India's premier defence research agency, DRDO, is opening its doors to private players by adopting the GOCO (Government-Owned Company Operated) model—where private industries will operate government-assets, sparing them of the need to invest in land, machinery or other support systems.
Upon the direction of the Prime minister's Office, DRDO is opening the doors to its network of about 50 laboratories across the country. It is estimated that DRDO has over Rs 1 lakh crore worth of assets across the country.
"Through, this model, the DRDO is exploring [the] possibility to identify potential industry partners for its special facilities, infrastructures and related activities that can be operated by industry partner," stated an internal note of DRDO, addressed to all of its laboratories. The note included detailed guidelines for choosing industry partners for the GOCO model.
The move could spare DRDO from routine, mundane and specialised activities, which will be delegated to the industry partners.
"It will lead to mutual benefit by increasing the efficiency of DRDO in research and development and provide more conducive environment for defence industries with enriched experience," read the note. The move will boost competitiveness among the private entities and pave the way towards new technologies, it added.
This move can help keep DRDO's prime focus on research and development, whilst also giving it an important role in bringing up the capabilities of industries by partnering them in its programmes and projects.
Selected industry partners (under GOCO) will perform operation and maintenance of DRDO's facilities, plants, equipment and machinery. Any necessary knowledge transfer will be based on the project requirements.
"GOCO partner need not make investment in land, machinery and other support system," it clarified. The selected private industry partner will get enough independence in implementing the mission using their best practices.
The Modi government has taken several measures to boost the indigenous defence manufacturing sector, with initiatives like Aatma Nirbhar Bharat, which are aimed at improving self-reliance as well as accelerating India's defence exports. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has set an ambitious defence exports target of Rs 35,000 crore by 2025.
The Army has already adopted the Government Owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) model for its base workshops and ordnance depots, in a bid to improve operational efficiency. This was following the recommendations of the Lt. Gen. DB Shekatkar (Retd.) committee to enhance combat capability and re-balance defence expenditure.