The chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) complained to Defence Minister A K Antony today that the ministry had not allocated enough funds for research and development, given the number of weapon development projects on the anvil.
Speaking at a DRDO conference in New Delhi, where Antony was present, DRDO’s director V K Saraswat, said, “At the recently concluded Indian Science Congress, the honourable PM had promised a substantial increase in fund allocation for science and technology. But, it is noted in the Budget proposals for 2012-13, the share of funds for DRDO remains more or less the same. DRDO has a requirement of about Rs 14,000 crore against an indicated allocation of Rs 10,640 crore.”
Saraswat cited several new development projects that demanded immediate funding, specifically the short-range surface to air missile; the Arjun Mark II tank; the Tejas Mark II fighter; and the Agni-5 and Agni-6 nuclear-capable, long-range, ballistic missiles. “We request the honourable RM (raksha mantri) to consider higher allocation of funds for DRDO,” said Saraswat.
Antony said the government’s precarious finances made additional funding unlikely. “I know the limitations of this year’s defence budget. The finance minister is very sympathetic to defence ministry; he himself was the defence minister earlier. But this year he is in a very difficult situation. Difficult is a mild word… it is a very, very critical situation. Let us see if our economy revives this year; then in the second half, we will try and get more money. This year, despite the difficulties, we were able to give some more money to the Navy. Let us see if, in the second half (of the year) we are able to help the DRDO,” said Antony.
Saraswat’s request for more funding received support from Satpal Maharaj, chairman of the standing committee of Parliament on defence. Maharaj noted the share of R&D in the defence budget has risen from one per cent in the 1960s to six per cent today. He said the committee had recommended an R&D allocation of at least 10 per cent, given “certain countries in our neighbourhood” were spending up to 15 per cent.
The DRDO’s revenue budget for this year was Rs 5,995 crore, marginally up from last year’s Rs 5,386 crore. But the capital budget, which funds the development of new weapon programmes, remained stagnant: Rs 4,640 crore this year, against Rs 4,628 crore last year. If depreciation of the rupee and inflation are factored in, the budget was significantly reduced.
But Saraswat struck an upbeat note, playing up several landmarks that are coming up soon. The most keenly anticipated would be the first launch of the Agni-5, which can carry a nuclear warhead to a target 5,000 km away. Saraswat revealed the Agni-5 would be launched in April. Also coming up in “a few months” are the first flight of the Nirbhay long-range cruise missile; the Naval Tejas light combat aircraft; and a fully integrated airborne early warning and control system — an aircraft with a radar that can cover a large combat zone. The DRDO-developed radar system has been fitted on a Brazilian Embraer aircraft and has made its first flight in Brazil.