In the works for months, a crucial recommendation made by a committee over a decade ago to boost the fortunes of India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is finally to be real. The DRDO, which has plodded clumsily through the difficult art of hawking its products to a global market beyond the enormous captive market it enjoys in country, will soon have a commercial arm to call its own. Livefist can confirm that BrahMos Corp. will for the interim take over commercial export processing duties for the DRDO, with the possibility of a separate entity being spun off down the line. A detailed paper on precisely how BrahMos Corp. will clear the decks for commerce is currently under preparation by BrahMos CEO Sudhir Mishra and is to be cleared up the chain of MoD command on a fast-track basis.
First recommended in early 2007 by the MoD-appointed Rama Rao Committee — a body set up following a series of investigative reports by your correspondent for The Indian Express — it remains perplexing why the DRDO has taken so long to incorporate a commercial arm. In recent interviews, DRDO chief S. Christopher puts the blame at the door of state-owned defence manufacturing companies. What he’s saying is serious and should possibly be the subject of some measure of MoD follow-up: that these Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) didn’t pursue exports of DRDO-developed equipment aggressively enough. It must be noted that the large captive market that both DRDO and defence PSUs enjoy (coupled with a distinct lack of competition from the private sector) has proved an effective disincentive to think big about exports and commerce. Things are different now, with the current government cracking the proverbial whip and expecting a much less lackadaisical attitude towards development for the military.
The urgency to incorporate a commercial arm, and the interim move to bestow those powers to BrahMos Corp. have been driven by a series of serious expressions of interest in Indian-made armament, including the Akash SAM system (by Vietnam), avionics, underwater sensors and weapons, unmanned combat robots, tactical drones, ammunition and special materials. The BrahMos itself, notably, hasn’t signed a single export order so far. Customers in South East Asia and South America could be the first, though declarations made by BrahMos in the past have always failed to meet timelines. Sources say that could change soon, though.
The centrepiece of the new push is India’s Akash SAM system. Livefist has learnt that BrahMos Corp. will shortly become the formal sales hub for the Akash SAM, which will be pitched to global customers as the Akash SAM + Rajendra radar system. The short-to-medium range missile system is currently being improved for an extended range Mk.2 version, which will also join the catalogue. In the coming months, expect to see the Akash SAM system on display at defence trade shows across the world, along with demonstrations by the Indian Army and Indian Air Force for interested global customers.