SPECIAL FEATURE: DRDO - GOLDEN JUBILEE YEAR
The DRDO and its scientists battled embargoes and technology-denial regimes and achieved for India self-reliance in critical technologies.
BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Prithvi-II, launched at the Integrated Test Range in Chandipur on May 23, 2008.
IT was a moment of great joy commingled with a sense of tremendous achievement. The atmosphere had earlier been tense at the Launch Control Centre (LCC) on Wheeler Island, off the coast of Orissa, on December 6, 2007. An “enemy” missile had taken off from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur-on-sea, 80 km across the sea from Wheeler Island. Radars at Konark and Paradip tracked the “enemy” and within five minutes an interceptor missile lifted off from Wheeler Island. As the young missile technologists scanned the computer consoles, which plotted the trajectories of the two missiles, there was tension in the air.
Suddenly, as the interceptor missile smashed into the “enemy” missile and made “a hit to kill” at an altitude of 15 km, applause rang out. The young technologists – men and women – went into a delirium. For a few minutes, the LCC reverberated with their shouts of “DRDO zindabad”, “Long live DRDO”, and “We shall overcome”.
Cut back to New Delhi. As you enter “Darpan”, what strikes you is how tastefully the exhibition has been set up. There are superbly crafted models of various missiles, the main battle tank (MBT) “Arjun”, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) “Tejas”, infantry combat vehicles, the unmanned aerial vehicle “Nishant”, the pilotless target aircraft “Lakshya”, radars, rifles and baffle firing ranges.
Also on display are bullet-proof jackets; laser guns; parachutes; instruments to detect and measure radiation; a full-sized protective suit against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare agents; light-weight foldable stretcher; water decontamination kit in case of an NBC fallout, ready-to-eat products; and ayurvedic cream to combat frostbite, suffered by soldiers deployed in Siachen.
Darpan at once showcases the technological prowess of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the astonishing range of high-technology products that it has equipped the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force (IAF) with. The DRDO, one of the finest models for defence research and development (R&D) organisations in the world, is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. Defence Minister A.K. Antony inaugurated the celebrations on January 9. What began as a small organisation with 10 laboratories on January 1, 1958, has grown into an empire today with 50 laboratories in different parts of India and a workforce of 30,000 that includes 7,000 scientists and 12,000 technical personnel. Its annual budget now is around Rs.7,000 crore.
Be it in the DRDO’s headquarters, Recruitment and Assessment Centre, string of life science laboratories, Laser Science and Technology Centre, Defence Institute of Physiology and Life Sciences (all in New Delhi), missile complex (Hyderabad), Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (both in Bangalore), Instruments Research and Development Establishment (Dehra Dun) or Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment at Avadi (Chennai), there is a powerful sense of achievement among its scientists and technologists. For they battled embargoes and technology denial regimes aimed at India and achieved self-reliance in critical technologies vital to India’s defence. M. Natarajan, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Director-General of the DRDO, said, “We have today proven competence to produce strategic and state-of-the-art military hardware and related technologies in diverse disciplines such as aeronautics, missiles, naval systems, combat vehicles and armaments, electronics, life sciences and materials.”
The range of activities of DRDO laboratories is staggering. It includes setting the criteria for the selection of soldiers to the Army or pilots for the IAF, developing yoga packages for troops deployed in Leh or Siachen; formulating nutritious ration scales for submarine crew or pupils of Sainik Schools, achieving cutting-edge technologies in G radars, lasers and carbon nano tubes; building robots that can climb a staircase, enter a room and retrieve a chemical warfare agent; developing the most sophisticated software for interceptor missiles; fabricating autonomous underwater vehicles; and developing bio-diesel, smart materials, stealth technologies, transgenic tomatoes and hybrid milch animals.
The DRDO has equipped the Services with a family of missiles, battle tanks, infantry combat vehicles, bridge-laying tanks, mine-clearing vehicles, armoured ambulances, the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launching system (MBRLS), propellants, high explosives, NBC defence systems, life-support technologies, underground shelters for use in NBC warfare, desalination plants, parachutes, carbogen kits for combating noise-induced hearing loss and so on.
W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller, R&D (Life Sciences and Human Resources), DRDO, said, “We enter the golden jubilee year with the satisfaction of having delivered different systems to the armed forces and with the commitment that we will provide more equipment to the Services in the years to come. The vision of the DRDO is to empower India with cutting-edge defence technologies and equip our Services with internationally competitive systems.”
According to Selvamurthy, the value of production orders placed on DRDO-developed systems stood at more than Rs.30,000 crore in the past 10 years. “If we had imported, it would have cost three times more. This is our technology and we can upgrade it any time. It is our industries which have produced them,” he added. Of the Rs.30,000 crore worth of orders, about Rs.12,500 crore worth of production was executed by public sector defence undertakings, ordnance factories and other industries and the systems have been inducted into the armed forces.
The DRDO has three missions: to design, develop and lead to production state-of-the-art defence systems and technologies; to provide technological solutions to the armed forces in order to optimise their combat readiness; to build a strong, indigenous technology base; and to foster quality workforce.
W. Selvamurthy: "We will provide more equipment to the services in the years to come."
The 50 laboratories and their disciplines, which aim at achieving these missions, can be categorised into six clusters: aeronautics, missiles, electronics, armaments and naval systems, strategic systems, materials and life sciences.
The DRDO had its genesis as a small agency to advise the Services on the technologies they might require, the weapons they had to buy, the strategic planning they should do and the imports they might go in for. In the 1970s, the organisation’s activities widened to include reverse engineering – its engineers studied how weapon systems such as battle tanks, fighter aircraft or missiles had been built. “The 1980s was an important period when we launched into major R&D activities such as the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), the Light Combat Aircraft, the main battle tank, electronic warfare systems and so on,” said Selvamurthy. It was also the period when a powerful triumvirate with a vision was at the helm: Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, R. Venkataraman as Defence Minister and V.S. Arunachalam as the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. All these projects were approved in the 1980s itself and the DRDO busied itself with intense activity. From then on, the organisation grew exponentially.
In the 1990s, DRDO laboratories developed technologies and subsystems. Integration of systems took place after evaluation of prototypes and field trials. Today, the LCA has been flown about 800 times; Arjun has been inducted into the Army; the IGMDP has come to fruition and the electronic warfare systems have been delivered to the armed forces.
A series of recent successes have boosted the DRDO’s stock. The launch of a missile from Tejas was the first step in the weaponisation of this state-of-the-art combat aircraft. It has an additional fuel tank now, which will increase its endurance. It has crossed several milestones on its way to initial operational clearance in 2010. Natarajan called the LCA project “a truly national endeavour” in which a number of agencies, including Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, were involved. Agni-III, India’s intermediate range ballistic missile, was successfully launched from Wheeler Island on April 12, 2007.
Two other big successes were the launches of the interceptor missiles, first in November 2006 and again in December 2007. These events constitute India’s first step towards setting up a defence shield. On February 26, the DRDO launched a missile fired from a pontoon, which simulated the conditions of a submarine, off the coast of Visakhapatnam. “These achievements have propelled India into an elite club of technologically advanced countries,” said Natarajan. The DRDO laboratories involved in the development of these missiles were the Advanced Systems Laboratory, the Research Centre Imarat and the Defence Research and Development Laboratory, all located in Hyderabad.
The Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE) in Agra has designed and developed a number of parachutes, aerostat systems, aircraft arrester barrier systems and floatation devices for military and civilian applications. These parachutes can be used to drop soldiers, tanks, vehicles and food in combat zones. The ADRDE’s parachutes and floatation system helped in bringing back the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) recoverable satellite, the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment, in January 2007. With three parachutes opening one after another and the floatation device coming into action, the satellite landed in ship-shape condition in the Bay of Bengal, off the Chennai coast.
Family of radars
The LRDE, Bangalore and other laboratories have developed a family of radars for various applications. They include the Indra PC radar, the Rajendra phased array radar, the battlefield surveillance radar (BFSR), the weapon-locating radar, the maritime patrol radar, the 2-D surveillance radar for mountain terrain “Bharani”, and the 3-D surveillance radar “Aslesha”.
N. Sitaram, Chief Controller, R&D Electronics and Computer Sciences, said: “Bharani can look at flying aircraft. It can track unmanned aerial vehicles up to a range of 50 km. The Army is happy with Bharani. It is designed for mountainous terrain. Aslesha is for the IAF. The BFSR can be used by the Army and the IAF. It can also be used by big industrial complexes to protect their perimeter.”
Sitaram called the Rajendra radar “revolutionary” because its development helped the DRDO get into the phased array concept. Rajendra, used as part of the Akash system, can track targets and guide the surface-to-air missile to its target. For use in electronic warfare, the DRDO has developed two important systems (radars): “Samyukta” for the Army and “Sangraha” for the Navy. In naval systems, the DRDO deals primarily in three areas: sonars, torpedoes and new materials. It has developed an array of sonars – Nagan, Humsa, Ushus and Mihir – to be used in underwater acoustics. A major power programme for fuel-cell driven power for submarines is to be launched.
Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju with an INSAS rifle after inaugurating an exhibition on March 24 in New Delhi, highlighting the DRDO’s achievements.
In combat vehicles and engineering (CV and E) cluster, DRDO laboratories have built a family of combat vehicles, with the production of Arjun being one of the most important developments in the field. Fourteen Arjuns have already been handed over to the Army and 35 more are ready at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi to be given to the Army. The Ajeya battle tank is an improvement over the T-72 tank.
The CV and E group has built armoured ambulances, bullet-proof vehicles, infantry combat vehicles, armoured amphibious vehicles, bridge-laying tanks, self-propelled mine-layers, mine-clearing vehicles and so on.
R. Shankar, Director, CV and E, said: “We have developed stabilised platforms for launching Prithvi, Agni, Akash and BrahMos missiles. We fabricated the ground support system for fuel-filling for missiles. We did the tracked vehicle for Akash. All vehicles of all missiles have been developed by us. There is no missile that is fired without our involvement…. Our group has given the target number of equipment to the Army.” DRDO has developed several materials, including Kanchan armour, among the strongest in the world, for Arjun; AB steel for building weapon platforms in ships; composites for use in the nose-cone of Agni ballistic missiles, and titanium sponge.
The DRDO has fostered capability at the national level, working with more than 800 private industries, ordnance factories and public sector defence undertakings in manufacturing products and developing prototypes, components and subsystems. It is also partnering with the Indian Institutes of Technologies and the National Institutes of Technologies in several projects. Besides promoting basic and applied research in universities, it has helped several of them set up schools of excellence.
The areas in which DRDO laboratories will now focus include multi-role fifth generation fighter aircraft, unmanned combat air vehicles, air-to-air missiles, hypersonic vehicles, airborne electronic warfare, precision-guided munitions, unmanned ground vehicles, and autonomous underwater vehicles.
Selvamurthy said, “We will strengthen further our core competence in battle tanks, aeronautics, missiles and life sciences. In defence technology, we have been able to change the scenario of India being an importer to a developer, and we will become an exporter in the coming years.”