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Arms scientists in home support cry

New Delhi, July 7: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today asked military scientists to deliver projects on time but the defence research establishment has responded by saying it was not getting adequate support from the armed forces.

The Prime Minister’s remarks were made at a programme — held annually — in which he gave awards to scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), many of whose projects such as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), were incurring costly delays.

The armed forces — in this instance, the air force — have cited the delay in the production of the LCA to justify imports worth billions of dollars.

“Delays at the development stage,” Singh told the scientists, “run the risk of causing obsolescence of a weapon system by the time it is ready for serial production. Delays at the production stage mean our armed forces are deprived of timely deliveries, which often compel the government to look for external procurement to fill gaps in our inventories.”

“The rapidly changing international defence and security environment does not always provide us with the luxury of developing weapon systems over long gestation periods,” he said.

Last week, defence minister A.K. Antony announced that the first of the Arjun tanks was ready for induction. The Arjun Main Battle Tank project — at one time led by the current head of the DRDO — has been in the works for more than 14 years.

Singh’s observations immediately touched a raw nerve in DRDO. “The PM did make a relevant point about obsolescence but sometimes it is a misnomer,” the DRDO chief and the scientific adviser to the defence minister, M. Natarajan, said.

“Nowadays, platforms are built to last a long time. For example, an electronic warfare package might become obsolete but this does not apply to every product. It is not always that a system becomes obsolete. We are designing systems today keeping the future in mind,” Natarajan said.

When told that the Prime Minister had expressed concern over slippages in production and asked if delays could be avoided, he said: “I don’t want to make pseudo-assurances. I think the Prime Minister was referring more to delays on tactical systems. Delivering on time is not the sole responsibility of the DRDO. In any new development, delays are inherent. Producing a functional prototype is the DRDO’s responsibility. It needs volume, effort and money to have a free flow of production.”

Natarajan emphasised that users — mostly the armed forces — were not giving enough orders and support for the DRDO’s projects.

In the case of the Arjun tanks, they had recently complained of seepage of water during a trial but this should have been acceptable because it did not interfere with the capabilities of the system.

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