Last night I watched Rang De Basanti again, and as usual the film ended leaving my eyes moist. Ironically, the film might be fiction but the death of Flt. Lieutenant Ajay Rathore is not. For, there are numerous such Ajay Rathores who had to sacrifice their lives (and are risking lives even today) because our so called premier research organisation the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) could not come up with a replacement for the ageing MiG-21s in the last 23 years.The third generation LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Tejas is at best a technology demonstrator, and would take another three to four years for completion with full weaponisation and an indigenous engine. For all the tall claims of making India self-sufficient in defence production, it is quite a shame that the three prototypes being flown right now, fly with engines given by American company GE (General Electric). And probably all the 20 LCAs that are now on order from the Indian Air Force would fly with GE engines, because even the next few years would not be enough for the GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) to come up with the indigenous Kaveri engine which is supposed to power the flying machines. At a time when the world is talking about fifth generation planes and the Americans are on the verge of replacing the world’s most proven aircraft like the F-16s with their fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the DRDO is yet to show its competence in making a third generation aircraft. It becomes all the more critical when the Sino-Pakistan Joint production of JF-17 is going to start next year and Pakistan Air Force would be given hundreds of such fresh combat aircraft, while the Indian Air Force stands frustrated and weakened by lack of replacements. The IAF is now on the verge of giving a major tender for 126 MRCA (Multi Role Combat Aircraft) to one of the five global contenders, which include the likes of Lockheed Martin, Mikoyan Gurevich (MiG for the uninitiated), SAAB, EADS and Dassault. Yet, I wish it was just about the LCA program. But unfortunately it is not so. In fact, DRDO is essentially the reminiscence of the socialist era when every government establishment was shrouded in a veil of secrecy, with every whim being termed confidential and kept beyond the purview of accountability. And even if faults were found with their way of functioning and delivery, no one was ever held responsible or punished for it. Take the case of ‘Arjun’, our Main Battle Tank, which was finally handed over to our Army in 2004, after a ceremonious celebration. Soon they were sent back to the factory as the tank, for all practical purposes, was so heavy that it can at best be used in Republic Day parades and not in the battlefield. Rs 3 billion-plus and 30 years notwithstanding, the Army and the defence establishment knew a long time ago that it was time to have the Russian T-90s in the arsenal.It doesn’t stop at that. The inordinate delay in the development of critical sub-components of the Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher, Pinaka, forced the Army to order Smerch rocket systems from Russia. Add to this, the failure of the INSAS assault rifle which at best is a caricature of what an assault rifle ideally should be. And the failure of the nuclear submarine project, after gobbling up more than Rs 70 billion and 30 years, though the DRDO would have us believe that it is just a delay and that such things happen. True it happens, but it doesn’t happen the way it happens in the DRDO. Finally, who can forget the major embarrassment related to the flop show of three of the five missiles of the IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme). While Prithvi and Agni have been inducted into the armed forces, the rest, like Nag, Akash and Trishul, are good perhaps in everything but doing what they were conceived for, i.e., hit the desired target when it is needed to be hit.It’s good to talk about self-reliance, but not at the cost of national security and certainly not the DRDO style which kept on denying the Army the best of cutting-edge global defence technology by lobbying with the government that it can build it in India. In each case we could have gone for licensed production. But we did not. The rest is history. Its experiments with reinventing the wheel are still on with taxpayer’s money, and are jeopardising national security at a time when our neighbours are arming themselves to the hilt. The moot question still is – are we prepared for the next Kargil? Well, with DRDO on your side, you don’t need an enemy outside the country.