Murphy's Law: Why Indian R&D Sucks


May 8, 2008: India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has fumbled yet again. This time it's a pilotless (drone) target aircraft. Called the PTA (Pilotless Target Aircraft), it has been in development for 27 years, and consumed over $36 million. The first three were finally delivered, and the air force found them unable to perform as promised. Some of the major deficiencies were inability to operate at the promised 28,000 foot altitude (the PTA was barely able to reach 20,000 feet.) Worse, the PTA could only survive about five landings, not the ten they are supposed to be able to handle.

The PTA's usually tow targets for anti-aircraft gunners, but also are used (one, of course) as targets for air-to-air or surface-to-air missiles. The biggest problem appears to be with the engine, which has not been able to deliver the promised power and reliability. The Indian Air Force is refusing to accept anymore PTAs until the problems are fixed.

DRDO is a network of 51 weapons and technology laboratories, employing over 30,000 people (20 percent of them scientists and engineers.) DRDO has been screwing up weapons development programs for half a century. Efforts to shape up DRDO have consistently failed. It's all about politics (DRDO provides jobs for well connected people) and nationalism (India wants to produce its own high tech weapons.) DRDO has failed in most all areas (small arms, tanks, missiles and warplanes). The failures have grown over the years, and created louder calls for reforms.

DRDO has had some successes, which it publicizes as energetically as it can. It tries to play down the failures, or simply tout them as partial successes. But compared to defense industries in other nations, DRDO is an underperformer, and highly resistant to reform.


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