The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has expressed its dismay that 20 of 86 “mission mode” projects of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) were “declared successful” overlooking the fact that they had not achieved objectives and over ₹1,000 crore was spent on them.

In its performance audit report on “Management and Outcome of Mission Mode Projects in DRDO,” tabled in parliament on Thursday, the CAG cited the example of “advanced Light Towed Array Sonar (ALTAS),“ which was taken up in April 2012, to illustrate “irregular closure” of cases and declaring them successful despite not achieving key objectives after five years.

The Naval Physical Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL) took up the project for the development of ALTAS, which was an attempt to revive “Development of Active cum Passive Towed Array Sonar (NAGAN),” which was closed in December of 2021 and “also declared successful by the 32nd Steering Committee through the system had failed to meet the user requirement during trials,” the CAG lamented.

MM projects, which are of high priority, are undertaken on the basis of specific user requests and on proven and readily accessible technologies.

Surprisingly, the auditors noted that the trial report of 2018 stated that key parameters such as active and passive sonar function, layer performance, torpedo detection, and streaming time were not achieved. Other than that, the user evaluation report revealed that the system had failed to meet these key parameters, but as per the “Administrative closure report,” the project was declared successful, and the same was submitted to the CFA for approval in November 2019,” the report highlighted. In their reply to the CAG, the DRDO was silent on granting premature successful status to the project but stated that further trials would be held to prove 41 of the 138 parameters needed for the Navy to accept it.

Another instance of the audit flags is the Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS), which the Indian Air Force wanted DRDO to develop for SU-30 Mk-1 fighter aircraft. The Defence Ministry sanctioned the project to DRDO’s Bengaluru-based lab, the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), in 2008 at a cost of ₹273.80 crores. Strangely, though the Air Force HQ wanted the DARE to carry out a feasibility study to determine whether they can be installed on SU-30 Mk-1, the lab developed the system in collaboration with a foreign firm at a cost of ₹213.03 crore and tested them on a transport aircraft. “In order to prove the developed DCMAWS on the Su-30 Mk-1, DARE proposed a separate user trial project at a cost of Rs 102.53 crore,” stated the CAG report.

Between January 2010 and December 2019, the DRDO had closed 103 mission mode (MM) projects, undertaken on proven and readily accessible technologies, incurring an expenditure of ₹2,505.23 crore. More than that, 75 MM projects were continuing as of December 2019, and ₹2,997.57 crore of the sanctioned amount of ₹9,056.90 crore had already been spent on them.

The CAG report expressed frustration over repeated “deficiencies in project management by DRDO Labs,” reported from time to time in various previous reports.