EMPOWERING DRDO FOR AATMANIRBHARTA IN DEFENCE TECHNOLOGIES
When India is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, it can look back with pride of having achieved a considerable level of self-reliance in critical Defence Technologies. During the last six decades of yeoman service to Nation Building, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has evolved from a Defence Science Organization, that was mainly tasked with an advisory role and worked in areas such as operations research, explosives and propellants, small arms and ammunitions, to now building complex systems including Missiles, Underwater Platforms, Armoured Combat Platforms, Autonomous systems for land air and water, Fighter Aircrafts, Radars, Sonars, Electronic warfare systems, CBRN Defence technologies and life support technologies.
It has been an arduous journey undertaking development of such complex weapon systems in the global environment of technology control regimes, restricting the flow of know-how and tacit knowledge to build complex weapon systems. The developed nations selling their arms to our country have always been wanting India to remain dependent on them for its defence needs. At the national level, domestic industries were comfortable doing their trade or at the maximum licensed production using technology transfer and were not focusing on investing in R&D as it has a long gestation for its return on investment (RoI). Academia was focusing more on blue sky research, most of the time having no relevance to Indian Defence Technology requirements.
This was the scenario in which DRDO began its journey towards building self-reliance capability in Defence. This organization was required to carry out activities right from conceptualization, design, development, test & evaluation, trials with users, documentation of Engineering drawings for manufacturing, quality control & assurance parameters formulation and ultimately transfer of technology to mostly PSUs or Ordinance factories for manufacturing.
With a limited number of human resources and financial input, DRDO has been able to deliver many complex systems both in the strategic sector as well as in the tactical sector. In the strategic sector, DRDO has developed and installed the credible second-strike capability from land, air, water and underwater, the nation being a responsible nuclear power with self moratorium of no-first-use. 30% of R&D endeavours in DRDO are silently dedicated to the Strategic Force Command requirement. In the missile sector, technologies including materials, propulsion, control & guidance, navigation, weapon integration and separation and seeker technologies to increase accuracy of target attack were developed. With these complex technologies a family of missiles including long range, medium range, short range, surface to air, air to air missiles for operational requirement have been developed and inducted into the services. Today DRDO has given the country the capability of striking a target with extraordinary precision covering a range of more than 5000 KM with 1.5 ton strategic payload. For Akash missile alone the services have placed orders worth close to Rs. 40,000 crores. India has been able to develop the fastest supersonic cruise missile today in the world as a joint venture with Russia. Interceptor missiles of DRDO have paved the way for Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) for interception of adversary missile both in exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric levels. Anti-satellite Missile Shakti clearly demonstrates our country’s capabilities of protecting our space-based assets.
Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) christened as Tejas, is a very advanced light weight manoeuvrable fighter aircraft of 4+ Generation with modern avionics, digital cockpit, fly-by-wire technology, integration of radars, sensors and weapons. A country that could not make a car of its own design till Tata Indica came, could make its signature on the sky flying Tejas at supersonic speed. The Airborne Early Warning & Control system (AEW&C) has been delivered to the Air Force for air defence. Though a gas turbine engine (Kaveri) originally developed for LCA could not be integrated with the aircraft due to upward revision of thrust requirements, tacit knowledge to build fighter aircraft engines in the country is a major achievement. This will certainly help in making engine for Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) in a shorter time frame once the required infrastructure facilities are in place / are upgraded.
Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun has already been inducted with the first order of 124 tanks from the Army and subsequent orders have also been received for an upgraded version. With the ‘push for Aatmnirbhar Bharat’ steering procurement decisions under the county’s present leadership, it is expected that supply orders for additional respectable numbers be placed soon to make manufacturing economically viable. Besides Arjun, DRDO has delivered a family of combat vehicles including armoured amphibious vehicles, armoured ambulance, bridge layer tanks, NBC recce vehicles and advance infantry combat vehicle.
A family of radars developed by DRDO right from Indira PC radar have been inducted into the services, some of them have been even exported. Rajendra phase array radar, central acquisition radar, battlefield surveillance radar and weapon locating radar are among such radars in service with the Armed forces. In the electronic warfare (EW) sector, Samyukta for Army, Sangraha for Navy and aerial mounted EW system radars already inducted into tri services are major systems known in public domain.
DRDO has enabled the country to achieve self-reliance in underwater sensor technologies by developing a family of sonars including Humsa, Nagan, Panchendriya and others. In the materials domain, some advanced materials including titanium sponge, Kanchan Armour, Mareech steel for Navy and Smart materials including shape memory alloys, nanomaterials for defence etc. have also been developed. DRDO Developed and productionized special steel for ship building have been used in India’s Aircraft carrier bringing self-reliance in this critical area. A large number of NBC Defence technologies for early detection, personal and collective protection, decontamination and medical management developed by DRDO have been inducted in Army, Navy and Air Force in large volume and numbers. Recently more than 100 equipment useful for low intensity conflict operations have been procured by Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and value of these orders is more than Rs. 10,000 crores.
To keep soldiers fighting fit in extreme climatic and operational environment such as high altitude, cold, desert, underwater, aerospace and low intensity conflict (LIC) environment, DRDO has developed a wide spectrum of soldier support technologies for personnel selection, placement, nutrition, clothing, personal protective equipment, adaptation to environment, human factors for man-machine interface and military motivation. Strong knowledge and technology base generated in the process of development of such soldier support systems / products came handy during the recent Covid-19 crisis enabling DRDO to lead industries in making a range of critically needed products for fighting war against the pandemic.
Cumulative production value of DRDO inducted/ cleared by Defence Acquisition Council of the DRDO equipment has crossed over Rs. 4 lakh crores. This wide canvas of Defence Systems and equipment have been developed by a limited number of scientific and technical staff with minimal financial resources. DRDO has been able to maximise the output because of their strategies, dedication and active partnership with Armed Forces, industry and Academia with wholehearted support coming from political leadership right from Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji, Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh ji and bureaucratic support being received from MoD, MoF and other stakeholders.
The Head of the Department of Defence R&D is required to lead as a scientist not just DRDO but also other R&D organisations under DoD(R&D) such as Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) for developing fighter aircrafts, helicopters and other aerial platforms; Advance Technology Vessel programme (ATVP) of Navy for building submarines and Defence Institute of Advance Technology (DIAT) – a deemed University, for capacity building for the services.
Secretary, Department of Defence R&D as an experienced scientist who is also Chairman, DRDO provide valuable leadership to such defence R&D organisations striving for nation building and achieving aatmnirbhartaa in defence. Thus empowerment of Chairman DRDO with the post of Secretary, Department of Defence (R&D) ensure synergy in functioning of all the organisations under the umbrella of the Department of Defence R&D including various laboratories of DRDO besides seamless flow of R&D inputs from the DRDO labs for various strategic endeavours. One person holding both these positions also enables quick decision making on executive and financial matters resulting in valuable outcomes. This is the rationale for all S&T departments including Department of Space, Department of Atomic Energy, CSIR, ICMR, ICAR, a scientist who has grown with that ecosystem and has complete understanding of the long term vision of the organization adequately and appropriately with administrative skills having been the Director of a Lab or DG of cluster of Labs is selected to occupy this combined position.
Some recent articles appearing in national media while being unduly and unfairly critical of DRDO attempted to create an impression as if ‘load of administrative nature’ on DRDO chief had been leading to suboptimal efficiency leading to continued dependence on imports of defence products and hence, the Govt was contemplating bifurcation of the post of DRDO chairman and Secretary-Research and Development in the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The author (of present article) being a scientist, who has grown in this organization, served 40 years in DRDO during the prime early part of its growth and development vouches for the sanctity of the logic for both posts being held by one individual to steer the canvas of mission of our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Aatmanirbharta in Defence.
The position of Secretary, DOD (R&D) to Govt of India ensures much needed empowerment of DRDO and constituent bodies of DoD (R&D) whereas as Chairman, DRDO alone, the administrative and executive powers of the individual are limited. The tradition of one scientist holding both the positions together has worked very well because a technocrat who belongs to DRDO understands the whole mechanics, ecosystem, people and programmes very well. This is the reason that one of DRDO scientists is chosen for holding the position of both Chairman DRDO and Secretary, DOD (R&D). Bifurcating the post will bring dissonance in the existing well-coordinated system. To attribute delays and perceived poor performance of the organisation is not due to assumed overloading of Secretary and Chairman DRDO and the reasons are largely outside DRDO. The press reports regarding the separation of these posts are likely to lead to demotivation of the DRDO fraternity which I hope the Government will put to rest by taking appropriate decisions in this regard.
Self-reliance in Defence technology has to be a national mission with DRDO playing the pivotal role and ably supported by the bureaucratic and administrative system (in terms of speedy decisions conducive to aatmnirbhar defence on matters requiring decisions/approvals at levels above / outside the department of defence R&D) and whole-hearted support of Armed Forces to use indigenously developed systems while the production agencies both in PSU as well as in Private sector according priorities for manufacturing of such home grown technologies for domestic use as well as for export. Academia including IITs, NITs, Central, State and Private Universities should seed futuristic idea for India to assume leadership position in several niche areas; to mention a few: Quantum technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep learning, Virtual reality. The initiative of DRDO to launch M.Tech (Defence Technology) in the University system is yet another important initiative to develop human resources to meet the emerging demands for Make-in-India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat. The Government of India initiative to have Defence corridors will certainly attract many more Indian industries and the foreign investors to augment their efforts to contribute to Aatmanirbhar Bharat and to the Mission of Hon’ble Prime Minister for ‘building $5 Trillion-plus economy’. These achievements can also be projected to G-20 nations as India has the presidency position of this prestigious global organization just now.
[Dr. W. Selvamurthy, President, Amity Science, Technology & Innovation Foundation, Amity University. Former Distinguished Scientist and Chief Controller (R&D), DRDO]