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Transition at DRDO bodes well for heightened indigenisation

Saurav Jha @SJha1618

Updated: June 10, 2013, 1:42 PM IST
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Avinash Chander, formerly Chief Controller Missiles and Strategic Systems at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), took over the reins of the entire setup from V K Saraswat beginning June. Chander begins his tenure as Director General (DG), DRDO, and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister in the midst of the Defence Ministry (MoD) publicly pushing for the completion of the delayed Tejas Mk-1 programme. Naturally, the Tejas programme, given its schedules, assumes top priority for Chander who is now personally monitoring the final push towards securing the second phase of Initial Operational Clearance (IOC-2) with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the Tejas Mk-1 by September this year. Given the sense of heightened urgency, indications are that IOC-2 will indeed be attained by September. But Chander's background as one of the prime movers behind India's rise as a missile power also bodes well for DRDO's flagship missile programmes. One particularly looks forward to the greater indigenous development and indeed deployment of front-end missile technology technologies. His three years at the helm in DRDO may also be a time when the DRDO-private sector partnership comes into its own.

Missiles have been DRDO's forte and Chander who was recently awarded the Padma Shree for his efforts in this sphere is likely to sustain the push towards augmenting India's long range missile strike capabilities. When 'Geek at Large' caught up with him earlier this year (, he confirmed that both multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) and manoeuvring re-entry vehicles (MARVs) were being explored.

But as Chander mentioned during that last meeting in February, a concerted effort on developing contemporary tactical missile products is also underway. Indeed Chander's tenure as DRDO DG will see an emphasis on products in the tactical missile domain. Bolstered by the success of the Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) programme which has already garnered orders worth over 5 billion dollars from the military, we are quite likely to see a very long ranged SAM (300km range), an enhanced anti-tank missile follow on to the Nag and a longer ranged version of the Astra air-to-air missile (AAM) emerge from the DRDO stable in the near future. And in the next decade we may also see missiles with tri-mode seekers that will confer a single missile platform the ability to engage both aerial as well ground targets in a similar vein to DARPA's proposed triple threat terminator. Incidentally, a Rs 800-1000 crore missile detector fabrication facility has been the subject of discussion within the MoD for a while. If cleared, needless to say, it would provide an immense boost to India's tactical missile programmes.

The level of private sector participation in these programmes is expected to continue to rise. Many of DRDO's projects in the future will require the deepening of a participatory approach wherein it facilitates the further development of manufacturing capabilities in both the public and private sector with a view to building a strong value network. When asked as to what DRDO was doing to avoid the production bottlenecks of the past, Chander had then said the following:

"We are identifying production partners right at the beginning of the design process itself. Productionisation is getting integrated into the design process and this is ensuring that our industry associates understand what is required in terms of manufacturing and supply chain management. Concurrently, the designers and production agencies engage in a process of parallel upgrade and requirement planning that removes the possibility of bottlenecks.

However, we do need to take a re-look at the quality though processes in this country and imbibe a culture of moving up the value chain. Of course to attract industry we have to hold out the promise of large orders.

I would say some policy level issues will perhaps have to be addressed. But indigenisation has to happen. There is no doubt in anybody's mind about that. I mean, people usually mention this 30-70 breakup as the ratio between indigenous and imported weapons and how that needs to be reversed. Well, I would like to say that 55 per cent of the systems that the military has inducted of late are of indigenous origin."

Honestly, despite all the criticism of India's military-industrial complex, it is now actually ready for much better times ahead. The past twenty years have brought a sea change in the industrial capabilities of India in the sense that conceptions can now much more easily be advanced to prototype stage with facilities to supply components having been setup in both the public and private sector. DRDO's seminal contributions in bringing about this situation cannot be understated and may be the subject of a 'Geek at Large' post at a later date. What is now needed is the political will to order indigenously developed weapons in significant numbers so that projects become attractive for large private players and their ancillaries.

Finally let me leave you with this very interesting DRDO video which showcases the organisation's successes over the past two decades. It contains some rare glimpses, including ground launched as well captive flight trials of the Astra AAM. Things get particularly interesting around the 3.33 minute mark, when the specially designed pontoon launcher that is used for K-15 submarine launched ballistic missile comes into view. That launcher is so involved in its design that one can see why DRDO scientists like to say that it does approximate the conditions of a launch from an actual SSBN. Enjoy.

Courtesy MVRcolleger Paritala via Youtube
First Published: June 10, 2013, 1:42 PM IST

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