India’s top defense research body caught in web

  • Secret audit reveals severe irregularities in India’s DRDO
  • An internal audit raises host of questions in DRDO’s functioning
  • DRDO also found manufacturing stuff for troops but selling to private sector
  • Defense research body also found involved in manufacturing completely non-military use items for sale in open markets under the garb of defense research
  • DRDO’s useless spending on Arjun Tank project with poor results also raised in secret report

From Christina Palmer, Ajay Mehta and Ashok Trivedi

NEW DELHI: A top secret internal audit ordered by the Indian Defense Ministry has found several, serious natured financial and other irregularities in the functioning of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which has a network of 50 labs and an annual budget of over Rs 10,500 crore, The Daily Mail has learnt on good authority.

The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that none of the main recommendations, first by the Rama Rao Committee in 2008 and then a watered-down version by a committee headed by the defense secretary in 2010, has been implemented to revamp DRDO to ensure that advanced weapon systems are developed for the armed forces without huge time and cost overruns.

The fresh internal audit, conducted by the finance wing of the Defence Ministry, has raised serious questions about the lack of transparency in DRDO’s functioning, including the alleged sanctioning of Rs 2.80 crore by DRDO chief V K Saraswat to a mathematical society headed by him.

The audit report also pointed out that DRDO was splitting sanctions for its projects to avoid seeking approvals from “competent financial authorities”.

The audit report also points out that DRDO in order to avoid seeking approvals was dividing the sanctioned budget for its projects, sources said here on Monday. The report also referred to shortcomings in the platforms like the Arjun main battle tank, which was found to be overweight by the Army for operations in certain areas along the border.

If one wonders as to why did Indian army suffer massive losses at Kargil or if one is disturbed over the pathetic show by Indian troops at Siachin despite huge spending of funds there every year? The answer is no secret now as malpractices and misuse of funds at DRDO have been established through Defence Ministry’s secret audit report.

The Daily Mail’s investigations further reveal that developed for troops serving on glaciers high in the Himalayas, the non-flushing “bio-digester” toilet made by India’s top defense research body is now being offered to private companies in the open market while the troops still await for the same in the areas like Siachin and Kargil.

According to these findings, some Indian traders and DRDO in October last year, secretly forged a four-year partnership to hawk certain military products under the garb of Premier Manmohan Singh’s pledge in 2008 to offer defense technology spin-offs to the public. The “bio-digester” is among 10 of the DRDO products put on the fast-track for sale to private companies through the said shady deal while the work on professional military products like the Arjun Main Battle Tank is going on a snail’s pace.

“Our condition is to take any DRDO technology (that can be used) for the benefit of the common man,” said Nirankar Saxena, Executive Director of FICCI’s Centre for Technology Commercialization, which heads the project. The “bio-digester” toilet conceived by a DRDO unit in the city of Gwalior, works by mixing self-multiplying bacteria with human waste in specially-made tanks, resulting in the production of methane gas and water. It was meant for Indian combat troops deployed on Siachen and Kargil 6,300-metre-high (20,800-feet-high) glacier in disputed Kashmir where temperatures can fall up to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit). Experts say they believe some 5,000 soldiers are deployed on the frigid wasteland, where calm has prevailed since a 2003 ceasefire with rival Pakistan. “Work on it began 15 years ago because excreta buried in snow by soldiers in the Siachen glacier and Kargil sector polluted rivers when the ice melted,” said scientist Vijay Veer of the Defence Research and Development Establishment, a DRDO unit. The bacteria used in the mountain version of the toilet were originally found in Antarctica, but another cocktail can be used in the hot tropical plains where the need for toilets in India is most acute. FICCI’s Saxena said the Indian territory of Lakshadweep,a cluster of islands, has sought 12,000 bio-digesters at some 25,000 rupees ($550) a unit for a major housing project. At the same time, the troops at the hill-top positions in the snow covered stations still await these units to meet their needs.

Other DRDO products that are being manufactured just to mint money, instead of catering to country’s defense needs, include heat shields for trains and vehicles, windows that control light penetration, mosquito repellents and medical kits to tackle dengue and chikungunya, both insect-borne viruses.

Instead of supplying these stuffs to the troops, the DRDO officials are selling the same to the private sector only. They also plan to market a spray that guarantees to keep woollen clothes moth-free, affordable fire extinguishers and a body cream that keeps bed bugs away. The DRDO also has high hopes for its “Heat Stabilised Narrow Fabrics and Cordages for Improved Elastic Recovery Property” which is stated to be used in bras of female personnel of the armed forces. “The technology is a heat-stabilized narrow fabric and the elastic in it is more robust than materials used in commercial brassiere as the Defense Ministry has agreed to grant permanent commissions to women in the army, thereby enabling them to hold down regular army jobs along with their male colleagues,” a DRDO official added.

However it remains a fact that it does not signify any genuine enhancement of women’s responsibility and prestige in the Indian army as they are still excluded from the combat streams. Although many nations send their women to war zones across the world, Indian women are not yet thought fit enough to fight for their own country. The arguments put forward in support of this exclusion range from the crudely sexist to the paternalistic. The strongest apparent reason cited is the notion of women’s ‘weakness.

The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that despite quite a sizeable presence of women in Indian armed Forces, yet there is no proof of any female soldier or officer being posted in hard stations like Siachin or Kargil where they need to wear special bras to combat the extreme weather condition. It clearly indicates that the DRDO’s project of manufacturing special braziers for female defense personnel is yet again another attempt to spend the Indian tax payers’ money, allocated to DRDO for Defense Research and Development. Sources at the DRDO that requested not to be quoted said that the ‘Bra Project’, as it is commonly known at DRDO, is based on yet another shady deal with a company that sells female under garments across Eastern Europe and Russia and that there was no market of such stuff anywhere across India with zero requirement by any of the armed Forces of the country.

THE ARJUN(MBT) syndrome and failure of DRDO

The Defense Ministry’s secret Audit report also raises a host of questions regarding spending of huge funds by DRDO on Arjun Tank project with still not being able to remove all the faults in the Main Battle Tank
The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that India’s Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), the backbone of the army’s strike power into the mid-21st century, languishes while the army continues an extended debate over its specifications with DRDO not being able to overcome the weight problem like that of Arjun-1.

These investigations indicate that on December 6 2010, Defence Minister A K Antony told the Indian parliament that Indian army had formulated the FMBT’s specifications and the Defence R&D Organization (DRDO) was carrying out feasibility studies. Antony, it now emerges, misled parliament. MoD sources say the army remains undecided about the basic features of the FMBT, including whether it should have three crew members or four. Consequently, the army has not finalized the FMBT’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR), essential for sanctioning the project and allocating funding.

The PSQR also allows engineers to begin designing the FMBT. It specifies the tank’s capabilities and components, including its weight; dimensions; mobility; weaponry; armour protection; communications; and any special capabilities that are required, e.g. the ability to drive underwater; or operate on a nuclear battlefield.

But the DRDO has begun work, anxious to shield the FMBT from the delays that plagued the Arjun programme. The FMBT must roll out by 2020, when the army’s oldest T-72 tanks, which entered service in 1979, complete their 32-year service lives. Business Standard was granted exclusive permission to visit the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), the DRDO facility outside Chennai where the Arjun Mark II is nearing completion and the FMBT will be developed.

P Sivakumar, CVRDE’s livewire director, revealed that work had begun on crucial FMBT systems, even without a PSQR. Based on the army’s weight limit of 50 tones for the FMBT, the DRDO has launched a “mission mode” project to develop a 1,800 Horse Power (Hp) indigenous engine. Sivakumar says 1500 Hp is sufficient for a 50-tonne tank, but the endemic danger of weight over-runs in a new tank makes a 300 Hp margin prudent.

The project will co-opt domestic engineering companies like Kirloskar Oil Engines, BEML, and the Mahindras; research institutions like IITs; and bodies like the Automotive Research Association of India, Pune. An Indian “prime contractor” would assemble the FMBT engines from engine components supplied by a network of sub-contractors.

“India has never designed engines; engine technology has always been imported. But we will develop the FMBT engine as a national project. Our approach is not engine-specific; we are looking at developing the complete range of technologies needed for building engines. Not only design… but also manufacturing, testing, evaluation,” says Sivakumar.

This ambitious plan is cushioned with pragmatism. The DRDO has brought in international consultants to design the engine and build Indian manufacturing capability in engine-related fields. Sivakumar says that German companies MTU and Renk, which supply engines and transmissions for the Arjun tank, refused to provide consultancy, realizing that building Indian capability would end their market here. DRDO is now evaluating consultancy proposals from Ricardo of Britain and AVL of Austria.

“Simultaneously, we have floated an Expression of Interest (EoI) to identify an Indian manufacturing partner. The consultant we select will work in a consortium with the DRDO; the army; and the Indian manufacturing partner, who will be associated with the programme from the design stage itself. We have allowed the consultants to visit manufacturing companies and report on their capability to build a modern engine,” explains Sivakumar.

The CVRDE director says the consultants will finalise the engine design within 12 months, and take 18 months more to build the first prototype. “Within 30 months, or three years maximum, the first engine would be ready for testing,” he says.

“Both Ricardo and AVL have proposed that they design and build the first prototypes. But the Indian industry will work alongside the consultant. The first design is never perfect; so the consultant will make the changes needed in design, tolerances, or materials to refine the engine. Then, in the second phase, the Indian partner will produce the engine,” says Sivakumar.

Even as CVRDE develops this technological capacity, it is looking further ahead at a hybrid engine for the FMBT after 2030. Sivakumar says that a tank remains static for at least 40 per cent of the time in battle, during which time its engine idles. “This means that 40 per cent of the time, you wastefully run a 1,500 Hp engine, guzzling diesel and giving away the tank’s position, while you need very little power for running electricals like the radios and gun control equipment or for moving the tank slowly. So, we are evolving a hybrid technology concept in which the tank will have two engines: a 500 Hp engine for low power mode and another 1,000 Hp engine that kicks in when high power is required, e.g. for maneuvering in battle,” explains the CVRDE director.

While insisting that the DRDO’s 60-tonne Arjun tank weighs too much to move around the riverine terrain of Punjab and IOK, the army has demanded features in the next Arjun model (Arjun Mark II) that will raise its weight to 65 tones.

Planning for the FMBT, the Gen-Next tank that will follow the Arjun Mark II by 2020 — is even more contradictory. The army wants the FMBT to weigh just 50 tones while bettering all the Arjun’s features.

Officials at the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), Avadi, who will develop the FMBT, say it is impossible to build the FMBT 15 tones lighter while also improving crew protection; fitting a more powerful gun that can slam projectiles through improved enemy tanks; and making the FMBT faster and more powerful.

“If you want a 50-tonne FMBT you must choose wisely. If your Active Protection System can reliably defeat enemy projectiles, why do you also want the heavy armour plating of passive systems? Whatever you use — composites, lightweight materials, etc. — the weight of the tank will rise. Similarly, how can you increase your tank gun’s ability to penetrate enemy tanks without a weight increase?” asks Sivakumar.

Difficult choices like these are delaying the finalisation of the FMBT’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR), the document that will specify its capabilities and major systems. With nothing settled, the DRDO is readying for a heavier-than-planned FMBT. Business Standard reported yesterday that CVRDE is developing an 1800 Horse Power engine, rather than the 1500 HP needed for a 50-tonne FMBT.

While foreign consultancy will drive the engine design, CVRDE will play the central role in building a transmission system, which transfers engine power to the FMBT’s tracks. Sivakumar, himself an accomplished transmission designer, says that the CVRDE’s home-grown design will be vetted by a consultant, who will be chosen from three candidates: Ricardo; AVL; or US-based South West Research Institute.

“CVRDE has a tradition in transmission design. We built a 1500 HP transmission for the Arjun, which was not used because the engine design was changed. We have also built the “aircraft mounted accessory gearbox” that is standard fitment in the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. It is 35 kg of magnesium alloy, spinning at 16,800 rpm. This gearbox has successfully completed some 3000 flights,” says Sivakumar.

The FMBT will be armed with India’s first smoothbore 120-millimetre tank gun. While the rest of the world has long used smoothbore guns — which fire anti-tank missiles and high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds — the DRDO alone has stuck with rifled guns. There is confidence that the changeover will be smooth: the DRDO developed a smoothbore gun for the T-90 tank after Russia illegally blocked gun technologies. The DRDO is also working with Israel Military Industries (IMI), which developed the smoothbore gun for the Merkava tank.

The Arjun’s smooth ride allows its gun to accurately hit a suitcase two kilometres away while driving at 30 kmph. The initial FMBTs will have improved Arjun HSUs, while CVRDE proposes to develop an “active suspension” by 2030. This has sensors scrutinising the terrain just ahead of the tank and making anticipatory adjustments before the tank’s tracks roll over that area.

The Daily Mail’s investigations further reveal that India’s former Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor admitted Indian Army’s Armoured debacle and expressed concern about the force’s ‘night blindness’ in the area of Armoured Corps and mechanised infantry in 2010. ‘My major concern is that night blindness of the army is removed so we are able to fight in the night as in the day,’ Kapoor said at New Delhi, an admission that stunned the world. The situation also forced Indian Defence Minister Antony to chew his own buts as he had been endorsing and projecting General Kapoor’s announcement regarding the new war doctrine for Pakistan and China. Earlier, when his attention was brought to the fact that the Indian Army’s tanks have a night vision capability of 20 percent, Pakistan’s have 80 percent while China has 100 percent, General Deepak Kapoor admitted this outrageous military debacle by saying: ‘You are right.’

‘Projects are already in the pipeline to ensure that we have the night vision capability that our adversaries have. It may take three-four years,’ Kapoor added. The lack of night vision capability of the Indian Army has affected its fighting capability during the night. The deficiency has been persistent since the Kargil conflict.
On a query about the obsolete artillery of the Indian Army, the army chief said that successive bans have delayed acquisition of new guns for long. ‘Artillery is a cause for concern. We need to have better guns. Trials for towed guns are underway. Because of bans the process got delayed. We are now acquiring (ultra light) guns through FMS (Foreign Military Sales) route (from the US),’ Kapoor added.

The Daily Mail’s investigations into the matter reveal that despite a numerical strength of tanks over Pakistan, Indian army’s otherwise armoured and infantry capabilities are even below average if compared with Pakistan Army. According to these findings, Indian armoured corps comprises around 4, 059 tanks with a backup of 1, 133 as reserve while Pakistan Army’s Tank strength is 2,401 with a backup of 270 as reserves. However this numerical supremacy of Indian army is outraged with the fact that Indian armoured corps relies mainly on its Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun which emerged as a big failure while Pakistan Army’s armoured corps’ main strength has become Al-Khalid MBT which is a great success story, endorsed across the world. But the latest admission of Indian Army Chief about failure of its armoured corps to fight a battle in the night time is an additional and a rather huge disadvantage to the Indian Army and crystal clearly negates the claims of Indian Army Chief regarding smooth victory in case Indian army has to fight a war with Pakistan or China or even both at the same time.

The Daily Mail’s findings further disclose that India’s MBT Arjun is more flab than brawn. More a heavyweight than a performer. A potpourri really, with a French engine, and German seals fitted into an Indian hull and turret. And transporting this heavyweight is going to be another problem, which could limit its operational performance.

These findings further indicate that Arjun has indeed suffered throughout its development, from confusion and inexplicable delays and by imbalances between the Army, the DRDO and the bureaucracy. Pakistan by contrast, has drawn a lesson from the Indian experience and avoided the trap of over lasting her R&D’s indigenous know-how in the development of its MBT Al-Khalid.

The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that Arjun mounts a 120mm rifled gun deadly in lethal power but wanting in accuracy. Its performance in various trails was reported to be anything but up to the mark. It is believed that in March 1990, General V. N. Sharma, the then Army Chief of Staff and an armoured expert, was “quite wild” when only three of the five rounds hit the 5X5 meter target and no hit was scored against a moving target.

According to Major General M. L. Popli (retd.) of the Indian Army, Arjun’s production was basically planned as an ambitious project with complete indigenous components and assemblies but it was later revealed that the Arjun’s sub-systems were all imported except for the hull and the turret. The imported assemblies include all major sub-systems such as engine, transmission, track-suspension, gin and fire control. Our experts are of the view that their integration, “leaves much to be desired”. The auxiliary power unit from France did not perfectly fit in the tank, with the German seals not meeting the General Staff qualitative requirements of withstanding temperatures up to 150 degree Centigrade. The barely measured up to 120 degrees. Arjun is therefore quite a “fuss” with the French engine, with German seals fitted into the Indian hull and turret mounting a not very accurate 120mm gun.

Armoured experts say that another problem thrown up by the heavyweight is its transportation. Arjun could present a lot of problem for transportation by railways particularly through certain portions of the system. This imposes very serious limitations on the Arjun’s operational performance. In most of the field armies, the tank transporters and assault bridges are not usually designed to take such heavy weights. These aspects mostly highlight the engineering and operational problems.

According to The Daily Mail’s findings, global military analysts say that Pakistan adopted a step-by-step approach towards the manufacture of its MBT-2000 Khalid, and this is the single most important reason for having stolen a march over India. They are of the opinion that the Indian project was too ambitious, whereas Pakistan’s approach was more systematic comprising the following phases and that was why Pakistan Army got a well prepared MBT while the Indian Armoured Corps was equipped with huffing, overweight and inaccurate Tank system.

The Daily Mail findings indicate that clear technical and professional edges of Pakistan Army’s Armoured Corps over Indian Army’s Armoured Corp were valid reasons to make General kapoor a really apprehensive Chief of Indian Army. These findings indicate that Pakistan’s MBT-2000 Khalid mounts a 125mm gun with thermal image converter. Maximum efforts were devoted to getting the machine souped up as possible mainly to cut down weight. Just compare the 60 tons Arjun with the maximum 44 tons Al- khalid.

It is essential to mention that Al-Khalid is equipped with 105mm gun with a more powerful engine, special armour for increased protection in the indigenously built laser range finder and thermal image sighting system to maximize the gun range even in the hours of acute darkness, enabling Pakistan Army’s armoured Corps to enjoy a complete technical and professional Supremacy of over Indian Armoured Corps; a fact that now worries Indian Army Chief the most. Further more, Al-Khalid MBT has an integrated fire control system for reducing engagement time and increasing accuracy, along with the automatic fire support system. This tank’s most lethal component, the penetrater ammunition called Armour Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS), is also being indigenously produced. This project has been designated P-87. Currently, a series of such closely related projects to manufacture hull, turret, gun barrels and engines are in various stages of planning-execution. All these will finally merged into a tank manufacturing factory that will produce MBT-2000 Khalid.

The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that despite the disgraceful admission of the former Indian Army Chief regarding Indian Armoured Corps’ inability to combat a battle in the night, the Indian Army is already going through a very depressed and dejected phase and many of the missile systems, given to the Indian army have also emerged as seriously faulty and rather super-flops battle tools. These investigations indicate that many of the tests of Missile systems, carried out by Indian DRDO and declared officially as successful, have actually got a highly dubious result history.

The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that the failure in rapid succession of Astra missile system, a satellite launcher and a new ballistic missile have shown up the technological and budgetary difficulties faced by India’s space establishment, both civilian and military.

These investigations indicate that India’s intermediate-range ballistic missile “Agni III” that was launched by the secretive Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) failed soon after liftoff and crashed into the Bay of Bengal, less than 1,000 kilometers away from the launch site.

The failure of the Agni III was a very serious matter because it exposed the political limitations of India’s attempts, despite its ambitions, to pursue a military capability.

The surface-to-surface ballistic missile, designed to have a range of 3,500 kilometers, took off in a “fairly smooth” manner at the designated hour. But “a series of mishaps” occurred in its later flight path.

Earlier, India decided to postpone the missile test out of fear that a test could hamper US Congressional ratification of the India-US nuclear cooperation deal. Publicly, the then Indian Defense Minister cited “self-imposed restraint” to justify the postponement.

However, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military, visited India and declared that “I do not see it [a test] as destabilizing” or upsetting the regional “military balance” since “other countries in this region” (read, Pakistan) have also tested missiles.

Following this “facilitation” or clearance, and after indications of favorable votes in US Congressional committees on the nuclear deal, India’s stand changed. A week later, the DRDO announced it was ready to launch Agni-III.
This was the ninth missile in the Agni series (named after the Sanskrit word for “fire”) to have been tested. The first was tested in May 1989. The last test (Agni-II) took place in August 2004.

The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that unlike major powers including the US, Russia or China, which test the same missile 10 to 20 times before announcing that it is fully developed, India considers only three or four test flights to be enough for both producing and inducting new missiles and thus ended up with inaccurate results and the success story was announced in a hasty manner.