High Fives! Can DRDO fulfil Modi’s wish of youngsters heading 5 laboratories?

By: Dr Anantha Krishnan M
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Bengaluru, Nov 5: Hit by the short range ‘wish missile' fired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi two months back, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) might be waking up to the reality that the change is imminent, and it's now or never.

While addressing a DRDO award function in August this year, PM Modi had asked the top brass to set aside five laboratories for scientists below 35 years - a message that went viral on social media sites.

In an interview to OneIndia, Dr K Tamilmani, Director-General (Aero), DRDO, said that the PM's wish to hand over the mandate of running some labs to youngsters has become a mandate now.

"The PM's call to promote young talent has been well received by the youngsters within DRDO. We have been doing this exercise in the past as well and it will get a new focus now. It has to be a well-thought out plan keeping in mind factors such as project execution, financial management, administrative abilities and most-importantly leadership qualities," Dr Tamilmani said.

IIT graduate heads Rs 22-crore futuristic project

He said emerging projects and technologies are being given to scientists at ‘D' and ‘E' levels. "We have been promoting youngsters in DRDO. To give an example, a fast-track technology development project has been already handed over to a young IIT graduate at the Aerial Delivery Research & Development Establishment in Agra. He is leading a 22-crore project for futuristic technologies for the development of an airship," Dr Tamilmani said.

Sighting another example, he said the DRDO is in the process of handing over the ‘Rotary UAV' project to a young team at the Aeronautical Development Establishment in Bengaluru.

DRDO spokesperson Ravi Gupta told OneIndia that youngsters were never ignored when it came to crucial projects. "Many youngsters have been project directors of some of our key projects. In Hyderabad itself we have two relatively young scientists in Dr Satheesh Reddy and Dr Tessy Thomas heading two critical labs - the Research Centre Imarat (RCI) and the Advanced System Laboratory (ASL) respectively. With the PM's new directive, the idea of promoting youngsters will now get a new impetus," Ravi Gupta said.


Modi's idea is great, execution tough

According to Pushpindar Singh, aviation historian, author and publisher, the DRDO must undergo radical changes to become a world beater in defence R&D.

"You must have a virtual revolution within the DRDO. To me, the system won't allow youngsters to come up. Modi has some brilliant ideas. But to execute the ideas, he will have to penetrate through the babudom. If the PM wants to see young hands spearheading projects in DRDO, then he should privatise DRDO. The results will be magical. Else we will see the same story doing the rounds," said Pushpindar, one of the prominent voices of Indian defence.

Creation of new labs the only solution

A top DRDO director who wanted not to be named said that the PM's idea of handing over the reins of some labs to youngsters below the age group of 35 might not work.

"Honestly, the idea might sound great, but there will be a lot of practical difficulties. It's not an easy task to give the lab charge to a Scientist D or E and then ask someone senior at Scientist H to report to a lower rank. It will create unrest among the system. Even if it has to be done, then it has to be executed without creating any heartburn," the official said.

He said the only way out to fulfil PM's mandate is to create 5 small labs with limited mandate to start with. "We need to identify 5 different projects to be handed over to these labs. All the five labs must report to one Director-General to avoid further hiccups. I agree that DRDO has built in too many layers within and despite the implementation of Rama Rao Committee's recommendations, lots need to improve," the official added.

Ready to take risk, let young guns take charge

In his speech PM Modi had said that the government was willing to take risks by giving young guns a chance to run R&D programme. His wish-list included.

  • Identify five laboratories within DRDO for youngsters
  • Only scientists below 35 years will work here
  • All key decisions should be taken by the people in these labs
  • DRDO must develop systems ahead of others
  • We got the potential, must work ahead of time
  • DRDO must bring comfort in the routine lives of jawans.
  • DRDO scientists should inspire youth in universities.

As this piece goes live on OneIndia, there are media reports that the PMO has struck down the service extension request for four scientists, working past their retirement age. The decision by the PMO might upset the DRDO top brass, who always had their way when it came to extension of senior scientists.

"Sixty is not the right age for a scientist to retire. In abroad, the scientists work even beyond 70 years. We need to debate this issue and see how best we can retain the talent of our senior scientists," says a retired DRDO director, who had got two extensions (2 + 2 years) after touching 60 years.

The PM has definitely set the ball rolling by inspiring the youth within DRDO. Whether the DRDO top brass can live up to his expectations is something worthy to watch!

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is a Consulting Editor with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake)

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