What went wrong with LCA,Arjun Tank,Akash missile

Poor planning,over-optimistic timelines and a lack of coordination with the Armed Forces led to cost and time overruns of major defence projects taken up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.....

Written by Manu Pubby | New Delhi | Published:March 3, 2009 12:20 am

Poor planning,over-optimistic timelines and a lack of coordination with the Armed Forces led to cost and time overruns of major defence projects taken up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO),says the first external review of the research body.

The P Rama Rao committee,which was formed to revamp the organisation,has said that the major cause for delays and failures of indigenous defence products is DRDO’s tendency to over-estimate its capabilities. The inability of the research body to involve the Armed Forces in developmental projects

from the start has been identified as a major area of concern.

In all of the major projects reviewed by the committee — the Light Combat Aircraft,the Arjun Tank,Kaveri engine and the Akash Surface to Air Missile — it cracked down on the DRDO for the same problems of “over-optimism” and poor planning.

The LCA project has come under a lot of flak from the committee,which says the delays resulted in a “substantive” setback to the Air Force and reduced its war-fighting potential. Even now,when 48 of the fighters are set to be inducted into the Air Force,five major problems areas remain unresolved,reducing the capability of the fighter,the review reveals.

Similarly,DRDO scientists’ “over-enthusiasm” about the capability of the organisation has been identified as the main reason behind delays in the Arjun Tank project. While the committee has said that the tank be inducted in the present form,it has directed DRDO to immediately work on a new more acceptable version of the tank.

The committee has now recommended to the government that DRDO should undertake all projects in the future on a joint developmental basis and involve foreign partners to imbibe global standards. DRDO’s tendency of overstretching itself to reinvent the wheel has also been noted and the committee has said that foreign help should be taken “without any reservations” in future projects.

The committee has taken a look at some major projects and has recommended the road ahead on each one of them.

Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)

StatuS: The fighter may even miss the revised deadline of December 2010 by “one-two years” as DRDO has not been able to generate enough test flights. The present fighter fails to meet requirements set by the Air Force in 1985. Some major requirements that will not be met even after induction include mismatch of aircraft weight to power available from its engines,inadequate turn rates,low supersonic acceleration and achieving maximum angle of attack. The Kaveri engine being developed is nowhere near completion. LCA’s weight has increased 900 kg over the original 9 ton.

Way Ahead

•Accepting LCA in its “sub-optimal performance” as LCA Mk I,IAF to induct 48 of these underpowered fighters.

•However,new teams to be formed immediately to develop a Mk II version that will meet the original requirements identified in 1985.

•The laboratory behind the project — the Aeronautic Development Agency (ADA) — be merged with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

•Take up any future military aerospace programme as a joint venture with foreign aircraft design organisations.

•Kaveri engine project to be taken up as a co-design programme with foreign collaborator.

Arjun Main Battle Tank

StatuS: The original requirements were drawn up by the Army in 1972. The Army has placed orders for 124 tanks but these are still undergoing trials. The committee says while two changes in requirements by the Army in 1982 and 1985 contributed to the delay,the main reason was “over-optimism” of “inexperienced” developers who under-estimated the time needed for making weapon systems.

Pulling up the DRDO for the inordinate delay,the committee says:

•Too much time and effort spent in developing engine for tank without meeting success.

•DRDO looked at outsourcing turret control systems only in mid-’80s after failing to develop it in-house.

•DRDO did not hand over blueprints and specifications to the manufacturing facility on time.

•Tank suffered from poor product quality and sub-optimal performance during development,testing and production stage.

Way Ahead

•DRDO should immediately start work on a Mk II version of the tank to meet the Army’s requirements.

•Advanced version to be built on a joint development model and foreign collaborators should be roped in to gain expertise.

•DRDO needs to work on indigenisation of engine,turret and sight and fire control system that it has completely failed to develop.

Akash Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile

StatuS: The work started in 1983,but the system failed to meet all deadlines set for development. While the Air Force will be inducting the system shortly,it is yet to meet the Army’s requirements. The missile system has failed mobility tests in the deserts,where it was too heavy and got stuck in the sand during trials. Cannot negotiate steep sand dunes. Developers over-estimated own capabilities,set unrealistic targets and did not involve the Armed Forces during the development,says the committee.

Way Ahead

•Should immediately start work on a new Mk II version of the missile.

•DRDO has to make all out effort to involve the Army and Air Force in the development of the new system to meet all their requirements.

•DRDO to take up a joint development approach with foreign collaborator.

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