Posted by: John Elliott | June 14, 2007

India’s defense R&D lacks talent

There could probably be no more telling indictment of an organization than the fact that people are not willing to work for it, and it therefore lacks the talent needed to perform. That is partly what seems to have happened to the Defence Research and Development Organisation, India’s leading scientific defense body, which has gained a reputation over many years for failing on research and development and for being more focused on organizing its own perpetuity.

This morning’s Indian Express, a leading Indian daily, has a headline that makes the point – “More quit DRDO than join, applications fall by 70% in three years” with a sub-head “DRDO’s brainwave – hike salaries six-fold, need more benefits, perks, including sabbatical, royalty.”

Reporting information given to a government pay review body, the newspaper said that there were only 31,810 job applications last year compared with 110,224 in 2003, mainly because there were better career opportunities and professional challenges elsewhere. That is scarcely surprising. Entry level salaries are only $200-$325 a month – a fraction of the levels that are easily available in the private sector.

It is also symptomatic of the changes in attitudes that have swept through India, as economic reforms have dramatically boosted job and pay aspirations. No longer do university graduates seek safe lifetime job havens in the public sector, but rather go for instantly higher pay in private companies, often not bothering to study first for the PhD and other higher degrees that marked out top scientists and engineers in earlier generations.

But it is also the DRDO’s poor image that deters graduates, when India’s booming information technology industry offers high flying jobs and success stories in India and abroad. Headed for many years by Abdul Kalam, now India’s President, the DRDO has some 50 laboratories that are involved in projects ranging from combat vehicles and armaments to submarines and aircraft. But instead of being a center of excellence, it frequently fails in both technical and financial terms to meet the needs of the military which then buys abroad.

DRDO’s main successes have been surface-to-surface missiles called Agni and Prithvi, but it has failed to produce smaller missiles for the army and navy, which have been bought instead from Israel.

After more than 20 years of work, it has also failed (partly because of U.S. sanctions blocking component deliveries) to produce India’s planned light combat aircraft (LCA) that would replace Russian MiG21s. Other failures have included a main battle tank, called the Arjun, which is still undergoing trials after 30 years’ development – so Russian tanks are filling the gaps.

Defense production reforms that are now being introduced will enable private sector companies, both foreign and Indian, to link up with the DRDO on equal terms to develop and produce defense equipment. That might help revive the DRDO, though it seems more likely that firms will use their access to spot and hire the brightest talents, making the current situation worse.



  1. We never believed in innovation. We never believed in imagination .we never believed in beyond what school has tough us. We thought what we learned in school is last thing to remember. Innovators invented and we tried to understand them by drawing by some mathematics. We can’t think beyond them. We never encouraged an imagination.the greatest scientist never had school grads. But we followed them and tried to understand by mathematical explanation. We can produce mechanical engineers and robots but not issac Newton and einestine and others.

  2. Every body feel they can flog the DRDO and other organisations like that. It is so easy to do that.
    It is continuation of the trend ‘Give a dog a bad name and then kill it’. Self-flagellation is addiction with Indians. Having called names to every thing Indian we have done our duty NATO- No action Talk only. That after all is outside the criticiser’s domain.

    Why not devote efforts to do a detailed research to what actually ails our organisations by some one who know about it- ground details. Make some constructive suggestions to the concerned authorities. An example is what Sam P did for Communications in India.
    Did the mighty USA have the kind of research institutions it has today 60 years after its Independence? No!

    India emerging from imperial slavery, with its poverty, galloping population,its diversity and the numerous societal short comings like casteism,religious and language divides will take time to rise to high stsndards of super powers..

    No the idea is not to bring such things to the surface but it is lack of commitment to do any thing about it at all levels including political which is tha actual aliment.

    Do we have a soloution for that?

  3. Only problem you cant the one you dont want to accept as a problem.

    As long as government does not accepts the problem (DRDO Braindrain and Poor Performance of projects), there is no reason…they’ll do anything to solve it – whether it be funding more money..or hiking salaries to match it to the private sector or offering other perks… What needs to be done is..using somebody like Sam Pitroda (as was used for telecoms, in India) to head the DRDO, and give him enough power and money to make it into a successful and thriving organization…

    Also, ideally, bodies like this should not be dependent on government…they should be more of independent bodies and their support (financial or otherwise) should not be dependent on changing govts…and thereby,their policies…as its usual in india…

  4. Please send a link of this article to our defence/finance minister. Indian government should not be blind to our cuurent security state. Our teritory on both sides of J&K is shown either claimed by China & Pakistan or its shown within their national borders. Its a state of concern and national shame. PLEASE DONT IGNORE THIS.

  5. people are missing one more important point: the demand for defense equipment, missiles, radars, aircrafts, weapons, bombs etc. i think the demand is very less, since India (the people in government, office bearers, businesses public) feel there is no need for some much investment in DRDO activities. so people opt for other careers which are far lucrative. my point is India considers that the threat level to them is very less.

    regards, Sundar

  6. Totally agree with this article. Worked in DRDO for 2 years and got out because I got so frustrated with it. Projects take ages to complete and by the time they are complete, the technology outside is so advanced that we need to buy from Israel and other countries which have advanced technologies.

  7. No government organization is a total crap. I think its the employees who make it one. And what would you not say about NASA and TACOM in US. Whenever a job security seeps in, the urge to work goes out of the back door.

  8. Look you gotta face the facts. I am an engineer in the US Aerospace Industry and it DOES NOT take 25 years to develop a fighter aircraft, nor a battle tank, etc, etc. I have friends who have worked in in DRDO and they have very few good things to say about that organization. India definitely has talent. The technology has already been available for a long time and India has enough money to do it. What it lacks is the proper drive and seriousness to get these large scale systems integrated. And we still go begging to the Soviets, Europeans, and now the Americans for “help”- which is pathetic.

  9. Mr. Elliott,
    You might be partly correct about the brain-drain at DRDO. But I think you are just concentrating at DRDO’s failures. These are successes at DRDO’s too. I guess you need to do little bit of more homework and provide unbiased view of DRDO’s

  10. Nice article. DRDO is crap. Any government run institution will drive itself to ruin and DRDO is a glittering example.

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