As DRDO chief Dr Christopher’s terms end, the choices for the next chief narrows down
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The Race is On

As DRDO chief Dr Christopher’s terms end, the choices for the next chief narrows down

Pravin Sawhney

S Christopher The Chairman of the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Secretary Department of Defence Research and Development, referred to as the DRDO chief, Dr S. Christopher is due to retire on 30 May 2017 when his two-year eventful tenure ends.

He could either get a year’s extension which he has sought; or, in keeping with the government’s policy of not encouraging extensions, there could be a new DRDO chief. While a list of 14 Distinguished Scientists (DS) has been sent to defence minister Arun Jaitley, there are three or perhaps only two serious contenders for the post. The seriousness of a contender, according to DRDO sources, is determined by his or her professional accomplishments and time left for superannuation; three to four years of remaining service is considered good. The unsaid criteria include political patronage, caste affiliation, networking skills, and even closeness to the RSS (BJP government’s mentor). Any of these could tilt the scale in favour of a DS.

Sources were quick to add that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is averse to political lobbying and brinkmanship. During his now famous 2014 address at the DRDO’s award function, he had surprised the gathering by castigating the scientists for their ‘Chalta hai’ (lackadaisical) attitude. This had led to an early exist of the then DRDO chief, Avinash Chander, and the bifurcation of the triple-hats appointment.

Under defence minister Manohar Parrikar, the DRDO’s top post was split into two with each appointment getting a two-year tenure starting 30 May 2015. While Christopher was made the DRDO chief, the younger Dr G. Satheesh Reddy, the director of the Research Centre Imarat (RCI) was made the Scientific Advisor (SA) to the defence minister.

Another notable reform was the grouping of 46 DRDO laboratories in 25 cities into seven technology clusters — Aeronautical Systems, Armaments and Combat Engineering, Electronics and Communication Systems, Life Sciences, Micro Electronic Devices and Computational Systems, Missiles and Strategic Systems, and Naval Systems and Materials. Each cluster now functions under a separate director-general instead of the earlier appointment of director. This has made each cluster top-heavy, more bureaucratic and more autonomous.

In addition, the DRDO has three human resource institutions, three certification agencies and four research boards. Also, it has an autonomous body (Aeronautical Development Agency), one joint venture (BrahMos Aerospace) and one university (Defence Institute of Advance Technology).

The three contenders for the mammoth DRDO empire with a strength of over 25,000 employees including 7,600 scientists are the present SA Dr Satheesh Reddy, the director general (BrahMos), DRDO, and Chief of BrahMos Aerospace, Dr Sudhir Kumar Mishra, and maybe the Director, Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Dr MSR Prasad, who is not considered a serious candidate. The remaining contenders have less than two years-service left.

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