Revamping DRDO: Push for a Leaner, Meaner Defense Research Institution That Aligns with Modern Warfare Needs

  • It is time for DRDO to focus on future technologies and give up its production function of defence products that can be taken up by the defence PSUs in collaboration with the private players.
  • 70% of DRDOs comprise bureaucrats who are not even remotely connected to scientific research, affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution.
  • The date of 31st August 2024 has been sealed as the deadline for the reorganisation of DRDO and to start with the rolling out of the implementation of the PMO Committee’s recommendation.

In the past 25 years, ever since the Kargil war ended, India’s strategic community thought that the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) work needed major structural reforms.  DRDO needs to keep up with the drastically changing nature of modern warfare. 

A nine-member committee led by K. Vijayaraghavan (India’s former Principle Scientific Advisor), was appointed in January 2024, by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) to assess and revamp the working of the DRDO. The committee was tasked with generating recommendations to review and redefine the department’s role and align it with India’s futuristic technological requirements in the defence domain. India’s premier defence research body is now preparing for some drastic changes. The committee has submitted its report on structural and functional modifications DRDO needs to undertake. The main idea behind this effort is to make the organisation leaner, meaner and in sync with the modern-day requirements of the military. Despite the reservations expressed by defence scientists and opposition from sections of the bureaucracy, PM Modi looks determined to bring about transformative changes in the structure and functioning of the DRDO. 

Changing Nature of War and the Need for Reforms 

The evolving nature of modern warfare indicates the rapid growth of non-contact war, where one can achieve the intended outcomes without physical assault. In the co-relation of forces that are at play in a war, the space and power of the technology are increasing several manifolds. Manoeuvring of technology would be greater over the manoeuvring of forces, which would be instrumental in giving the desired result, in a conflict. For this DRDO needs to change, with the changing times. Although DRDO has achieved its mandate of import substitution in defence, it needs to accelerate its focus on the next level, which is, achieving leadership in defence technology. DRDO’s reforms which come within the broader national security architecture’s revamping, need to be directed towards the national mission, that is, Viksit Bharat 2047. The optimal leveraging of DRDO’s intellect is vital for its growth. This is the reason why there must be a clear role distinction and shared accountability between scientists, armed forces (which is DRDO’s sole user) and financial support structure (which is the government). As of now, the armed forces’ involvement is just in the periphery and lacks deep and synchronous integration into the research and knowledge-sharing dimensions with its respective institutions. 

When it comes to the government, which plays the role of the financial support structure, it is only keen on the processes and not on the quality of the output. As a result of the process hurdles, the risk-taking appetite of the scientists is being taken away. This environment needs to be changed at the earliest, to ensure that DRDO has a promising future. Another limitation is the fact that scientific temper within the organisation is present only in small pockets. The rest of the organization runs like a rudimentary bureaucratic setup, tasked with the Ministry of Defence. As a result of this, active leadership was missing out all these years. 

On a structural level, there must be a major division of domains and responsibilities. For Example, the technology development must be handled fully by the DRDO, and the product development must be given out to the private sector. To make important decisions related to product development, a Defence Technology Council must be appointed by the Ministry of Defence. These changes need to be made to ensure that DRDO only focuses on the Research and Development part, with a special focus on the development of niche technology. It is important to note that DRDO is a national strategic asset, that needs to be taken to the next level, for it to emerge as a global leader in defence technology, by becoming both user and industry-friendly.

Bureaucratic Hurdles In DRDO

However, one must not discredit the immense efforts of our country’s exemplary defence scientists, who undertook seminal work in certain areas such as the development of missiles, torpedoes, naval systems, and radars and achieved a fair amount of success in meeting the requirements of the Indian armed forces. But quite often the government-run institutions including the DRDO face the Issue of bureaucratic redundancy. Out of close to 50 labs that are operated by the DRDO, with a total staff which is approximately 30,000, of which only 30 per cent belong to the scientific community, which means that only up to 9000 people are from the scientific community, and the rest 21000 people are non-scientific staff who are clerks and officers. If 70 per cent of DRDO comprises bureaucrats, who are not even remotely connected to scientific research, one can just imagine the burden it mounts on the efficiency and the effectiveness of the institution. 

With an outlay of 23,264 crore in the Budget estimate of 2023-24, the DRDO has been often criticised for the recurring delays in the execution of the projects and cost overruns becoming an expected pattern of its functioning. With an organisation that has huge manpower and substantial infrastructure, DRDO does not have any new major projects. This PMO Panel in its report seems to have also suggested that nearly 60 per cent of the delays are a result of issues such as the absence of the technologies that are required and the tendency of changing goalposts and specifications of requirements by the armed forces. Already when there are such issues which are being faced, bureaucratic red-tapism becomes yet another hurdle, in slowing down the projects. 

Impetus from PMO 

The new reforms for the DRDO are intended to bring it out of its old-fashioned structure and old-fashioned way of functioning. In contemporary times, the technological absorption in the armed forces across the world is way faster than it used to be in the past. The Indian government intends that the same phenomenon must take place within the Indian armed forces. For the technology to be developed in a shorter frame of time, the involvement of the private sector in the defence industry is a must. The emerging start-up ecosystem in defence, with the support and incentivization of the government, is taking place, precisely for the same reason. 

However, for several years, there was resentment, anger and apprehensions within the DRDO community towards any kind of reform. They were not ready to change, because, for some people within the DRDO, the out-of-the-box and radical changes were not acceptable at any cost. The civilian members of the ministry along with DRDO officials tried to scuttle the implementation of the recommendations of the PMO committee. This matter went to the PMO, National Security Advisor (NSA) and even to the members of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), where after a series of deliberations and series of animated exchanges, hot debates etc, the PMO clearly and boldly instructed the DRDO that it had no choice but to accept the recommendations of the committee led by K Vijay Raghavan. Ultimately the idea of leaner and meaner organisational structure was accepted by the DRDO leadership. 

The DRDO Reform Roadmap

If we look at the broad structure of the reforms, an internal oversight committee is led by the secretary and Director General of DRDO, Dr Samir Kamath and supported by seniormost Director Generals of the DRDO, such as Director General of Aeronautical Systems, Mr M A Siddiqui, Director General for Electronics and communication DR BK Das. Thirteen different panels have been formed for Re-Organising and Re-vamping DRDO in areas such as Human Resource Management, Procurement guidelines, formation of DRDO technological Council, Recruitment of Scientists, and other related areas. 

*The Proposed roadmap  for DRDO Restructuring – Source StratNews Global 

Apart from this, the reforms are intended to effectively synchronise the relationship between DRDO, the Defence Industry and the MSMEs (Micro Medium and Small-Scale Industries). The government in recent times is giving a big push for the private players to actively participate in the growth of the defence sector. As a part of this larger agenda, even DRDO is set to benefit immensely. The initiatives of Make In India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiatives are giving a special push to Defence, this is being described as Aatmanirbhar Defence. So therefore, now the bugles have been blown right from the PMO to ensure that an Aatmanirbhar DRDO emerges soon, ensuring the rise of cutting-edge futuristic defence technology in India, which is on par with the global standards. 

DRDO is now attending to infusing new energy, and new talent and making accountability a key takeaway and key result area as a way forward. DRDO is best suited to interact with MSME’s components of the defence industry, Innovators and small players in the Defence Industry, moving beyond the role of the agent of transfer of technology. The issues of delays and maximising industry-academia participation, a framework to encourage risk-taking research, project management and procurement processes, digitisation and industry-integrated automation are in the foresight of the recommendations.

It is time for DRDO to leverage its energies to focus on future technologies and give up its production function of defence products. Production of defence products can be taken up by the defence PSUs (Public Sector Units) in collaboration with the private players who are becoming active in the upcoming and vibrant defence Industry. 

The PMO, under PM Modi, is determined to transform the structure and working of the DRDO to ensure that the premier defence institution of the country becomes more agile, effective and efficient. The date of 31st August 2024 has been sealed as the deadline for the reorganisation of DRDO and to start with the rolling out of the implementation of the PMO Committee’s recommendation. The government needs to be credited for taking up the task of pushing the painful job of augmenting the reforms and restructuring, which has been due for decades now. 

(Viswapramod is an International Affairs analyst and contributes regularly to magazines and portals. He has an MA in International Relations. Views expressed are the author’s own)


  1. ‘DRDO turnaround on track as govt overrules dissent sets deadline for executing big reforms’ by Pradip R Sagar, – India Today 22/05/2024 
  2. ‘Govt Set To Make DRDO A Leaner, More Effective Machine’ By Dhruv Yadav, Bharat Shakti; 24/05/2024 
  3. DRDO Readies For Revamp As PMO Draws The Line, Simply Nitin by Nitin Gokhale
Spread the love

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *