The problem of either DRDO or a DPSU not delivering results as desired by the Armed Services is analogous to the lack of industry-academia interactions. Just as the engineering educational institutions are detached from practical engineering concepts as relevant to an industry, the DRDO/DPSU is also detached from the User agency. Both sides possess complementary parts of the total domain expertise, which means that they need to work as partners and not ‘buyer-seller’. Each side has to learn from the other through a continuous process of interactions and exchange of ideas. While this must surely have been the purpose behind posting serving officers to DPSUs, personality egos on both sides have prevented a healthy working partnership. As examples, I have known of scientists/engineers working on aircraft projects in CSIR/DRDO without even having seen an aircraft at close quarters. I am quite sure this is true even with many Naval projects. This hypothesis is also proven by the comments of some naval experts who have pointed to the successes of the Navy when Naval officers with the ‘best brains ‘ were sent on deputation to DRDO. I would say that the ‘best brains’ understood the system level performance requirements better than the scientists and ensured that these were met through a continuous interaction with the scientists who were able to apply their ‘best brains’ at the sub-system level.
The private sector is being promoted as a likely saviour for all the current problems. While it is certainly true that this sector is more accountable and keen to prove its mettle, the lack of domain expertise even to the level of the DRDO/HAL is by itself likely to be a severe limitation. The private sector will therefore have to be supported and nurtured through an active assistance from the Navy/Air Force in upgrading their knowledge in specialised domains of defence equipment, be it armaments or navigation or communication or radars, none of which is encountered in commercial and industrial applications. This will once again have to be a hierarchical approach with a large private player creating a cluster of MSMEs as a supply chain with design and manufacturing skills.
The Armed Services need to appreciate that many of the technical officers among them are not conversant with the technologies adopted within the systems and sub-systems of the platform, beyond the scanty maintenance documentation provided by the foreign OEMs. This is where the availability of strong technical and analytical skills available with the ‘best brains’ in the DPSU/HAL/Private sector can be taken advantage of. The existence of highly innovative and competent MSMEs in their own spheres of specialisation is acknowledged widely, but these rarely get to be tapped due to a disconnect between industry and the Armed Services. This is where the Armed Services need to draw on the strengths of industry. It might be interesting to set up defence laboratories by, for example, the Navy, where a private sector player could work for a limited period (like a sabbatical) to familiarise themselves with the on-board systems and even acquire technology through study or reverse-engineering of existing systems.
To conclude, a spirit of partnership needs to be nurtured among all the stakeholders in this whole game so that we achieve synergy leading to a win-win situation rather than a blame game.