For a country which has high ambitions of emerging as the second or third largest economy in a decade or so, it cannot remain dependent on foreign countries for arms. It should also be possible for India to obtain a share, commensurate with its size, of the world’s defence business. In other words, the DRDO’s role will be crucial for the country.
Needless to say, research and development (R&D) in defence need to be given a big push-up if India has to tap its potential to catalyse and transform itself into a vibrant hub of world-class design, development, manufacturing and export of high-end defence products in the next two or three decades. It can command respect only if it is able to develop products which will capture the imagination of the world for their brilliance and effectiveness. The “transfer of technology” clause in India’s official defence procurement procedure needs to be leveraged so as to gain maximum benefit while clinching any new arms procurement deal with any foreign country or firm.