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How DRDO’s massive project delays cost armed forces — CAG report cites ‘multiple extensions’

According to CAG audit, out of 178 high-priority projects, deadlines weren't met in 119. Report also highlights projects where costs increased exponentially due to delays.

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New Delhi: About 67 per cent of the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO’s) projects analysed by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) did not adhere to deadlines, with time overruns ranging from 16 to 500 per cent.

This found mention in the CAG report titled ‘Management and Outcome of Mission Mode Projects in DRDO’ which was tabled in Parliament last week. The report noted that an analysis of 178 ‘Mission Mode’ projects — high-priority projects based on specific user (Army, Navy or Air Force) requirements to be completed within a definite time-frame — showed that in 119 projects, the original schedules were not adhered to.

In fact, in 49 projects, additional time taken to complete the project was equal to or even exceeded the duration of the original time-frame. In 51 cases, only one extension was sought, while in 39 cases, the extension of probable date of completion was sought more than once. In 23 cases, extension of probable date of completion was sought three to five times whereas in six cases, the probable date of completion was extended six to seven times.

“The practice of seeking multiple extensions defeats the very purpose of projects taken under Mission Mode category,” the report stated. It added that these extensions were largely sought due to reasons such as delays caused by frequent changes in design specifications, delay in completion of user trials and in placing supply orders.

In 11 of the 119 delayed projects, approvals from the competent authority for extension of timeline were not taken even after expiry though project activities continued. In 52 instances where extension was taken, the process for revisions to the probable date of completion was initiated after the expiry of timeline, in contravention to guidelines.

Also Read: ‘Abnormal delays’ by DRDO drove defence forces to import key technology, shows CAG report

Extended deadlines, higher costs

“The delay in completion of projects has a serious impact on acceptance of the product by users due to obsolescence of technology or users fulfilling their requirement by importing the required products,” the CAG report said.

The auditor added that large scale non-compliance of Procedures for Project Formulation and Management (PPFM) clearly indicated that determination of the original probable date of completion (PDC), as is being followed in the DRDO, is “flawed and that PDC extensions are taken up as a routine matter, which vitiates the spirit of the related provisions in the PPFM”.

The Audit noted that due to inordinate delays in completion of projects, expenditure incurred on development of technology in various cases did not represent value for money, and many times the Users had to fulfill requirements by taking recourse to importing the requisite product.

For instance, the defence ministry had in February 2011 sanctioned a project for design and development of a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and development of Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) at a total cost of Rs 1,540.74 crore with PDC of 66 months (August 2016).

The project was to be executed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment, Bengaluru, in association with the Defence Electronics Applications Laboratory (DEAL), Dehradun, based on requirements formulated in 2008 and subsequently revised in 2011.

It was proposed that 76 UAVs would be developed for the forces — Army, Navy and Air Force — and the Army was nominated to monitor the development.

“The project failed to meet the laid down timelines and was plagued with multiple issues relating to airframe, engine, payload and line replacement units (LRUs) as a result of which PDC was extended five times up to 2020,” the CAG noted, adding that in November 2020, PDC was again revised to August 2023. The cost of the project was also revised to Rs 1,786 crore.

The revisions were largely due to increase in “all-up” weight (total weight of the aircraft), delay in procurement of import payloads, export denial of critical items, delay in completion of ATR facility and requirement of additional spares for flight tests.

The audit noted that a total of 110 flight trials had been conducted till August 2020 under the project, however, the UAV failed to meet the prescribed requirements.

“…even after completion of more that nine years from the date of sanction and incurring an expenditure of Rs 942 crore, the project is yet to meet the user requirements… which is indicative of the challenges that DRDO needs to proactively address in transitioning cutting-edge technology into usable weapon platforms,” the CAG said, adding that till the successful completion of the project, the services will have to remain dependent on private/foreign vendors to meet their immediate operational requirements.

Similarly, the report notes that the development of the HELINA missile — a third generation fire-and-forget class anti-tank guided missile system mounted on the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) — envisaged in 2006 and sanctioned by the defence ministry in 2008 with a December 2010 deadline, were yet to be delivered in August 2021.

In flight trials conducted in April this year, HELINA missile was successfully test-fired from indigenously-developed Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) in Ladakh.

In another instance, the ministry had in October 2008 sanctioned a project for the development of a Ring Laser Gyro (RLG) based Inertial Navigation System (INS) for Submarines (SRINS) at a cost of Rs 45.50 crore with PDC up to October 2013, and later extended to October 2014.

In January 2015, DRDO was intimated that due to delays, the INS onboard the submarine had to be upgraded with an imported sub-system.

“Thus, due to delay in development of SRINS under the project, even after incurring an expenditure of Rs 22.75 crore, Navy had to import the same for meeting its requirements,” the CAG said, adding that the delay in completion of projects within the original PDC also has implications for the defence services in their operational planning.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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