Dr. G. Satheesh Reddy, Chairman DRDO, recently spoke to Kamal Shah Editorial Director outlining a realistic vision for DRDO and key areas of focus for the Indian Defence Industry.
- What is your vision & plan for the DRDO in the immediate future? What are going to be your key focus areas?
DRDO aims to respond ably to the future requirements for the defence services with advanced technologies. Current we are actively pursuing large development programmes like AMCA, LCA Mk II, long-range radars, advanced missile technologies, Arjun Mk II and even Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicles(FICV) towards meeting the user requirements. Our scientists are heavily invested and are in the advance stages of developing systems to meet the demands of future dimensions of warfare. The DRDO is keeping track of global developments in defence technologies and have chartered out a path to harness all technological developments in areas of defence and civil requirements. Activities are in synergy with the academia across all cross sections for developments in technologies in the domains of cyber security, space and artificial intelligence. Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), Bangalore has developed robots with various applications like ‘Mobile Autonomous Robot System (MARS)’, Robot Sentry, RUV etc. Some other important AI based systems like ‘Daksh Remotely Operated Vehicle’ (ROV), ‘Knowledge Resources and Intelligent Decision Analysis’ (KRIDA), and ‘Robot Sentry’ or ‘RoboSen’ which are extremely relevant in defence applications.
In the immediate future, DRDO would not only concentrate on innovative critical technologies but also plans to develop and manufacture indigenously products related to AI, Cyber, quantum and space technologies.
- How is self-reliance in defence production being achieved in the following areas? What is the progress in these domains?
Over the years, DRDO has achieved many successes in major radar programmes. Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), the laboratory in Bengaluru has made several types of conventional as well as phased array radars like Rajendra, Rohini, Revathi, ADTCR and Atulya to name a few. We are able to produce long-range radars for BMD purpose. DRDO has developed many S-band, L-band, C-band, X-band and K-band radars for all 3 services, many of which are deployed in the field. Airborne Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar has been developed for LCA. ADFCR and ADTCR have been developed for the Army’s Air Defence. Mobile four-wall array AESA radar for surveillance as well as fire control have been developed for Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) applications. For Air Force requirements, long-range surveillance radars are being developed. All the radars are being produced by Bharat Electronics with major contribution from private industries.
We successfully developed and flight-tested the long-range subsonic cruise missile Nirbhay, Surface to Air Missiles of different categories, Short Range, Medium Range and Long Range are developed and are under production for Tri Services.
We successfully launched a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) last year. We are currently working on hypersonic engines and hypersonic materials.
We have developed and demonstrated Ballistic Missile Defence Systems, both with Exo-atmosphere and Endo-atmosphere Interceptors. Exo-atmospheric Interceptor has achieved different altitude ranges through both real and simulated tests. The development phase of the program is complete.
Air launched missiles of Rudram Series for different ranges are in advanced stage of development. Nag Anti-tank missile is ready for production. Helicopter launched ATGM, HELINA has completed development and will shortly enter production phase.
DRDO has been in the process of developing multiple torpedo designs. The Advanced Light Torpedo (TAL) is the first Indigenous Advanced Lightweight, Anti-Submarine Torpedo of India, developed by Naval Science and Technological Laboratory (NSTL) for the Indian Navy. The Varunastra, developed by NSTL, as an advanced heavyweight Anti-Submarine Torpedo, is being produced in numbers for Navy. The Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo or SMART, considered as a “game changer” in anti-submarine warfare, was successfully tested. DRDO has developed triple tube torpedo launcher for the Indian Navy as well as a towed torpedo decoy.
- Guns & Rockets
With the involvement of Private Industry, development trials of Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) have been completed and user trials are under progress. The DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) has approved production of 150 ATAGS units by industry based on the DRDO design. The Indian Army has already inducted the Multi-barrel rocket launcher system (MBRLS). The development of Guided Pinaka and extended Pinaka rocket systems have been completed and these are ready for production.
LCA Mk-1 is under production and few squadrons are being inducted. This year orders for 83 LCA MK-1A was placed on HAL by IAF. LCA MK-II development is in advanced stage.
AMCA is a fifth-generation twin-engine stealth aircraft. Higher power engine and advanced stealth features are under development. With the development of LCA Mk-II and AMCA, the country shall become self-sufficient in all combat aircrafts in future.
In addition, LCA Naval version was successfully landed on INS Vikramaditya using arrester barrier. The take-off from the carrier has also been smooth, which is a big achievement and is the culmination of all round design efforts. With this milestone, we are quite optimistic to complete naval version of Tejas in all respects.
- Engine development/Co-development
We have moved beyond Kaveri engine for fighter aircraft in terms of power, technology and utility. We intend to develop our own engines for fighter aircrafts; it could be with or without collaboration. Development of such critical technology is not about economics or offsets but about building technological capability in the country. Today, with the backdrop of Kaveri, we are in the advanced stages of developing an engine for the Nirbhay cruise missile. We are also very confident in making dry engines. Now, we are working on the engine for AMCA. We are looking for partners who can work with us, nationally and internationally. It is going to be a high-power engine and the work is in progress.
- Naval/Sub-surface systems and marine engine developments/co-developments?
Kaveri Marine Gas Turbine engine, a derivative of Kaveri engine has been developed for Naval ship propulsion. It offers significant operational advantages in terms of high acceleration rate, high speed, low preparation time, apart from providing a clean environment.
DRDO has also developed many torpedoes, mines as well as software-defined radios for the Navy, which is being used in their ships and for airborne applications. Towed-array sonars and decoys for submarine and ships are under production. AIP for submarines that remain sub-surface for a longer period has completed ground testing.
Other systems for Navy include missiles for airborne/ subsea/ sea platforms, Anti torpedo defence systems, electronic warfare systems are under various stages of development and induction.
- What are the steps being taken by the DRDO to enable industries to participate more in defence production as compared to earlier?
DRDO has taken several initiatives to boost defence production in the country. DRDO developed technologies are being constantly transferred to industries. A web based online transparent mechanism has been created for executing the transfer of DRDO technologies to industries. DRDO patents are hosted on the website; the industry can utilise the information for realising the product based on these patents. Several test facilities and proof ranges of DRDO have now been opened up for Industries. We have also introduced the policy of identifying Development cum Production Partners (DcPP) on a competitive basis from both private and public industry for development of systems.
DRDO supports industry for military airworthiness and provides testing and certification support for IT and crypto products developed by industries. DRDO is steering Technology Development Fund (TDF) scheme to enable Indian industries, specially MSMEs, for indigenisation of the defence products, sub systems and components. In addition, providing technological and scientific support to industry by DRDO has been one of its primary area of support mechanism.
- What are your expectations from the Indian defence industry?
With the help of DRDO’s various initiatives and ToTs, a number of private companies have been transformed from simple fabricators to defence manufacturers. We are aiding the industry by offering our technologies for an early realization of products and at the same time providing our R&D facilities.
With such enablers, we expect that the private and public sector Industry in India will be able to meet all the requirements of Indian Armed Forces. In addition, we expect that the industry should join hands with DRDO in research and development in the field of advanced systems and propel the process of indigenisation of defence equipment in our pursuance of goal of becoming a power to be reckoned with in the world.
The Government of India has set the target to achieve a turnover of INR 1,75,000 Crores (US$ 25Bn) in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2025. To achieve this target, more participation from private sector especially the MSMEs is essential. Therefore, it is expected that MSMEs support to Defence Industry should also be proportionally increased.
- Do you see the Indian defence industry moving in the right direction? Would you like to give them some suggestions on Do’s & Don’ts?
During the last couple of years, export of defence products has increased manifold and there has been decrease in the imports. The positive indigenisation list of imports promulgated by DDP and the list of items which industry can design develop and manufacture, promulgated by DRDO, gives a confidence that the Indian defence industry is maturing and is moving in the right direction. Slowly, the dependence on the foreign technology is decreasing. This has increased the onus on DRDO to increase the pace of indigenous technology development so that the fruits of the technological progress may be transferred to the industries. Here it is suggested that, to increase self-reliance in defence sector, industry should rely on DRDO technologies. All relevant expertise and technical details will be transferred to industries so that the technology is completely absorbed and the future variants of the products are realised from the industries.
Industry needs to maintain quality standards in production to meet the defence and aerospace quality standards of products. Cost of equipment under production is also a very important factor. Industry have to keep in mind to be competitive in domestic as well as international market.
- Which key areas and sectors should the defence industry focus on, in order to be prepared to grab the upcoming opportunities springing up from developments from the DRDO?
The key areas & sectors where defence industries should focus on, are Seeker Technology, High Power Jet Engines, High Performance RF Design for Radios, Robotics for Smart Ammunition, Precision Guided Ammunitions, Surface Coated Double Base (SCDB) Propellant, Fiber Optics data bus, Single Crystal Blade Manufacturing Process, High efficiency flexible Solar Cells technology.
Technologies for Hypersonic flights, High Performance Drones, High Power Lasers, Pulse power network, EM Rail Gun, Tera Hertz ,Stealth, Shared Aperture Antenna, Super Capacitors, Tactical sensors for detecting biological agents, Artificial Intelligence, Extended Range Guided Munition etc are some other important areas to be focused on.
- Two Negative imports lists are already out. DRDO is working on 3rd lists too, which are the areas of focus?
In the last couple of years, the government has taken a series of measures to boost the domestic defence industry. The first negative list for defence imports comprising 101 items was issued last year, which included towed artillery guns, short-range surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles, offshore patrol vessels, electronic warfare systems, next-generation missile vessels, floating dock and anti-submarine rocket launchers.
To promote the domestic defence industry further, DRDO has released a list of 108 systems, which could be manufactured by industry by itself. The second positive indigenization list released in this year comprises of complex systems, like sensors, simulators, weapons, ammunitions and platforms like helicopters, next-generation corvettes, airborne early warning and control systems, tank engines, medium power radar for mountains, MRSAM weapon system and many more such items to fulfill the requirements of Indian Armed Forces.
All these items will be procured from indigenous sources as per provisions of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP-2020) by the Services.
The two indigenisation lists are evolved by DDP in consultation with all stakeholders. DRDO inputs will be provided for the next compilation of such list of items.
- DRDO under your leadership, especially in last couple of years has demonstrated series of weapons, with multiple tests, trials & extending the range of weapons in order to project the required deterrence. Qualitatively and quantitatively, do you think we have done enough in order to tackle the current security challenges? Which domains would you like to see further enhancements to increase the deterrence message?
DRDO has made remarkable strides in establishing self-reliance in advanced defence technologies, weapon systems and platforms. Responding to the Government’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat, several initiatives were taken for development of a spectrum of technologies and systems meeting the requirements of our Armed Forces. Some noteworthy achievements like Flight Testing of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) and Quantum Communication are significant technology demonstrations. Other major achievements are conduct of trials of Air Defence Fire Control Radar (ADFCR) ‘Atulya’, Advanced Light Weight Torpedo (ALWT) and 3rd Generation Helicopter Launch Anti-Tank Guided Missile (Dhruvastra). Successful trial of new generation Agni-P missile will enhance the deterrence.
DRDO will take up system development in the emerging dimensions of warfare and in the field of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, photonics, cyber technology and the like. DRDO scientists are working in niche defence technology areas for building next generation systems, weapons and platforms and have chartered out paths to harness these technologies. Scientists are collaborating extensively with academia in the blue-sky research and with industry to develop defence systems in the shortest period. A number of activities pertaining to various systems like AEW&C, AMCA, Guided Rockets, AESA Radar systems, Missile systems, and underwater-unmanned systems are planned in near future. There are many other defence technologies and systems DRDO has taken up for development. DRDO will be responding ably to the future war fighting requirements of the tri services with advanced technologies.
- How has interaction and integration of the Armed Forces fared after the formation of DMA? What is the impact of just begun process of Armed Forces’ integration on Indian defence research and developments?
The formation of DMA has facilitated the overall coordination with the Armed Forces and given a boost to the Indigenous development of the Defence Systems, paving the way for Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
DMA has played an active role in formulating the first positive indigenisation list of 101 items and second positive indigenisation list of 108 items, which will be manufactured indigenously by Indian Industries. This will enable translation of indigenous technologies developed by DRDO into capability in the hands of armed forces.
DMA is also playing a significant role in Joint war fighting capability by consolidating the requirements of the three services through formulation of joint requirements for common items.