By Maj Gen (Dr.) Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retired)

 New Delhi. 23 June 2024. Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) was established way back in 1958, close to 66 years back. As against being created as a new organization, it was restructured by amalgamating three Organizations which were working in research related fields. DRDO has been main stay of the three defence services since then in terms of provisioning of war fighting equipment and related research & development (R&D) inputs. It has created multiple sub organizations besides developing close linkages with some of the DPSUs, PSUs and more recently Private Sector entities working in the domain of defence manufacturing.

             The Author

There have been mixed views about the performance of DRDO amongst the three services. While DRDO has taken necessary steps to address these concerns but these steps were incremental and did not meet the true aspirations of the defence forces.  This has resulted in our defence forces becoming import dependant for their equipping though there are other contributory factors as well. In totality, it resulted in India becoming one of the biggest arms importers in the world which is detrimental to ensuring strategic autonomy given that we have two nuclear armed adversial neighbours.

Government of the day is seized with the need of re-organising the larger organisations into result-oriented organisations. Having done that for Ordnance Factory Board entities, the Government constituted an empowered committee to look into the restructuring of DRDO. The committee so created has already submitted its report to the Government. The recommendations are substantive in nature but it is good that the present Chairman has been granted the extension of one year and he should be able to take these changes ahead. While implementation of these recommendations will be effective partially or fully in due course of time but there is a ‘larger national picture’ which needs to be looked at as against the current role of DRDO being refined in its conventional role.

Gone are the times when the national security was within the exclusive domain of the defence forces. The character of warfare is fast changing on a regular basis. This has resulted in a new rivalry amongst the nations in form of the ‘competitiveness’. This mandates ‘whole of the nation’ approach towards national security. It is more relevant now as countries are weaponising anything and everything resulting in the frequent use of ‘informal warfare’ concepts. The R&D being undertaken by DRDO therefore needs to factor this new reality as against conventional equipping of the defence forces alone.

There is an added fact to this emerging reality which is very important to understand. It is true that national security cannot be made hostage to the economics but in the real sense, it does make an impact. This realisation has come to the most countries in the world which has resulted in multi use / dual use technologies being developed, be it for the defence forces or for the civil use. Such research need is equally needed for infrastructure development as well both for the defence and civil domain. Indian R&D predominantly focused in DRDO for the defence forces at the moment needs to factor this reality.  This will be possible only if R&D activities of DRDO also encompass those areas which are part of Multi Domain Operations (MDO) as well as which can be conceived as part of ‘informal wars’.

The revised role adoption will be possible only when DRDO adopts the new realities of war fighting in the Indian context. This new adoption is more critical when ‘indigenisation’ has become inescapable necessity for the country. Given the varying type of conflicts emerging the world over, India can maintain its strategic neutrality only if its defence forces can fight its wars through indigenously produced weapons.

DRDO therefore needs to appreciate and understand that niche technology adoption is a ‘must’ if it has to be a reliable backbone of the defence forces. This adoption needs to be objectively understood. The technology adoption need not only result in high and sophisticated weapons but should also be able to produce those technology products which are low cost so that an optimum balance can be achieved between the costly viable as well as reliable war fighting resources. A fresh revamp of DRDO is therefore needed.

DRDO needs to become National Research & Development Organisation (NRDO) to be able to produce technologically advanced products meeting the requirement of MDO as well as informal wars. For making this happen, it needs to restructure itself to handle the indigenisation challenges being faced by the country at this juncture. In this drive to succeed, it is incumbent on part of the defence forces to project their requirement to DRDO in a clear manner besides taking ownership as users. This requirement should not be driven by individual service needs but as per tri-services needs to imbibe the tenets of joint war fighting.

In this drive, a close coordination will be required with other DPSUs, PSUs, Private sector entities, MSMEs and Startups. In addition to meeting requirement of own defence forces, requirement of friendly countries have also to be met. This is needed due to rising stature of India at the regional and international stages. This becomes more obvious given the initial comments of Hon’ble RM on taking over as part of Modi 3.0 Government where export focus in the defence domain has been re-emphasized.  It is obligatory on the part of DRDO to function as NDRO and look at interoperability and associated challenges afresh.

It is encouraging to see that DRDO has started aligning its work with the emerging needs of the battlefield. A closer and more granular connect is needed to re-align its wok in consonance with the need of the defence forces. There is no time left for dissipating its capabilities in the areas not aligned to the national need. It’s time that it rechristens itself as NRDO as against DRDO and assumes this new national role.

(Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd) is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and DG of CENJOWS. He  specialises on neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He is the author of books- China Betrays Again and Indian Churnings on the Global Stage. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at