DRDO Decay Part 1: Keeping end users in dark, poor planning, flouting of SOPs hurt UAV projects, reveals CAG test audit

Yatish Yadav

Editor's Note: This is the first part of a two-part series of investigation on irregularities in the UAVs development programme by ADE for forces as unearthed by a CAG audit. The second part focuses on how drones costing hundreds of crores failed to lift off.


New Delhi: More than a decade ago P Rama Rao Committee in a report to the then defence minister AK Antony in 2008 had asked for a complete overhaul of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the country's premier research and development agency for the armed forces. Since then, the debate within the armed forces community has been centred on whether the DRDO which has an annual budget running into thousands of crores disappointed the forces or it was able to meet their expectations.

It is in the national interest to empower the DRDO, make it more efficient with indigenous technology. However, year after year, the criticism of DRDO for not meeting the requirement of the armed forces continues to grow. The tales of DRDO's successes have been lauded by the government in the past but the inefficiency, which has far-reaching consequences for national security, is too glaring to be ignored.

A test audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) examining the working of Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) reveals that the lab is taking up projects aimlessly without any focus and priority, spending money on research which has been abandoned without completion and even projects which are said to be completed have no takers within the armed forces community.

The report unearths dismal performance pointing out that out of the 10 completed projects in 10 years, only two projects were able to achieve the objectives. The mission of ADE is to develop and lead to the production of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and aeronautical systems to meet the needs of the services and progressively enhance the technological infrastructure and capabilities. However, the audit report claimed that ADE is unable to meet its mission objective.

The report reviewed by Firstpost is scathing on ADE's floating ventures. It said: "ADE undertook its projects without adhering to the provisions of Procedures for Project Formulation and Management (PPFM), both during planning as well as execution stage. Non-adherence to provisions of PPFM resulted in project deliverables for which no users could be identified and resultantly, the products developed could not be productionised and used by the services."

The audit pointed out another interesting fact that except for pilotless target aircraft named Lakshya designed and developed by ADE way back in the 1990s, no other ADE product has been inducted into the armed forces.

"This indicated that R&D effort at ADE was not fructifying into usable products for armed forces," the report observed.

A DRDO spokesperson did not comment on the findings of the test audit report. However, he said ADE is the centre of excellence for the flight control system of manned and unmanned aircraft in India.

"ADE has developed Full Mission Simulator for LCA which is installed at ADE and is also upcoming at IAF squadrons. ADE has developed and delivered Computerised Pilot Selection System (CPSS) in 2014 which is commissioned at three air force stations with 20 psychomotor and 100 cognitive terminals at each air force station for the pilot selection process of IAF," the DRDO spokesperson said.

An email questionnaire sent to the Director, ADE, seeking response on the audit findings remained unanswered till the filing of this report.

Distressing details

The projects undertaken by the ADE from 2007 to 2017 (10 years) were selected for review under the test audit of CAG. As per PPFM, which outlines procedures and formats for preparing project proposals, peer review and project closure etc., 16 projects costing about Rs 2,306 crore were undertaken in different categories.

There are broadly five categories -- Mission Mode (MM), Technology Demonstration (TD), Science & Technology (S&T), Product Support (PS) and Infrastructure & facilities. The audit in its findings has unearthed non-compliance at the pre-project stage and slammed ADE for the lackadaisical approach.

It said that the projects were initiated without adequate caution and groundwork, which resulted in either product developed by ADE not meeting the user requirement or no user service showing interest in these products. There is also an observation about non-compliance in preparing feasibility report and the audit said that out of 16 projects examined, no feasibility report was prepared with respect to nine projects.

Moreover, the ADE has been criticised for not having user agency (armed forces or paramilitary) on peer review committee board which is required under PPFM to discuss existing systems in use with them and elsewhere in the world and other details about the operation, maintenance and use of the product.

"Involving users in project progress reviews help into cutting short the delays and to know their views in advance and also to keep continuous visibility of the project. Audit found that out of the 16 projects examined, there was no user representation in the project monitoring in 13 projects," the report said.

Another issue that has been highlighted is the lack of outcome realisation plan, which is primarily to ensure that stages of the project are managed in a satisfactory manner. The utilisation of the project's outputs are linked to the planned project outcomes and success of the project's output are assessed and corrective action are taken.

The audit found that out of the 16 projects examined, outcome realisation plan was not prepared in respect of 11 projects. Then there is the issue of time overrun as well as cost overrun. The report said at least 10 projects out of 16 were delayed for a period ranging from six months to six years. The audit found that the cost in respect of three projects was revised upwards ranging from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 369 crore.

"Two projects are still ongoing and further increase in cost cannot be ruled out," the audit findings revealed.

Another shocking fact in the audit findings is about the procurement of Rs 4.34 crore worth equipment that was received by the ADE after the closure of four projects and remained unitized for the intended purpose for which they were procured.

Negligible success rate of projects

The audit revealed that objectives were achieved only in two out of 10 completed projects. All types of DRDO projects are taken up for execution by the lab after being sanctioned by the competent financial authority. The sanction clearly mentions about the objectives of the project which subsequently becomes the benchmark to assess the success of the project. ADE completed 10 projects out of 16 projects it undertook in 10 years (2007-2017).

"Success rate in achieving the objectives of the project was only 20 percent as ADE could achieve the project objectives in only two out of 10 completed projects and eight projects were closed without achieving objectives," the audit said.

While decoding the reasons for such a high failure rate, the audit said, the main reason was non-involvement of user representatives in neither in the pre-project work nor during project execution.

"As a result, when the project was developed, either there were no takers or the deliverable did not meet the requirements of the services. In respect of one project even though user representative was involved in the development activities, the product could not be successfully developed by ADE to match the user requirement," the audit disclosed in the report.

The report further observed that there were instances of projects being short-closed without realising objectives, project deliverable not finding any users, inordinate delays in execution of projects and project goals being changed midway.

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