The interview goes into the details of DRDO’s success and missed timelines. It starts with an insight into why DRDO seemingly misses its delivery schedules. Dr. S Christopher explains the effect of technology denial and our protracted trial schedules, among other reasons. To DRDO’s credit, as the Director General refers to, are numerous success stories like Akash, Tejas, torpedo defence system and other armaments that are part of the inventory DRDO, as stated by the Director General, is committed to ‘Make in India’. Simultaneous with Make in India, he assures that the organization has been and would support MSMEs as the nation embarks on a major modernization drive of its armed forces.
Interview with Secy, Department of Defence R&D and DG DRDO
Dr. S Christopher
Brig SK Chatterji (SKC): DRDO is often criticized for failing to meet deadlines and not been up to the mark. As DG, DRDO and Secy (R&D) what is your take on it?
Dr S Christopher Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Director General, DRDO (Dr. SC):
In the past, DRDO has faced unexpected technology denial regime, we took it as an opportunity and strive hard to develop many complex cutting-edge denied technologies. Today, DRDO products inducted and under induction in Armed Forces are valued more than 2 lakhs crore rupees excluding the strategic system. The products delivered are cost effective and par excellence with their contemporaries available in the world. Even the economics of our efforts is optimum and works out in our favour, generating huge dividend for National security.
Defence R&D is a complex process of long drawn life cycle where success and failure are very common phenomenon. We are graduating towards lowering the failure rate and require conducive procurement rules, a One Size fit policy of procurement rules across all the Govt. departments becomes the bottleneck, incurring delay and quality issues.
Equipments are often subjected to summer and winter trials. For some reason we miss one season then we have to wait for another year to conduct these tests. Similarly depends on the user for conduct of trials take more time as the priorities may not match.
Hence, it is prudent to say that much has been done and achieved by DRDO for self-reliance in defence technologies within the limited available resources, still, the organization has been dubbed as an under-performer and often been at the receiving end of media bashing without portraying the correct perspectives.
SKC: What are the projects that DRDO can be justifiably proud about?
Dr. SC: There is a long list of praiseworthy projects of National importance in our kitty, to name a few in various technology cluster domains:
- Missile Projects- Akash Weapon System for Army & IAF. Brahmos, Dhanush , AGNI programme , Astra and LRSAM.
- Naval Projects – Maareech – Advanced Torpedo Defence System, Varunashtra – Anti Submarine Torpedo, Sonars-USHUS,HUMSA
- Materials – Bullet Proof Jacket , Cooper Titanium (CuTi) alloys
- Aero – LCA , AEW&C Programme, PTA, UAVs, Heavy Drop System
- Electronics & Computer System – Radars – Aslesha , CSR, MPAR, Revathi , Rohni, Bharani , WLR . In EW segment Divyadristi ,Sangraha, Samyukta & Himshakti Systems
- Armament & Combat Engg- Pinaka Mk-II, 155 mm Bi-modular Charge System (BMCS) Ammunition, Explosive Detection Kit , Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Daksh, Sarvatra – mulit span mobile bridge, MBT Arjun, Armoured Engineer Reconnaissance Vehicle (AERV).
- Life Science – Telemedicine System for Indian Naval Ship, Combat Free Fall System, Bio-Digester , Swine Flu (H1N1) Detection Kit, Submarine Escape Chute, Kyrgyzstan – Bio Medical Centre, last year – Hon’ble PM inaugurated
SKC: DRDO’s prowess in the area of strategic missile systems is good, but the same cannot be said about tactical missile systems yet. How would you respond to this?
Dr. SC: I feel our tactical missile portfolio is quite good starting with recently inducted – Akash , we have Astra , Prahar, LRSAM, MRSAM and Brahmos. We are also innovating to bring out guided Pinaka and working on Cannon launch guided Missile (CLGM) to make our MBT Arjun more lethal. The issues forNag& Helina are also being resolved and moving closer for induction.
SKC: While DRDO has been a good development agency, it has faced many challenges in productionising the prototypes? How will you overcome this shortcoming?
Dr. SC: DRDO’s mandate is defence related R&D and is involved in prototype development. Subsequent production is through OFBs and DPSUs. However, the process of conversion of prototype to production model became a major issue as OFB/DPSUs were long used to licensed production could not transit to the technology absorption process required.
We have done the requisite hand holding of our production partners and successfully demonstrated LSP model – Limited Series Production to establish the build to print process for ease of production. We have also worked backward – forward integrations of our core competence. Forward integration by involving private and public sector production partners from the early stages of the project and backward integration by tapping and developing academia & private R&D to help us with incremental R&D i.e. add on development after technological feasibility is established in the laboratory. It will also facilitate the seamless integration of our production partners ( private / public sector) with R&D. Far reaching reforms have been suggested viz modernization & training of production manpower in DDP and advocating enhanced private participation in DRDO projects is the need of the hour.
SKC: How will DRDO help in the flagship programme of Make in India?
Dr. SC: DRDO is totally committed and driven by the mantra of Self-reliance in defence technologies given by our former chief Dr Kalam. The total production value of DRDO developed systems already inducted or approved for induction are valued more than 2 lakhs crore rupees excluding the strategic system. Apart from big names in defence industry, DRDO has cultivated more than 1000 MSME partners across the country.
DRDO mission mode projects are the pivot for Make in India program. Moreover, many of our warfighter products / platforms are on the anvil which will make huge impact on ‘Make In India program , namely LCA – Tejas, ATAG, Agni 4 & Agni 5, BMCS Ammunition, Bullet Proof Jacket, EW system – Samudrika & Himshakti, Mareech- Advance Torpedo Defence System, Varunastra etc to name a few. DRDO always consider Services & Industry as an integral stakeholder and we are keen to develop a vibrant eco-system for Aerospace & Defence manufacturing in the country.
SKC: There is a view that DRDO does not need so many labs and that they should all be consolidated in smaller clusters? What is your view?
Dr. SC: This has already been achieved and following the recommendations of the Rama Rao Committee, there has been an organizational re-structuring in Sept. 2013 wherein DRDO labs have been put under the administrative control of seven Director Generals (DGs), who have been financially empowered too. These seven technology clusters are: Armament and Combat Engineering Systems (ACE), Aeronautical Systems (AERO), Missiles and Strategic Systems (MSS), Naval Systems and Materials (NS&M), Electronics and Communication Systems (ECS), Micro Electronic Devices and Computational Systems (MED &CoS) and Life Sciences (LS).
The seven DG offices are located at Pune (ACE), Bangalore (Aero and ECS), Hyderabad (MSS), Vishakhapatnam (NS&M) and Delhi (MED&CoS and LS). The year 2015, also saw posting of dedicated Integrated Financial Advisers (IFAs) .For these clusters as well as re-distribution of IFA coverage under IFA (R&D) set-up to expedite the process of project activities.
SKC: DRDO has always supported smaller Indian firms and ancillary industries. In the changing scenario, how would DRDO like to help them?
Dr. SC: DRDO is always working in close interaction with all its stakeholders through its programmes/projects. Accordingly, it has developed, built and upgraded its industrial partner base. Today, over 1000 private industries and SMEs are vital partners in DRDO’s development programmes. This number covers the spectrum ranging from Defence PSUs and OFBs to private industries, all of whom have played a crucial role in the development programs of DRDO.
DRDO can further help by offering its manufacturing & test facilities which are cost intensive and may not be feasible for them to setup. Incubation centres attached to our labs can also provide training and basic infrastructure for start up companies. Towards this we have put in the Internet list of test facility that can be used by these MSMEs.