When India is celebrating Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it can look back with pride of having achieved considerable level of self-reliance in critical defence technology.
During the last six decades of yeoman service to nation building, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has evolved from a defence science organisation, initially making small arms and ammunitions to now building complex systems including missiles, fighter aircraft, 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, which restrict the flow of know-how and tacit knowledge to build complex weapon systems.
The developed nations that are selling their arms to our country have always been wanting India to be dependent on them as a largest weapon importer.
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 long gestation for its return on investment (RoI).
Academia were focusing more on blue sky research, most of the time having no relevance to India's defence technology requirement.
This was the scenario in which DRDO began its journey towards building self-reliance capability in defence.
This organisation was required to carry out activities right from conceptualisation, design, development, test and evaluation, trials with users, documentation of engineering drawings for manufacturing, quality control and assurance parameters formulation and ultimately transfer of technology to mostly PSUs or ordnance factories for manufacturing.
With limited number of human resources and financial input, DRDO has been able to deliver many complex systems both in strategic sector as well as in tactical sector.
In 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.
Thirty per cent of R&D endeavours in DRDO are silently dedicated to the strategic force command requirement.
In the missile sector, technologies including materials, propulsion, control and 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 a range of more than 5,000 km with 1.5 tonne strategic payload.
For Akash missile alone, the services have placed orders worth close to Rs 40,000 crore. 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 level.
Anti-satellite missile Shakti is certainly a deterrent technology demonstrator for protecting our space-based assets.
Light combat aircraft (LCA), christened as Tejas, is 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. Airborne Early Warning & Control system (AEW&C) has been delivered to Indian Air Force for air defence.
Though a gas turbine engine (Kaveri) originally developed for LCA could not be integrated with the aircraft due to increase in the weight of LCA as well as the desired thrust required to fly LCA could not be achieved on time, tacit knowledge to build fighter aircraft engine in the country is a major achievement.
This will certainly help in making engine for advance medium combat aircraft (AMCA) with partnership from a friendly country which may be willing to share this expertise.
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.
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 right from Indira PC radar have been developed and inducted by DRDO into the services and some of them have been exported to friendly countries.
Rajendra phase array radar, central acquisition radar, battlefield surveillance radar and weapon locating radar and some other radars developed by DRDO have been inducted in the armed forces.
In the electronic warfare (EW) sector, Samyukta for the army, Sangraha for the navy and aerial mounted EW system radars have also been inducted into tri services for operations.
DRDO has enabled the country to achieve self-reliance in under water sensor technologies by developing a family of sonars including Humsa, Nagan, Panchendriya and others.
In materials domain, some advanced materials including titanium sponge, Kanchan Armour, Mareech steel for the navy and smart materials including shape memory alloy, nanomaterials for defence etc, have also been developed.
DRDO developed and productionised 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 crore.
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 life support technologies for personnel selection, placement, nutrition, clothing, personal protective equipment, adaptation to environment, human factors for man-machine interface and military motivation.
Cumulative production value of DRDO inducted/cleared by Defence Acquisition Council of the DRDO equipment has crossed over Rs 4 lakh crore. This wide canvas of defence systems and equipment have been developed by 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 the armed forces, industry and academia with wholehearted support cnoming from political leadership right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and bureaucratic support being received from MoD, MoF and other stakeholders.
In addition, secretary, Department of Defence R&D who is also chairman, DRDO provide valuable support to Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) for developing fighter aircraft, helicopters and other aerial platforms; Advance technology vessel programme (ATVP) of the navy for building submarines and also Defence Institute of Advance Technology (DIAT) for capacity building for the services.
This empowerment of chairman DRDO with the post of secretary, Department of Defence (R&D) ensures proper coordination of ADA, ATVP and DIAT with all the DRDO labs for their R&D input into those strategic endeavours.
One person holding both these positions also enable quick decision making on executive and financial matters resulting into 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 organisation 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.
An article published by India Today on 13 December 2022 was titled “Why the Modi govt wants to lighten the DRDO chief’s workload”.
The article says that “The Government is considering relieving the DRDO chairman of additional responsibilities as secretary (R&D) in the defence ministry to boost the premier defence research agency’s efficiency through bifurcation of the post of DRDO chairman and Secretary-Research and Development in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with an aim to achieving better efficiency and ease of functioning of the DRDO."
The author, being a scientist, who has grown in this organisation, 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 Prime Minister’s Aatmanirbharta in Defence.
As Chairman, DRDO only, the administrative and executive powers are limited, while the Secretary, DOD (R&D) to government of India has full empowerment of DRDO as well constituent bodies of DOD (R&D).
The two positions together has worked very well because a technocrat who belong to DRDO understands the whole mechanics, ecosystem, people and programmes very well and this is the reason that one of DRDO scientists is always chosen for 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 bureaucratic and administrative system 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 leaning, 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 resource to meet the emerging demands for Make-in-India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
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 the Prime Minister for building $5 trillion economy.
These achievements can also be projected to G-20 nations as India has the presidency position of this prestigious global organisation just now.
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