labels: Aerospace, Defence, Defence general, Military aviation, Defence Research & Development Organisation, Indian Air Force
India's Light Combat Aircraft: When duds begin to fly news
Rajiv Singh
18 February 2008

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the R&D arm of India's defence ministry, is not one of the most transparent organisations in the country. Involved as it is in development of military hardware of the future, it perhaps cannot really open up all its secrets for friend and foe to see.

That's the story of defence R&D organisations all over the world.

This compulsion to keep things under wraps can work against an organisation. It does, against the DRDO sometimes, because the DRDO is unable to rise to the bait and provide details to refute newspaper stories based on ignorance, bias or sheer motivation.

That these stories begin to fly around the time when a major aerospace or defence exhibition is held makes one wonder whether some of these reports are indeed motivated by a desire to please deep-pocketed global defence equipment companies that are desperate to sell their materiel to the Indian armed forces.

A year ago, before the Aero India 2007 show in Bangalore in February, a series of articles referring to ''DRDO's duds'', run almost like a campaign, adorned the pages of a national daily, hammering the DRDO with some truths and some half-truths. This year, just before the DefExpo2008 in New Delhi, beginning 16 February, we see another attack on the DRDO for its supposedly miserable performance in developing the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the Tejas in another leading national daily.

A recent report in a leading national daily calls upon defence minister A K Antony to ''take a close look at the fighter which typifies all that is wrong with defence projects in India''. Then it proceeds to list ''all that is wrong with defence projects in India''.

The article points out that the LCA project was sanctioned in 1983 at a cost of Rs.560 crore; now, 25 years later, the cost has escalated to Rs.5,489.78 crore, even as the fighter remains another four years away from becoming fully operational.

That is damning. Sanctioned in 1983 and still not done! The conclusion that people are left to draw is that it was a complete waste investing in the indigenous development of the LCA. It would have been far simpler, cheaper, and safer (from the point of view of India's current defence needs) to have imported the aircraft from an American or European company or maybe the Russians.

But that's not all. Intended or not, these campaigns end up drumming into our national psyche the stereotype of the inferior, shoddy, third-world DRDO versus technologically sophisticated Western aerospace companies.

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India's Light Combat Aircraft: When duds begin to fly